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Thursday, December 14, 2017

A Historical Christmas Event with Caroline Linden

Caroline Linden was born a reader, not a writer. She earned a math degree from Harvard University and wrote computer code before discovering that writing fiction was far more fun. Eleven years, fifteen books, three Red Sox championships, and one dog later, she has never been happier with her decision. Her books have won the NEC-RWA Reader's Choice Beanpot Award, the Daphne du Maurier Award, and RWA's RITA Award.


Grace Finch first met Oliver Ford at a party at her aunt’s house. Aunt Sarah had invited the Fords because Mrs. Ford had recently passed away, and it was the father and son’s first Christmas time without her. They were neighbors, although distant ones. Despite being reserved, Oliver was quickly absorbed into the group of children, who were bent on playing hide and seek in the elaborate gardens behind Holkham House, now glittering with a thin crust of snow, before darkness fell and they would be sent to the nursery for dinner.

“What are you doing, Gracie?” asked her older sister Daphne in amusement as Grace struggled with her boots.

“Going out to play in the gardens, with you.”

Daphne laughed. “Of course not! You’re too little. You must be at least seven to go outside.”

Grace’s eyes went wide. She was six, and had been counting the days until this party. “I am not! I’m going, Daphne, I am!”

Still laughing, Daphne only shook her head and went out with their cousins Lizzie and Frederick. They were all eleven, five years older than Grace, who could only watch impotently. She couldn’t manage her boots alone yet. Amelia, James, and George were already outside, running and shouting in delight as they threw snow at each other. It would be such fun, and a tear slipped down her cheek at the thought of missing it all, stuck in the house with babies like her sister Willa, who was only two.

“Here,” said a kind boy’s voice. Oliver knelt at her feet and tied first one, then the other bootlace. “Now you can go out,” he whispered, his blue eyes shining at her from under his untidy mop of blond hair. He even winked at her.

“Thank you.” Grace beamed at him, and ran into the garden.

Lizzie won the game, but Grace remembered the kindness.


When she was twelve, Grace’s mother said she could sit at the lower table at Aunt Sarah’s, with the other cousins who were too old for the nursery but not yet adults. Nervous but eager, Grace chose her best dress and brushed her hair one hundred careful strokes. She promised to bring Willa a cracker from the table and went down to eat, hoping she wasn’t seated next to Frederick, who liked to tease.

Oliver Ford was there, down from Oxford, tall and lanky at age seventeen. He and his father were regulars at Christmas dinner now. He wasn’t the most talkative boy, but he still had a friendly grin and an easy laugh, and Amelia and Daphne seemed to find him far more interesting than ever before. Grace watched her sister and cousin monopolize his attention with a frown. She wanted to talk to him, too. Oliver always talked to her, year after year. He never put snow down her neck or pulled her hair when her braids fell down, like Frederick did.

But her hopes were rewarded when a last-minute ruckus ended with him and Frederick changing seats, putting Oliver beside her. “Happy Christmas, Oliver,” she wished him shyly as the servants brought out the roast.

“And to you, Miss Grace.” His blue eyes shone. “All grown up now!”

She laughed, pleased. “Not quite. Not like you.” She glanced at her sister and cousin, who looked annoyed. Frederick was between them now, and he was being obnoxious, tossing spoons back and forth across the table with James in spite of his mother’s commands to stop. “But more than Frederick,” she couldn’t resist adding.

Oliver grinned. “You’re far more mature than Frederick.” His voice was deeper this year, she realized. It suited him.

“Everyone is,” she told him, earning a laugh.

They talked the rest of the meal. It was her favorite Christmas dinner ever.


War made Christmas somber.

Frederick was serving as a ensign under General Wellington in Portugal. James had been pleading to buy a commission for a year, and Grace’s father had finally agreed to it; James would be off in the spring to fight Napoleon. Oliver was a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, patrolling the waters in far-off Scandinavia. All the adults spoke anxiously of places like Salamanca and Borodino, and three young men from their small village in Hertfordshire had been killed this year alone. This year so many family members were gone, Aunt Sarah set up only one table, which was bittersweet to Grace.

But as the roasted goose was brought out, there was a loud knock on the door. Everyone fell silent—it was ominous, that knocking—and Uncle Daniel leapt from his chair to follow the butler. He returned quickly, his face was wreathed in smiles. “Look who washed ashore,” he cried, and to Grace’s shocked delight, Oliver stepped into the room.

Everyone rushed to embrace him, Mr. Ford leading the way. “Only a short furlough,” Oliver explained as everyone wanted to shake his hand. “I must return in a fortnight.”

“Then you must make the most of it!” exclaimed Aunt Sarah. “Come, we’ve just sat down to dinner.” She motioned to the servants to shift the places around the table.

“Oh, no, just squeeze me in on an empty corner, Lady Holkham,” Oliver told her.
And quite without thinking, Grace blurted out, “There’s room next to my place.”

Oliver’s blue eyes swung to her and lit up, almost as if he’d been searching for her among the crowd. “Perfect,” he said. “Put me there.”

She hid her blush by rushing to help lay the place. “Thank you,” he whispered as he took the seat beside her. “If I happen to yawn, please don’t tell anyone.”

“Of course not. How long was your journey?” It felt unspeakably special to share this private conversation with him, while everyone in the room was anxious to hear what had happened to him in the Navy and how he thought the war was going.

“Two days. My captain’s family is conveniently near, at Deal.” He grinned. “And it’s that to which I owe this furlough. I understand his wife is due to have a baby within the month and he was desperate for any excuse to come ashore for a few days.”

Grace smiled. “And much joy to them, since they’ve caused so much here! It’s wonderful to have you home, Oliver.”

“It’s wonderful to be home.” He ducked his head even nearer hers. “And to see you, Grace.”

It was hard to contain the explosion of joy this statement caused inside her. With great effort she kept her poise and listened raptly as he answered everyone’s questions about the Navy. But their hands brushed when she passed him the sauce boat, and he smiled at her with particular warmth, and it set her heart soaring and whirling in her chest.

After dinner, Aunt Sarah called for dancing. “We must make a little merrier this year,” she declared. “To send James on his way, and to celebrate Oliver’s brief return.” The furniture was moved aside in the drawing room and Grace’s mother sat at the pianoforte to play. Willa bounced to the center of the room, pulling James with her, and Lizzie and Amelia both looked expectantly at Oliver, tall and handsome in his uniform.

But he turned to Grace. “May I have the first set?” he asked.

“Of—of course,” she stammered.

They danced more than once, as it happened. For once no mother protested that it was growing late, and by the time the candles began to gutter out, even Grace’s feet hurt. She sat on the sofa and discreetly toed off her slippers.

Oliver sat with a thump beside her. “It’s good to be home,” he declared, “but it’s also tiring!”

Grace, who had never left home as he had done, smiled. “I’m glad you’re here to be tired out dancing with all of us.”

He turned to her. “So am I.” He hesitated, then laid his hand right next to hers, so their fingers just touched. “I have to leave in a few days. Grace… would you write to me?”

The air in the room seemed to rush out, leaving her light-headed and gasping. “Yes,” she managed to murmured, “of course.”

His hand covered hers, only for a moment. “Thank you.”

She wet her lips. His fingers were still touching hers, Oliver’s fingers, so much larger and stronger than her own soft little hand. His one hand could cover both of hers. “Is it very lonely out on the ocean?”

“It is.” His mouth turned up on one side. “We might go months without sight of anything familiar, but when we get supplies and letters from home… It makes any day a good day.”

“I’ll write every week,” she promised.

He laughed. “I won’t get letters that often! But Grace…” He angled himself toward her, a great beaming grin on his face. “If you did, I’d savor every one.”


The war was over, and this year everyone seemed certain it would stay over.

James came home with a scar on his face and a Waterloo medal. Grace had never seen her mother weep so loudly as the day he rode his horse back up the drive to their sprawling house.

Grace’s sisters had both married, and she and Willa were the only ones left at home. Amelia had married Squire Bennet’s son on the other side of Rochester, and they came to Aunt Sarah’s Christmas dinner still. Daphne lived in London, now Lady Cartwright, and she had promised Willa a season in town next year when she was seventeen. Willa, slender and beautiful, was alive with excitement. Grace, shorter and not so slender, was quiet with envy. She had gone to London, not for a whole Season but for a long visit to her Aunt Mary. Even though she loved it there—the museums, the concerts, the glorious theater!—she had not ‘taken’ in the way girls needs to take to be sent for a whole season. Willa, on the other hand, was vivacious and pretty and everyone agreed she could make a splendid match if given the opportunity. Grace would stay home with her books and her animals and her sketch books, while Willa would have a new wardrobe and go to London in the spring.

As if that weren’t enough to put a damper on Christmas, Oliver didn’t come. He wrote to her still, but he’d been very vague about why he wouldn’t be at Holkham House this year as usual. Quite aside from the fact that she was now twenty and feeling very conscious of her unmarried state, she missed him. He hadn’t been to Canterbury in months.

“He’s in the Admiralty now, not free to gallivant about the country,” said Mr. Ford proudly when she asked how Oliver was. “Quite invaluable to his superiors, you know.” He chuckled. “And I might as well tell you—there’s a pretty commodore’s daughter who might have helped keep him in Portsmouth.”

Grace’s mouth hung open for a full minute. “Oh,” she said stupidly. “I did not know. He didn’t mention a lady in his letters…”

Mr. Ford’s smile turned gentle, as if he suspected her heart had just suffered a blow. “I understand she’s a lively one. He appears quite dazzled, but it may come to nothing.”

“Perhaps,” she said numbly.

“And there,” Mr. Ford went on in his bracing but kind way. “He’ll be a sorry lad when I tell him you asked about him. Always very fond of you, Miss Finch—one year he told me he wouldn’t come unless I promised you would be here. He said you were the only interesting person to talk to.”

She’d tried. She wrote to him about the birds she saw and drew in her sketchbook, of the lame rabbit she saved from a poacher and kept as a pet. She sent him a letter every week, as she’d promised years ago. But she wasn’t a pretty commodore’s daughter, and Oliver hadn’t been home in a year.

There wasn’t much that was happy about this Christmas.


Grace did not want to go to Christmas dinner at her Aunt Sarah’s house anymore.

As of the previous September, she was the only unmarried cousin of the lot. Daphne, with her baronet husband had two little boys, and Lizzie had a daughter. Her sister Amelia had four children now, who ran in the Holkham garden as Grace used to do with her cousins. James, George, Willa… even Frederick had found someone to marry.

She wasn’t unmarried for lack of offers. She’d had two—well, one reasonable offer and one that might be counted as a mercy proposal. Her mother had been hopeful, but Grace thought she’d rather be a spinster forever rather than marry Donald Brewster. He was polite but dull, and she’d never really wanted to marry someone as short as she was. Their children would be elves, she thought morosely. She’d always dreamed of someone tall… kind and friendly… even handsome, with sun-bleached blond hair and bright blue eyes…

All right, she’d dreamed of Oliver. Since the day he tied her bootlaces so many years ago. She had expected her infatuation would fade and be supplanted by some other fellow, but it never had, no matter how desperately she had tried after hearing about the commodore’s daughter in Portsmouth. But Oliver hadn’t married that girl, and he’d kept writing to Grace, and somehow her heart never gave up hope.

She told herself that was enough; she was perfectly contented and resigned to being unmarried, trading letters every fortnight with the man of her dreams, even if he would never know how much she cared for him. She’d begun selling her drawings of various animals and plants around her family home, and a professor from Oxford had come down to talk to her about illustrating his treatise on the flora and fauna of Kent after discovering her engravings in a print shop. She was not useless, even if her father described her new employment as drawing bugs and daisies. The professor was paying her, and if it went well, she might become one of those independent women with their own income and their own cottages. She would be avant garde, rather than sad and forlorn.

Still, she didn’t look forward to dinner at Holkham House.

She walked in the door, resigned to being Aunt Grace, who could always be counted on to hold someone’s baby because she had none of her own. Perhaps this year she’d start drinking when Uncle Daniel brought out his raisin-wine.

But that idea blew away like the fat flakes of snow flurrying down outside when Oliver stepped out of the drawing room. Her heart seized. Her feet stopped. She hadn’t seen him in two years, and he was even more handsome now than ever. He was still in the Navy, and his uniform was spotless, the braid glinting in the candlelight.

“Grace.” He bowed, an uncertain smile on his face. “I hoped you would come.”

She tried to shake off her grim mood. “I always come,” she reminded him lightly. “I didn’t not expect to see you!” She went to meet him, hands outstretched. As always, a little charge shot up her arms as his fingers clasped hers.

“I had to invite myself,” he confided. “Lady Holkham’s invitation was addressed to my father.”

She laughed. “I’m sure Aunt Sarah was delighted to add you to the party.” She knew her aunt had invited him every year in the hope he might marry one of her cousins. Grace had overheard Mother tell Papa that Oliver made a tidy fortune in the war. But now all the cousins were married, so that didn’t matter.

“I suspect I threw off her numbers,” he murmured. He was still holding her hands, and now he stepped back to look at her. “You look splendid.”

She smiled brightly even as his gaze made her heart twist. “Thank you. I’m trying to be splendid.”

He grinned. “Ah, I’ve known you’re splendid all along.”

Grace tensed—what did that mean?—but he only dropped her hand and went to greet her parents. She watched him speak to her father, and tried not to sigh. She almost wished he would get married so she could stop hoping. Every time she set eyes on his strong profile, his tanned face, even the way he stood, something inside her grew warm and soft. Hopeful.

He came back to her. “Are you anxious to see your cousins and aunt and uncle?”

Good heavens; did he know she hadn’t wanted to come? “I see them frequently,” she said with a forced laugh. “Lizzie’s boy is getting quite tall, isn’t he?”

Oliver didn’t laugh. He watched her closely, as if studying her face. Grace fell silent, nervous now. She cleared her throat. “Why do you ask?”

“Because,” he answered slowly, “I was hoping you might agree to take a walk with me in the garden.”

She blinked. “It’s snowing.”

“I won’t put it down your collar.” He winked. “I wanted to talk to you.”

He knew all about the professor from Oxford and the pictures of bugs and daisies. She’d written to him almost before she’d told her parents. She wrote to tell him everything that happened to her here in this quiet little corner of Kent. “About what?” she asked stupidly.

He looked sheepish. “About… something important.”

Dread clutched at her. “Are you getting married?” she blurted out in a whisper.

Oliver went still. He was, she knew it. Grace tried to pull free—when had he got hold of her hand again?—but he wouldn’t let go.

“Congratulations,” she said, her voice wobbly.

Oliver cursed under his breath and turned on his heel, towing her behind him out the door, through the arbor, into the garden. There he faced her. “We’ve known each other a long time.” He waited for her nod of agreement. “I think we’ve been very good friends for at least a dozen years now.” Again Grace nodded. Oliver drew a deep breath. “I have never looked forward to anything like I do to your letters, Grace. I feel like I know you, and you know me, better than anyone in the world, even my father.”

The snow picked up, and plenty of snowflakes hit her bare nape. But somehow Grace wasn’t cold as Oliver, dear Oliver, her closest confidant, the star of all her romantic dreams and wishes, reached for her hand again. “I’ve been away in Portsmouth a long time, and I have to go back in a fortnight. But while I’m here, I would like to see you.” She gasped. That dangerous, tempting grin curved his mouth. “I would like to call on you. Your father gave me his permission.”

“That’s what you wanted to talk to me about?”

He glanced at the house, then stepped closer. He leaned down until she could see every tiny fleck of gray in his blue eyes. Almost forehead to forehead, he gazed into her eyes. “No. I wanted to ask you to marry me, but your parents—“

She flung her arms around him and kissed him. Oliver’s arms closed around her and he lifted her off her feet, kissing her back. When he finally lifted his head, Grace’s brain could only form one thought. “My parents don’t want me to marry you?”

He laughed. “Your father said I should call first, so we could be re-acquainted.”

She laughed, too. “But you already are.” She cupped his cheek with one cold hand. “You were right—we do know each other better than anyone else. My answer is yes.”

“To which question?”

She smiled, her heart bursting. “To all of them.”

And when he kissed her again, she didn’t even feel the snow.

What happens at the infamous Vega Club . . .

Sophie Campbell is determined to be mistress of her own fate. Surviving on her skill at cards, she never risks what she can’t afford to lose. Yet when the Duke of Ware proposes a scandalous wager that’s too extravagant to refuse, she can’t resist. If she wins, she’ll get five thousand pounds, enough to secure her independence forever.

Stays at the Vega Club . . .

Jack Lindeville, Duke of Ware, tells himself he’s at the Vega Club merely to save his reckless brother from losing everything, but he knows it’s a lie. He can’t keep his eyes off Sophie, and to get her he breaks his ironclad rule against gambling. If he wins, he wants her—for a week.

Until now.

A week with Jack could ruin what’s left of Sophie’s reputation. It might even cost her her heart. But when it comes to love, all bets are off . . .

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  1. In loved both. Thank you for sharing. In the rafflecopter for following on Pinterest it closed before I finished. I follow ads Carol Luciano.
    Happy Holidays.
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

  2. Awww. So sweet! Thanks, Caroline!

  3. This is sweet! Love the cover. Lori Dykes