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Wednesday, December 11, 2019

A Historical Christmas Event with Darcy Burke

Darcy Burke is the USA Today Bestselling Author of hot, action-packed historical and sexy, emotional contemporary romance. A native Oregonian, Darcy lives on the edge of wine country with her guitar-strumming husband, their two hilarious kids who seem to have inherited the writing gene, and three Bengal cats. Visit Darcy online at and sign up for her newsletter, follow her on Twitter at, or like her Facebook page,

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The Yule Log Hunt
An Untouchables Story

Christmas Eve 1822
Stour’s Edge, Suffolk, England

Sebastian Westgate, Duke of Clare, was outnumbered. How had he managed to be left alone with five children, only two of whom were his? “Don’t you have nurses?” he mused aloud.

“Papa, they are busy,” his daughter Leah, all of five and a half years, said with far more authority than she ought to have. “With the other children.”

Yes, the younger ones. “What about their mothers?”

Before Leah could answer, three small boys aged three and four began to wrestle in the middle of the floor. She turned her head, pursing her lips in a way that brought her mother to West’s mind, and charged toward the melee. “Stop that!”

None of them listened to her, so she raised her voice and tried again. When one of the boys yelled, “Ow!” West resigned himself to intervene. He tried to take a step but realized there was a small body clinging to his leg.

Wee Jasper Kinsley, Earl of Wethersfield and heir to the Duke of Halstead, stared up at West with wide green eyes. “Up, please?” When West didn’t immediately sweep him into his arms, Jasper added, “I wanta see.”

Ah, the lad wanted to watch the tussle. West couldn’t blame him for that. He plucked the boy up and carried him closer to the tangle of bodies thrashing about on the floor. “Better?” West asked.

Jasper nodded. Leah had continued to admonish the wrestling boys, telling them they would be in grave trouble when their mothers arrived. It wasn’t lost on West that mothers were the greater threat. He was nothing more than a soft-hearted jelly when it came to his three children, and it was to his wife, Ivy, that they listened. Which was for the best because West could think of no one worth listening to more, no one who could care for them—or him—better.

“What on earth is going on here?” Ivy’s voice carried through the room like a captain addressing her troops. She carried their youngest, Julia, who was not yet two.

“Benedict!” Emmaline Maitland, Marchioness of Axbridge, barked at the wrestling boys. The one with the bright blond hair extricated himself—or tried to, but Sebastian, West’s son, grabbed his ankle and pulled him back down.

“Sebastian, stop that!” Ivy said crisply. Sebastian promptly let Benedict go and blinked up at his mother. He and the remaining boy, Gray, which was short for Graham for he was named after his father’s best friend, the Duke of Halstead, ceased their sport, and all three scrambled to their feet.

Gray swept his hair from his forehead and cast a worried glance toward his mother, Fanny, who was also Ivy’s younger sister.

Fanny narrowed her eyes at her son. “Apologize to Aunt Ivy and Uncle West for causing a ruckus in their house.”

Emmaline inclined her head toward her son. “You too, Benedict.”

“Sorry,” they chimed in unison.

“Sebastian, apologize to your mother,” West said.

“Sorry, Mama.” Sebastian went to take his mother’s hand, and West saw the precise moment when his wife melted on the inside. Her green eyes took on that warm, maternal sheen that never failed to make his heart feel as if it might burst. That he’d found a love so strong and so pure would humble him until his dying breath and likely beyond.

“Why is everyone apologizing?” Lionel, Marquess of Axbridge and one of West’s closest friends, asked as he entered the drawing room. He carried their youngest, Caroline, who was the same age as Julia and was followed by West’s brother-in-law, David Langley, Earl of St. Ives whose arms were full with his youngest, Mary.

“The boys were wrestling,” Emmaline explained to her husband.

“Who was winning?” Lionel asked, and West couldn’t help but laugh. But then all the women either frowned or glared at him and Lionel, and they quickly sobered.

“What happened?” Fanny asked.

“There was only Papa here,” Leah answered, as if that response perfectly summed up why a fracas would break out. And West supposed it did.

“I shouldn’t have been left alone with them,” he said in meager self-defense.

Leah came to him and touched his hand. “It’s all right, Papa. I was here to help.”

West stifled a smile and caressed her cheek. “Thank goodness for that.” He winked at her then transferred his attention to the other adults. “Are we ready for the Yule log hunt?”

This provoked a chorus of excitement from the children, followed by laughter from the adults.

“I think that’s a yes,” Lionel said with a wry grin.

Graham and Arabella Kinsley, Duke and Duchess of Halstead, entered then. Graham carried their youngest, Charlotte, who was just a year old. “Did we hear that it’s time to leave for the hunt?”

Jasper wriggled in West’s arms as he reached for his mother. Arabella strode toward them and embraced him with a smile. “Thank you for watching Jasper while we tended to Charlotte. The nurses are ready to take charge of the small ones while we go on the hunt.”

As if on cue, three nurses entered the drawing room and went about taking the smallest of the children.

“Should we bring Mary?” David asked his wife, Fanny. “Or is she still too young?”

“We’re bringing Julia,” West said. She and Mary were only a month apart in age.

“I would, but she’s practically falling asleep,” Fanny said. “Next year.” She transferred the toddler to the nurse.

Everyone set to bundling up the children and themselves. West indicated the others should precede them outside while he and his family brought up the rear. There were two carts to convey them to the forest, plus a third that would transport the log back to the house.

“You really couldn’t keep them from wrestling?” Ivy murmured. She carried Julia while West shepherded Leah and Sebastian toward the waiting cart.

“They’re children,” West said. “They move too quickly. And there was Jasper. Hell, there were far too many of them. It was me against a rabid army.” He caught the slight upturning of his wife’s lush mouth.

“Yes, three and four-year-olds are so treacherous. I daresay you’re lucky to have escaped unscathed.” She slid him a sarcastic glance, a single red-gold brow arching high on her forehead.

“Indeed.” He flashed her a grin before lifting their children into the cart. Once they were all settled, the grooms driving the carts set them in motion.

“I wish it was snowing,” Leah said wistfully, her head cast back as she looked up at the gray sky.

“That would make our hunt a bit more difficult,” Ivy said, stroking Leah’s back.

“I suppose.” Leah didn’t sound convinced.

They dipped through a large rut, and Emmaline, who was seated across the cart from West and Ivy, winced. She clasped her round belly.

“Everything all right?” Ivy asked with concern. “Perhaps you should have stayed at the house?”

“Nonsense. The babe won’t come for another month. I wouldn’t have missed this.” She glanced toward her two children, her features softening. “Or them.”

West understood. The joy he once gleaned from finding the Yule log was nothing compared to the joy of watching his children go on the hunt. This was Julia’s first, and it would be no less thrilling than Leah’s or Sebastian’s.

“Perhaps Ivy’s right,” Lionel said, watching Emmaline with a puckered brow. “Should you really be out here in the cold jostling about?”

“I’m going to jostle home before Epiphany. Both Benedict and Caroline were past when we expected them. I can’t imagine this babe will be any different.”

Lionel’s features relaxed in a half-smile, and he leaned over to kiss his wife’s brow. “Forgive me if I worry. I can’t help myself where you’re concerned.”

The children chattered nonstop as they rode to the forest. By the time they reached the wood, the energy in the cart was high enough to set a town ablaze, or so it seemed to West. He eagerly helped them all down, where they joined the children from the other cart.

“Now, everyone knows to stay together, right?” West announced.

“They’re not listening,” Ivy said, gazing over the raucous group. “Children!”

Their conversation dried up like a stream in late summer as they pivoted to face her.

“A captain indeed,” West murmured.

Ivy snapped her gaze to his. “What?”

“Nothing.” He cleared his throat and addressed the children. “You are to stay together. No one wanders off alone. Understand?”

Most of them nodded.

Ivy shook her head. “Not good enough. We need a roll call. When Fanny says your name, say, ‘I understand’.”

Fanny began calling out the children’s names, and each one dutifully responded. West leaned close to Ivy and whispered, “You are an inspiring force.”

She looked at him askance, her eyes sparkling. “Don’t you mean terrifying?”

“In the best possible way.” He kissed her cheek and lightly squeezed her waist. Suddenly, he was overcome with thoughts of her pressed against a tree in the forest, the Yule log hunt be damned.

“Can we go look now, Papa?” Leah asked, her gaze fairly teeming with excitement.

West grinned at her enthusiasm. “Yes, go find us the best Yule log!”

The children instantly scattered, and the adults called out to each other to follow them in various directions. West and Ivy stuck close to Julia since she was so small. She wasn’t looking at the trees at all. She was simply trying to keep up with her big brother Sebastian as he raced off in search of the perfect log.

“This one, Papa!” Sebastian called.

“No, that’s not nearly big enough,” Leah said. She looked about and pointed at another tree. “That one is better.”

“Is not,” Sebastian argued, his lips forming a pout. He stalked in the opposite direction while Leah marched toward the tree she’d indicated.

Julia followed Sebastian, and West was torn as to which way to go. Ivy was already going after Sebastian and Julia, so West turned to trail behind Leah. Except she was with several of the others, so he opted to stay with his wife, lest she end up having to tend Julia.

“Look, Mama, toadstools!” Sebastian declared as he squatted down next to a cluster of woodland fungus.

“We look but never touch, dear,” Ivy said to him with a smile.

Julia squatted down next to him and reached her hand out, but Sebastian gently took it in his. “No, Julia, don’t touch.” He looked around then guided her to a moss-covered rock. “Touch this instead. It’s soft.” He removed his mitten and showed her. He then helped her to take off her mitten so she could feel it. Her giggle filled the air and warmed West’s heart.

“If someone had told me I could love someone more than you...” He shook his head as he glanced toward Ivy. “I would have said they were mad.”

“And I would have said the same.” She moved close to his side, sliding her arm around his waist. “But the way I love you is quite different than the way I love them.” She narrowed her eyes slightly as she pressed against him.

He turned, taking her in his arms. “I should hope so.” His lips descended on hers, and their kiss ignited his desire.


West and Ivy pulled apart, laughing at their son’s horrified outburst.

“West!” David called from several yards away.

Ivy went to take Julia’s hand. “Come, let us see what Uncle David wants.”

Instead, Julia held up her arms. Ivy lifted her and settled the toddler on her hip.

West clasped his son’s hand. “Do you suppose they found a tree?”

“But I want to pick the log, Papa.”

“We must all agree on one.” West began to question the wisdom in bringing eight children into the forest and expecting them to agree on the same Yule log. It had been hard enough before the children. Everyone had their own opinion on what constituted the perfect log.

They joined the others who stood around a fairly sizeable tree.

“It’s too big,” Fanny said, her mouth tipped into a slight frown.

“Is not,” Benedict said.

Gray nodded in agreement. “This one.”

“Yes, this one,” Sebastian said.

“This seems almost unanimous,” David said. “At least among the older children. I daresay the others won’t care.” He grinned.

“What does Leah say?” West asked, looking about for his daughter, who was the oldest child. When he didn’t immediately see her, he called out her name.

“Oh!” Emmaline’s knees buckled, and her eyes rounded.

Lionel rushed to her side, catching her before she fell to the ground. He swept her into his arms as if she were a feather and not a woman far along with child. “You’re going back to the house.”

“I think that’s best.” She winced. “My waters have broken.”

Lionel swore softly as he hurried to the cart. West followed him. “I’ll go with you.”

“West!” His name came as a panicked plea from his wife. “Leah isn’t here.”

West spun about as ice plucked at his heart.

“Neither is Jasper.” This dark pronouncement came from the boy’s father, Graham.

Lionel settled Emmaline into the cart and handed her a blanket before turning to West. “Stay. I’ll take Emmaline back.”

Fear tripped along West’s spine, but he tamped it down. Leah and Jasper couldn’t have gone far. But Emmaline and Lionel needed to return to the house immediately.

“We’ll go too and take the children so you can focus on finding Leah and Jasper,” Fanny said, nodding toward her husband, who set to gathering them. He and Lionel began loading them into the second cart. Emmaline let out a gasp and gritted her teeth.

“Go,” David said to Lionel. “We’ll be right behind you.”

Lionel thanked him, then climbed into the cart with his wife. The groom steered the horses back toward the house.

Julia began to cry as Ivy handed her to Fanny. “Don’t cry, love,” Ivy said softly, patting Julia’s back. “Aunt Fanny will be with you, and I’ll be home before you know it.” She smiled warmly, but West saw the unease in her eyes.

West picked up Sebastian and set him in the cart. “Look after your sister.”

“You’ll find Leah?” The boy’s dark eyes were wide with worry. “She can pick whatever log she likes.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll find her in a trice,” West said as much to alleviate his own concern as his son’s. He kissed the boy’s forehead and told the groom to drive.

When he turned, Ivy, Graham, and Arabella were already striding through the trees calling for Leah and Jasper.

But with each call that went unanswered and each minute that passed, West felt as if he’d swallowed lead. His unease became fear, and soon his fear would become panic. If anything happened to them, he didn’t know what he would do. His gaze strayed to the pale face of his wife, and he refused to give in to dread.

West reached for her hand and squeezed her tightly. “We’ll find them.”

She looked at him with determination, the steel in her eyes tempered by an edge of alarm. “We have to.”


Ivy tried to use logic to banish the panic that threatened. She would have expected Sebastian to be the one to run off and not answer when called, not Leah. That fact made Ivy wonder if she’d done so because of Jasper. Or if something terrible had happened...

No. She refused to think such a thing.

Had Leah followed Jasper to keep an eye on him? Though she was only five and a half, she had the natural instinct of a caregiver, probably because she had two younger siblings.

“Jasper!” The agitated sound of Arabella’s voice drove Ivy to the younger woman.

Ivy touched her arm soothingly, despite her own apprehension. “We’ll find him.”

“We should have left him at the house with Charlotte.” Arabella looked positively ashen. Even her lips were a faint gray. “I think I’m going to be ill.” She turned and rushed away, but the distinct sound of her tossing up her accounts was unmistakable.

Graham hurried to her side and caressed her back. Ivy couldn’t hear what was said, if anything.

West pressed his lips together in a grim line. “We’ll cover more ground if we split up, but Arabella shouldn’t be left alone. You and she must stay together—and stick close to this area in case Leah and Jasper find their way back to the cart. I will strike out with Graham and our men. We’ll choose directions and go individually.”

Ivy nodded. “A sound plan.”

West called out to the groom and four footmen who remained.

She watched as he went to share the scheme with Graham. After Arabella had straightened and Graham had briefly embraced her, Ivy made her way in their direction.

“I want to go search for them,” Arabella said, her arms wrapped around her middle.

“We can look around here.” Ivy noted that Arabella still looked rather pale. “But perhaps you should sit in the cart for a few minutes and warm up beneath a blanket.”

“I’m not unwell. At least, not in a sickness way. I’m with child. I’ve been meaning to ask you how you manage with three.”

“Not very well, apparently,” Ivy said. No, she wouldn’t think like that. “Come, we must keep a positive outlook. Jasper and Leah are fine. They’ve simply wandered off. Perhaps my daughter has taken after her Aunt Fanny and decided to follow a rabbit.”

“Isn’t that how Fanny met David?” Arabella asked.

Ivy nodded. “You’ve heard the story?”

“Yes. If not for that rabbit, I would likely be married to David instead.” Because their fathers had been best friends and arranged for their children to wed. Unfortunately for their fathers’ plans, David fell in love with Fanny. And as luck would have it, Arabella was meant to be with Graham, who had, incidentally, been David’s secretary before inheriting a dukedom—much to Graham’s shock. David and Graham remained close, which is how Ivy and West had come to know them so well.

“Now here you are expecting your third child with Graham,” Ivy said, seizing on a happy thought. “How lovely. As to your question about three children, I have it on good authority that anything after three makes no difference whatsoever.”

“Whose authority is that?” Arabella asked, half-smiling.

“Nora, of course. And her sister. Jo and Bran just welcomed their fourth some months ago.”

Arabella nodded in recognition. She was well acquainted with both Nora, the Duchess of Kendal, and Jo, the Countess of Knighton. Their circle of friends was quite large when Ivy thought about it. She could never have guessed this would be her life—a duchess, a husband who adored her and who she adored in return, a large group of close friends, family really, who took care of one another, and of course, her children who she loved beyond measure. Her heart squeezed as she thought of her firstborn.

No, not her firstborn. She’d delivered a stillborn child many years ago, long before she’d met West. When she’d been young and foolish. Before she’d understood what true love really was, what it could be.

“I’m feeling a bit better, I think,” Arabella said, drawing Ivy from her thoughts of the past. She walked a few yards. “Jasper! Leah!”

Ivy pivoted and strode in the opposite direction, circling around the cart. “Jasper! Leah!”

They continued calling and walking, widening their range with each pass. Ivy tried to calculate how long they’d been gone, but it was impossible. It felt like an eternity, but it was probably not long at all.

At last, they heard a distant sound. “Arabella!”

Ivy and Arabella froze then turned toward the sound. Arabella started in that direction, and Ivy followed.

“Arabella!” This time was louder.

“It sounds like Graham.”

“And it sounds like he’s getting closer. Is that a happy tone?” Ivy asked.

“I...think so?”

Then they came into view. Graham carried his son while one of the footmen bore Leah. Ivy and Arabella reached for each other at precisely the same moment, providing the other with the support they needed as a wave of great relief washed over them. At least Ivy assumed that’s how Arabella felt. They smiled at each other before breaking apart and rushing to meet their children.

“My goodness, Jasper, you’re all wet.” Arabella held her arms out, but Graham shook his head and said he’d take him to the cart.

“Mama, I saw a pretty bird. But it flew away.”

“That’s when he fell into the stream,” Leah said. “I had to wade in and help him up.”

Ivy took her daughter from the footman. “Thank you, Harris. So much.” She surveyed Leah’s skirts and feet. She was wet, but not completely so as Jasper was.

“We need to get Jasper back to the house,” Graham said. “It’s too cold for him to remain out here.”

Arabella climbed into the cart. “Give him to me, and I’ll wrap him in a blanket.” They’d kept blankets from the other two carts for the return trip.

Graham helped wrap Jasper up and settle him in his mother’s lap. Arabella fussed over him, but the fear that had tightened her features had gone.

“You didn’t see West?” Ivy asked as she set Leah into the cart. She didn’t want to leave without him, and yet Jasper had to get inside and out of those wet clothes right away, as did Leah.

“No,” Graham said. “Do you mind if we go and send a cart back for him?”

“I’ll stay,” the footman offered then looked to Graham. “If you don’t mind driving the cart, Your Grace?”

“Boyd can drive!” West called, trotting into the clearing with the groom.

Ivy exhaled with relief, though they were still missing the other footmen.

West came to the cart and embraced Leah. “I hope you had an excellent adventure. You gave us a bit of a scare.”

“I’m sorry, Papa. I had to keep an eye on Jasper.” She cast him a somewhat disgruntled look, and Ivy had to stifle a laugh. “He moves rather fast for a toddler.”

“That’s my boy,” Graham said. He looked to West. “We need to get Jasper back. He fell into the stream and is soaking wet.”

“Leah is also a bit damp in the feet,” Ivy said.

West surveyed their daughter. “I can see that.” He turned to Graham. “Yes, you must go at once. I’ll stay and find the others, then we’ll chop down that cursed log.” He gestured toward the tree the boys had agreed upon.

“Why is it cursed, Papa?” Leah asked. “I like it.”

He smiled at her and went to kiss her forehead. “It isn’t, sweetling, especially since you like it. Go on home with your mother, and I’ll be there soon.”

“But then you’ll be alone,” Leah said, frowning.

West shook his head and stroked Leah’s cheek. Watching them together brought another tide of relief and love over Ivy. “I won’t be alone at all,” West said. “I have Harris and the others to keep me company until the cart returns. In the meantime, we have to cut down our log.”

“Can’t Mama stay with you? I promise I’ll go home with Arabella and Graham, and I’ll go straight upstairs for a bath.”

Was she really only five and a half? She sounded so mature, but then that’s what Ivy had come to expect from her darling girl.

Arabella looked a bit restless. “I’ll make sure she does.”

Ivy didn’t want to debate it—not when Arabella needed to get her son home. “All right then. I’ll see you shortly.” She gave Arabella a grateful smile. “Thank you.”

Before the cart left, Harris removed the axe. He turned to West as the vehicle drove away. “Do you wish to do the honors, Your Grace?”

West looked toward the cart. “I probably should. Leah is watching, and I don’t wish to disappoint her.” He took the axe from Harris and went to the tree. The other footmen arrived and were glad to hear the children had been found.

“On second thought, I’m going to let you younger men do the hard work lest I hurt myself.” West handed the axe back to Harris. “Plus, I need to comfort Her Grace now that the crisis has passed.” He winked at Ivy, and the footmen chuckled in response.

Ivy shook her head as her beloved husband came toward her. “You don’t give yourself enough credit. You forget that you chop firewood all the time.”

“How do you know that?”

“As if you aren’t aware that I watch you.” She rolled her eyes then settled them on him with a warm intensity. “How can I not when you remove your shirt?”

“I don’t do that every time.”

“No, and that’s a shame.”

West wrapped his arms around her waist and drew her close to his chest. “You’re all right? About Leah, I mean.”

“Yes, we’ll talk with her about it when we get home. She should have told us she was going after Jasper.”

“Except, if she was merely following him, she may not have realized she needed to say anything.” He rested his forehead against Ivy’s. “Sometimes we forget she’s only five.”

“And a half. But yes, you’re right.” Ivy’s chest constricted for a moment. “I won’t forget that again.” She raised her hands between them and grasped the lapels of his coat. “Arabella said she’s expecting their third child. She asked if it was difficult to manage three. After today, I can unequivocally say, yes.”

“Oh dear, does that mean there won’t be a fourth?”

“It won’t be for our lack of trying.”

West brushed his lips against hers. “No, it won’t. And I look forward to another attempt later.”

Ivy giggled. “Just one?”

His eyes sparked with desire and love. “Oh, now you’re tempting me. But then you always do, my love. Don’t ever stop.”

“Never.” She kissed him, heedless of the footmen and their task, even when they felled the tree.

It was a Yule log hunt she would never forget.

Want to continue reading to see what happens with Emmaline, who just went into labor?

Hop on over to my website to read part two of The Yule Log Hunt! Use the password Christmas (it’s case sensitive). Then be sure to join my Facebook group, Darcy’s Duchesses where I am hosting several holiday giveaways!

The Earl of Buckleigh was once an untitled misfit, tormented at Oxford. Now, he’s overcome his challenges and is eager for the future, especially when his oldest and dearest friend, Bianca, needs help to save the annual holiday party. Ash has a plan to rescue the event, but when the bullies from his youth are up to their old tricks, he must risk everything to put the past behind him and find true love.

Furious when her brother refuses to host the St. Stephen’s Day party, Lady Bianca Stafford is committed to giving the villagers their celebration. In Ash, she sees salvation for their local tradition, and perhaps a future she never expected. But her brother has other plans for her—a Season and marriage, and not to Ash. When disaster strikes, everything she cares about is threatened and it will take a miracle—or a hero—to save the day.

The Red Hot Earl is inspired by the song and story, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

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  1. Loved this post. Thank you for sharing it here. Happy Holidays.
    Carol Luciano
    Lucky4750 at aol dot com

  2. I enjoyed the story. Merry Christmas!

  3. Not much worse than a missing child!

  4. Love all around series sounds great! Thank you

  5. Thank you so much for the generous giveaway! Have a Merry Christmas!

  6. Thanks for sharing!

  7. What a wonderful Christmas story! Thanks for sharing.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. I loved the story. Thank you for sharing.

  10. I enjoyed reading this book. Merry Christmas

  11. I enjoyed this book. Hope there are more.Merry Christmas

  12. Loved the excerpt! Can’t wait to read.

  13. Thank you for the lovely story I loved like all your books!
    Thank you!
    Happy Holidays!

  14. Enjoyed the excerpt. Would like a signed copy.

  15. Merry Christmas, Darcy!! Loved this Christmas story, thank you so much for sharing it with us. xo

  16. Is there an author that's been a huge inspiration on your writing?

  17. If this was inspired by Rudolph... We're any other stories in the running? And would u be writing those ?

  18. Since it wasn't stated that this is U.S. shipping only, I can only assume I'm okay to enter as a Canadian. Thank you for including the rest of us. Merry Christmas!