A Bride For Christmas
Driving home for Christmas, the last thing Robert Tremaine, Duke of Whitney expects to find is an unconscious woman in the snow. The mystery deepens when she wakes up and cannot remember who she is. Robert becomes enchanted by the mysterious stranger who refuses to let the fear of her memory loss overwhelm her. It is only at the Solstice Ball, when her uncle appears and demands that Emily Conrad return with him to honour the marriage he has arranged, that she regains her memory and remembers what she was running from. Desperate to escape her uncle’s plan, Emily decides to disappear, unfortunately the Whitney diamonds disappear with her. Robert is furious, Emily has not only stolen the diamonds, but that he allowed himself to fall in love with her, a flirt and a thief.
For months he searches for her and they are reunited, but will their happiness last? Emily’s uncle is not only determined, but desperate that she marry the man he has chosen for her and will stop at nothing to make sure that the wedding happens. Will Robert ensure that the right man has a bride for Christmas?
Release Date: October 11, 2016
Genre: Historical Holiday Romance
“How much farther?” The Duke of Whitney stuck his head out of the window and yelled at his coachman.
“Not far now, Your Grace, as long as I don’t miss the turning.”
“Just do your best, Winters.”
Robert Tremaine pulled his head back in, and not for the first time of this journey, let loose a string of oaths. The last thing he wanted to do was to head down to the depths of Hampshire for Christmas. Because his favourite horse had gone lame the day before and there was not a decent riding horse to be hired in London so close to Christmas, he had ended up being driven in his carriage, something he considered fit for elderly gentlemen and maiden aunts. He’d rarely ridden in a carriage since he was a lad, and now he remembered why. To top it all, it was snowing a blizzard. They would be lucky to make Charleton for Christmas, if they made it at all.
He grunted as he tried to ease his long legs into a more comfortable position, and gave up. At over six foot in height, the small confines of the coach offered no comfortable position. At least riding his horse, he was in control. Here he had time to do something he did not want to do. He had time to think.
Truth to tell, Robert was dreading this Christmas, his first at Charleton Court as its master. He had been a duke last Christmas but was still in France, still on the battlefield. His mind drifted back to that dreadful day. His beloved Uncle Francis was dead, as was his cousin Christopher, the rightful Duke. Robert’s father had died shortly after his birth and his uncle had taken full responsibility for the family.
He and Christopher were closer than most brothers, closer than he was to his own younger brother. They went to school and Oxford together, and when the time came it was inevitable they would join the same regiment, the Hampshire Dragoons of which Uncle Francis was Colonel in Chief.
Robert smiled as he remembered how he and his cousin seemed to lead charmed lives. They were famous in the regiment for their drinking, high spirits, and ‘success with the ladies’ as their sergeant-major had said, they had led charmed lives until that awful day. His face froze. It had all happened in a blur, although it seemed as though his memory had stretched time. He could not wipe it from his mind.
They went into the battle with the confidence all soldiers need. No soldier can go into a battle thinking they may die. They go in believing they will come through, and until that day, that had been the case. Many times a bullet had whistled past his head. Several times his quick reflexes had deflected a potentially fatal thrust. Both he and Christopher had a few wounds to boast about, and though they had lost some of their friends, they had never come close to serious injury until that day, the day their luck had finally run out. Christopher and Uncle Francis were dead and it was his fault. Every day he was reminded as someone referred to him as Your Grace. He would never be able to forget, or forgive himself.
The self-loathing and guilt swept over him like acid, and he shifted uneasily in his seat. He closed his eyes, knowing he would see his cousin cut down in front of him. Christopher had yelled his name to warn him of the sword slicing towards his left. He turned and when he finished, turned back to see Christopher lying on the ground. In his determination to protect Robert, he had been unaware of the swordsman at his own back. The wound was deep and Robert had seen enough wounds to know that it was fatal. If he had taken more care, Christopher wouldn’t have had to look out for him and would be alive today. All Robert could do was sit with him as his life ebbed away.
“You must tell Father,” Christopher whispered as his strength diminished. “Tell him that I loved him. It’s funny. I don’t believe I ever told the old man that, and that I hope I made him proud.” He finished in a whisper.
His uncle had stood ramrod stiff as Robert told him his only child was dead. “Thank you for telling me, Robert, I appreciate that you were with him when he died. That’s a great comfort.”
“I’m sorry, Sir.”
“I know, Robert.”
“It should have been me, uncle.”
“You must not think that Robert. You must never think that. We all have a span of time allotted to us, and it was Christopher’s time. I should like to be alone now.” His voice was low and Robert realised how much his uncle was struggling to retain his control.
His batman woke him and told that his uncle was dead. He had gone out onto the field to see where his son had fallen. His officer’s uniform made him an easy target for a French sniper. Robert knew though that he had gone out inviting death. In one night he had lost the only father he had ever known and a cousin he could not have loved better if he had been his brother.
The carriage suddenly swung around jolting him almost off his seat and bringing his thoughts back to the present. “What the hell is happening, Winters?” He stuck his head out the window again.
“I think you should come and see this, Sir.”
Robert jumped to the ground, landing softly on the freshly fallen snow. It was already several inches deep and large flakes were still swirling. Winters and a groom were standing some way in front of the horses holding a lantern.
“What is it? A fallen tree?”
“I’m not quite sure, Sir, the horses must have sensed it. They stopped and that’s why we skidded.”
Robert walked over and bent down. “My God, it’s a body.”
“Is it dead?” the groom asked.
“I don’t know. Bring the lantern closer.”
He rolled the body over and his eyes widened. “God in heaven. It’s a woman.”
“Is she dead? I can’t see how she can be alive in this weather,” the groom said.
He touched her face. It was pale in the light of the lantern. “I think she’s alive. There’s only a slight dusting of snow on her so I don’t think she’s been here long, but she’s very cold. We need to get her into the carriage fast and make as much haste as you can, Winters.”
“We’re on the grand drive, Sir. I’ll go as fast as I can. They’re good horses, sure footed and brave. It’s only a mile, shouldn’t be too long, even in this weather.”
Robert carried her to the carriage and laid her on the seat, not entirely sure that she was breathing. She was a lady, he knew that from the riding habit and cloak she wore, both of which were damp. He removed the cloak and covered her with his own. She still had not moved. He touched her hand. It felt icy. His cloak was not making a difference.
He had to make a decision. That she was alone with him in a carriage was enough to ruin her reputation whoever she was, but if he left her on the opposite seat he knew she would die. He had seen the dangers of cold on the battlefield with men in uniforms which did not protect them, let alone a slip of a girl in a wet velvet riding habit. His decision made, he hauled her to him and pulled the cloak over them both, willing the heat from his body to bring life back to hers.
The carriage seemed to move in slow motion down the sweeping driveway. It may have been seconds or minutes before the girl in his arms caught her breath and began to shiver.
“That’s good. It shows you’re alive,” he muttered.
She had clearly taken a tumble and banged her head. There was a trickle of blood from her temple. It didn’t look too bad, but you could never tell with head injuries. Whether she had other injuries it was difficult to tell in the small confines of the coach. That would have to wait until they were at the house, though it would be impossible to get Doctor Barnes out in this weather. The responsibility for this girl’s life lay in his hands.
God knew what the servants would make of this. He idly twirled a silken skein of her hair around his fingers. This is the first time he’d been back as master and he arrived with an unconscious woman. No doubt the story would be told in the servant’s hall for years.
He almost groaned as his mind pursued the thought. His mother was also due to arrive at any time for Christmas, along with his younger brother. They had been visiting his sister at her estate in Yorkshire who could not travel as she was about to give birth to the next Earl of Thurnscoe. There was no doubt his mother would make it through the snow. She would definitely arrive despite the blizzard because she was a force of nature on her own. Forceful was how he had heard someone describing her when they had not known he was listening. It was a good word. Battle-axe was the one he might have used.
Ever since he had inherited the title she had been pressing him to marry and have children to secure the inheritance. Having produced one girl and two boys, she had done her duty as a wife and knew the importance of continuing the line. There would be no point inheriting if someone else were to come along and reap the benefit because there was no heir. Everywhere he went, she was there, thrusting blushing virgins at him. To be honest, he had grown to dread meeting her at any social occasion.
The girls were all pretty, he could not deny that. However, half of them seemed to have no thoughts in their heads beyond the next bonnet they were going to buy. They bored him within half an hour. Certainly they were all well-bred and accomplished. They played, they danced, they sang, they sketched. They had been brought up to please, first their fathers and then their husbands. What they hadn’t been brought up to do was think, or if they had, they hid it very well.
Now his mother was about to descend on him and he had an unconscious girl to explain.