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Thursday, December 19, 2019

A Historical Christmas Event with Elizabeth Essex


Elizabeth Essex is the award-winning author of critically acclaimed historical romance, including the Reckless Brides and her new Highland Brides series. Her books have been nominated for numerous awards, including the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award and Seal of Excellence Award, and RWA’s prestigious RITA Award. The Reckless Brides Series has also made Top-Ten lists from Romantic Times, The Romance Reviews and Affaire de Coeur Magazine, and Desert Isle Keeper status at All About Romance. Her fifth book, A BREATH OF SCANDAL, was awarded Best Historical in the Reader’s Crown 2013.

When not rereading Jane Austen, mucking about in her garden, or simply messing about with boats, Elizabeth can be always be found with her laptop, making up stories about heroes and heroines who live far more exciting lives than she. It wasn’t always so. Long before she ever set pen to paper, Elizabeth graduated from Hollins College with a BA in Classics and Art History, and then earned her MA in Nautical Archaeology from Texas A&M University.  While she loved the life of an underwater archaeologist, she has found her true calling writing lush, lyrical historical romance full of passion, daring and adventure.

Elizabeth lives in Texas with her husband, the indispensable Mr. Essex, and her active and exuberant family in an old house filled to the brim with books. 



Happy Christmas to one and all! And thank you to Danielle, and Ramblings From This Chick for hosting us all this holiday season. It’s always such a pleasure and an honor to be involved in this marvelous Historical Christmas Event, and I’ve loved all the stories so far.

This year, to celebrate the reissue of one of my favorite stories from my Reckless Brides series, Almost A Scandal, (releasing January 21, 2020) I’m giving you a story that happens “offscreen,” just at the end of the book, before our hero and heroine, Col and Sally, get their happily ever after at the ball at Cliff House.

“Her Saving Grace" is the story of how Sally’s brother, Captain Owen Kent wins his own Reckless Bride, Lady Grace Burroughs, and Grace gets her own happily ever after, just the way she likes.


London
December, 1805


All London was thrown into agitation.

The first Lady Grace Burroughs heard was shouting in the normally well-mannered streets of Mayfair. Then the sounds of a scream, and the throwing opening of doors and windows, and the running of feet fast against the pavement.

And then the news was everywhere all at once—the hope of England, Admiral Nelson was dead. London could talk of nothing else.

“But the battle was a great triumph.” Her papa read the report the moment the London Gazette published the news. “At a place called Cape Trafalgar, ’The ever to be lamented Death of Vice-Admiral Lord Viscount Nelson, who, in the late Conflict with the Enemy, fell in the Hour of Victory.’

“Oh, the poor man,” Though she knew of the admiral only by repute, Grace could not but be moved by such a mortal sacrifice.

“And many others, too, will have fallen, I fear,” her father added solemnly. “But perhaps all the death and sacrifice will have brought an end to it.”

Please God it truly was an end to it—the endless war. Hot tears stung Grace’s eyes, though she blinked furiously them away. Lemon drops, it would never do to be red-eyed and weeping, when she had suffered not a whit. But for nearly the whole of her life, the country had been at war with France in one form or another—first with the bloody revolutionaries and then with the Corsican upstart.

And for all of her life, the heroic young men she had admired had gone off, one after another, never to return.

“I hope so, too, Papa.” Grace attempted to regain her aplomb. “Do tell me more.”

“Word arrived in London just last night,” papa returned to the newspaper. “Brought in a swift cutter immediately after the battle had been won and the admiral perished of his wounds. The captain spared nothing in the coming, I think, for they say he came flying into the Admiralty Building in Whitehall at one o’clock in the morning bearing the news. They will certainly make a hero out of him.”

Something within Grace stilled, or came alive—some intuition took seed within her, until it began to grow from the first faintest feeling, into an absolute surety.

“I must meet him.” She knew it, as if she had always known. For some reason she would not name, she was sure. “I…must.”

Her fond, sweet Papa smiled, and did what he always did—exactly as Grace should have wished. “Then I should expect I’ll need to get you an invitation to Charlton House.”

~

Not even the threat of snow could dampen Grace’s spirits as the town coach set out from Audley Square for the short drive to Charlton House. The hush of the falling snow only served to heighten the marvelous sense of otherworldliness—as if all time was slowing and suspending itself as they headed up Pall Mall. As if the world was being obliging enough to stop spinning just long enough to give Grace what she wanted for Christmas—a hero.

Why she suddenly knew she wanted a hero, Grace hadn’t the vaguest notion. She only knew that she was lucky—that providence had always been exceptionally kind to her, letting her be born into beauty, health, and wealth, and giving her the brain to use such gifts to the best of her advantage.

And she meant to be equally supportive of providence, helping it along where she could—as by alighting the steps to Charlton House.

Because like the tortoise and not the hare, providence was proving to be a desperately slow finisher. And at the ripe old age of one and twenty, Lady Grace was not getting any younger, while she searched diligently for a man with…a certain something.

A certain panache. A certain kind of conduct that surpassed her own. A man she could truly admire.

A hero.

Yet, the problem with heroes was that they were constantly doing heroic things—putting themselves in danger and getting themselves killed. But now that the war —or at least the great battle—was won, Grace was determined to make fate deliver her one of the lucky ones—the ones like her, that providence had been kind to.

Because she also knew deep down, in the very core of her very delicate bones, that she deserved one. Not because she was beautiful or wealthy or clever. But because, for all her faults of pride, Grace understood that heroism was a responsibility—when one saw more, and knew more, and was accorded more, one had the responsibility to act.

And Grace always acted. She always stepped into the metaphorical fray. Always.

Even when the fray became actual.

Just as it did when she slipped down the corridor to the ladies withdrawing room—as she always did at the start of any engagement, to make sure her attire for the evening was perfectly in place and she looked her perfect best— and the mottled light of a wall lamp at the far end of the corridor revealed a hulking man shaking some poor girl limp, as if she were the veriest rag doll.

It was a scene all too familiar in their fair, snowy city. And it simply wouldn’t do.

So Grace acted.

“My good man,” she addressed herself to the obviously not-good man in her easiest, most calmly commanding tone. “I’m afraid that won’t do.”

The brute turned to her slowly—just as she wanted him to—momentarily forgetting the girl, whom Grace signaled with a surreptitious flick of her fingers. The man before her looked very much like a great dog, cocking his head with a mixture of astonishment and curiosity writ across his heavy face.

It took no more than a moment for Grace’s clever, imaginative brain to take it all in—the length and strength of his brawny arms, the dark stain of manual labor on his fingernails, the respectable but worn clothes. The subtle air of desperation.

All of which told her he was a working man, a laborer or tradesman fallen on hard times, and not a professional, criminal miscreant. He probably even knew the girl.

But Grace had other plans for her—plans that did not include her being bruised like so much market stall fruit.

“Now, wot do we have ‘ere?” the fellow—whom Grace was smart enough to understand might be just a mean son-of-a-lemon drop, and not just down-on-his-luck—growled.

“We have a lady,” Grace informed him cordially. “Thank you for asking.”

And then she smiled at him—the bright, interested smile that never failed to make men of every sort, and every age and income, stop what they were doing and pay heed.

“And my, if you aren’t just the most marvelously intimidating thing,” she complimented him. “Goodness, you’re as tall as a great oak tree. You must have the most enormous reach. How fortuitous! Have you ever been weighed for the prizefighting?”

Grace didn’t wait for the behemoth to answer—she really wasn’t the least bit interested in his reply, only in bringing him round to her way—so she continued on without pausing for breath. “No? Well, we must have that done. At once—at the earliest possibility. Let me see you.”

She made a twirling motion with her finger, and—oh, lemon drops—if he didn’t oblige her, and turn around like a statue upon a pedestal.

It was extraordinary what one could make a dog, or a man do, if one just used the correct tone of voice.

“You look to weigh more than eighteen stone,” Grace continued as if he were the most fascinating man in all the world. “Good lord, man. Why are you not making your fortune in the prizefighting instead of wasting your time intimidating girls in back hallways. It’s a shameful waste of your talents and abilities. Now.” Grace made her voice all brisk decision. “I’ll tell you what you ought to do. You ought to go right down to St. James’s, to Berry Brothers and Rudd—do you know them?—and get yourself weighed. And then you ask them for the direction of a Colonel Robert Barclay. Colonel Barclay’s your man. Tell him I sent you. He’ll see if he can make you come up to scratch. St. James’s. Berry Brothers. Colonel Barclay. Have you got that?”

The great brute nodded his great, heavy head. “St. James’s. Berry Brothers. Colonel Barclay.”

“Good man.” She gifted him with her brightest, most pleased smile, as if it were his special reward for having listened so well. “Well? What are you waiting for?” She made a little shooing motion with her hands. “Off you go.”

And like everyone else who came into Grace’s purvey, he did exactly as she wanted, slowly toddling away down the corridor and away into the darkness beyond.

~

For a long, fraught moment Grace stood pat, letting the headiness throttling her chest settle into relief that it really hadn’t gone as terribly wrong as it might have done—that it really had gone just as she might have wished.

And then, because she was alone, and no one would ever see just what all that bright, blithe confidence had cost her, she set her back safely against the wall, so she could slide to the floor as her breath and her nerve and knees finally gave out on her. “Oh, lemon drops.”

“Handsomely now.” A deep baritone reached her ears in the moment before a tall shape formed itself from the shadows. “Steady as she goes.”

Grace was instantly back on her guard—if not on her feet. She firmed her voice. “I do not have the pleasure of either knowing you, sir, nor understanding what you say.”

“Aye,” he agreed kindly. “My apologies. Handsomely means carefully, with attention to the way of things.”

He—whoever he was—made absolutely no sense. “The way of things?”

“Aye.” He was quietly sure. “Takes some people like this, after a battle. Use up all their courage. Can you stand?”

She could not. And that he—whoever he was—should be able see her so clearly, so devastatingly without courage, was a intimacy—an intrusion—she did not think she could bear.

She made her voice as firmly frosty as possible while crumpled up in a heap. “Sir, I don’t know you.”

“Oh, aye,” he agreed again in that sure, calm way. “Given the circumstances, may I be permitted to introduce myself?” he asked, but then did not wait for her answer. “Owen Kent.”

He stepped into the light and Grace could she what she had not before—the dark blue coat decorated with brass and gold braid. The uniform.

And the most inconveniently handsome man she had ever seen.

Inconvenient because he was too tall, and too rugged, and too despairingly red-headed to ever do for her, who was delicate and petite and raven-haired. First of all, she’d get a crick in her neck trying to look up at him. And though he appeared young enough, his eyes had wrinkles at he corners.

And then there was that red hair.

No. She couldn’t countenance a ginger—they were entirely out of fashion. No matter how brilliant he looked in his blue coat. Which, now that she looked, was worn down at the seams—the materials was frayed at the cuffs. Just exactly as if he had come straight from some battle.

“Captain Owen Kent, of His Majesty’s Royal Navy.”

It was he, the naval captain who was the talk of London. The man the Prince Regency was fรชting.

“Oh, good heavens,” she breathed. “You’re the hero.” Grace was mortified beyond belief. “How long have you been there?”

“Long enough,” Captain Owen Kent answered with a considering smile as he lowered himself to a crouch in front of her, “to see you cut that fellow’s anchor cable and set him adrift on the tide as if you did it every day.”

That Grace actually did do that sort of thing—the sorts of things that her parents, and especially her maid, Dawkins, called interfering and pressing her luck—nearly every day, mortified her even more.

Who did this man, this stranger, think he was to be seeing her so clearly? Even if he were a hero—especially as he was a hero.

“If you’ve been here that long, why did you not do something?”

He pulled an economically elegant face, raising his brows at the same time that her turned down his mouth in consideration. “No need to run out my guns when yours were already blazing away with such telling accuracy. Best to hove to and keep my powder dry in readiness should the action take a turn.”

Somewhere in the midst of all that nautical metaphor, Grace sensed a compliment, though she had no idea why. “Do you always talk in such an arcane fashion?”

“My apologies, ma’am. Been at sea entirely too long, I fear. Not quite fit for a lady.” He spread his hands in some gesture of openness. “I meant, I saw no need to rescue you, when you had clearly already handily rescued yourself, and that poor girl, as well, though I stood ready to help should things have taken a turn for the worse. But you managed handsomely. Most impressive.”

That was clearly a compliment. “Well, I thank you,” Grace said with better grace, though she still felt a goose to be crumpled up on the floor in an ungraceful pool of lace and velvet. “Though I do admit that I was rather hoping for a hero.”

“Were you?” He leaned marginally closer, crinkling up the corner of his eyes, as if he were trying to see her better. “Then that is something we must have in common. You see—” A smile spread slowly across his face like a gift. “I’ve been in search of a heroine.”

Something very much like surety—or truth or fate—took hold of her heart and held fast.

“And,” he went on with quiet confidence, “I am quite sure I’ve found her.”

And just like that, providence settled her fate upon her like a weighted cloak.

“Oh,” was all Grace could manage. Her emotions seemed to be quite running away with her—she felt quivery and weak and astonished and totally, entirely sure all at the same time.

“Not sure which I admire more,” he continued to compliment, “your bravery or your cheek.”

“Cheek,” she advised when she found her breath. “Truth be told—” And she was sure one ought always to tell the truth to a hero “—I’m not really brave. I just can’t seem to help myself from…involving myself. From talking my way out of things, while I talk others into things that I want. If that makes any sense.”

“Aye,” he agreed in that contrary way of his. “It doesn’t. Not yet anyway.”

“Yet?”

“I’m sure it will take me years and years by your side to fathom the depths of your character. Wonderful, fascinating years.”

“Years together?” Grace wanted to make absolutely sure.

“Just so” he gave her a dazzling smile, all white, even teeth against those boyishly rakish freckles. “Because you were bloody brilliant. I’ve never seen your equal.” And then his already coppery cheeks reddened in what had to be a blush. “Apologies—know I’m not meant to swear in front of a lady.”

And she was certainly a lady. “Lady Grace Burroughs.” She found herself giving him her name, though it seemed impossible she had not already done so.

Especially since it seemed she had already given him her heart.

Or had he given her his, just as she would have liked?

“Lady Grace Burroughs,” he repeated with a sort of steadfast, accepting wonder. “Just so.”

And then he reached for her hands, and warmed them between his for a lovely, long moment before he said, “I know we haven’t been formally introduced, and you know nothing of me—although I assure you, you have but to step into the ballroom to ask and find my character is true—but I feel I already know you. And know that I needs must be with you always.”

“Yes,” she answered, though he hadn’t yet asked. “I think you must.”

Captain Kent leaned forward until he was on bended knee before her. Just as a hero would. “My dearest Lady Grace, would you do me the very great favor and honor of consenting to become my wife.”

“Yes,” she said again, because he had asked. “I think I must.”

Because providence liked a helping hand. And because when treated properly, even providence could be made to do exactly as Lady Grace Burroughs would like.

And give her a hero for Christmas and for her one and only true love.

~

Thank you for reading!!

You can find out how Grace and Owen’s story continues in the final chapters of ALMOST A SCANDAL

My other holiday present to you (besides Grace’s story) is a chance to win a signed copy of my holiday duet with Jess Michaels, BETROTHED BY CHRISTMAS.

Wishing you and yours a holiday filled with comfort and joy, and, as always, happy reading! Cheers, EEx





SHE’S ALWAYS READY FOR ADVENTURE. HE’S ALMOST READY FOR LOVE...

A LADY IN DISGUISE

For generations, the Kents have served proudly with the British Royal Navy. So when her younger brother refuses to report for duty, Sally Kent slips into uniform and takes his place—at least until he comes to his senses. Boldly climbing aboard H.M.S. Audacious, Sally is as able-bodied as any sailor there. But one man is making her feel tantalizingly aware of the full-bodied woman beneath her navy blues...

A MAN OVERBOARD

Dedicated to his ship, sworn to his duty—and distractingly gorgeous—Lieutenant David Colyear sees through Sally’s charade, and he’s furious. But he must admit she’s the best midshipman on board—and a woman who tempts him like no other. With his own secrets to hide and his career at stake, Col agrees to keep her on. But can the passion they hide survive the perils of battle at sea? Soon, their love and devotion will be put to the test...

Purchase: | Amazon |



Up For Grabs:
  • 1 print copy of Betrothed by Christmas
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19 comments :

  1. Gorgeous cover!
    Thank you for the chance to win.
    Happy Holidays!

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  2. Loved it. Thanks for that. Happy Holidays
    Carol Luciano
    Lucky4750 at aol dot com

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  3. Sounds like Lady Grace got her perfect Christmas present!

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  4. lovely story! thanks for sharing.

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  5. I love your writing. Merry Christmas
    clarksuzannah (at) gmail (dot) com

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  6. Lady Grace is a fascinating character. Thanks for sharing.

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  7. What's your favorite piece of research from this book?

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  8. Happy holidays, thanks for the opportunity!

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  9. Almost a Scandal sounds great! Thank you

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  10. Loved the excerpt! Can’t wait to read the series.

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  11. Ooh I like how they're out at sea. Not much else to go if one wanted to escape LOL.

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  12. Happy Holidays! I did enjoy your story .. I'm just a lil lost.. Only bc it a new to me author but you're going on my tbr list ๐Ÿ“–๐Ÿ‘
    Much loves!

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