Christmas Cinderella by Elizabeth Rolls
Handsome country rector Alex Martindale dreams of kissing his spirited schoolmistress and never having to stop . With some mistletoe, he may just get his wish!
Finding Forever at Christmas by Bronwyn Scott
At the yule ball, Catherine Emerson receives a proposal from the man she thought she wantedbut a kiss from his mysterious, darkly handsome brother unleashes a deeper desire .
The Captain's Christmas Angel by Margaret McPhee
Returning to England for Christmas, Sarah Ellison discovers a man adrift in the Atlantic Ocean. Nothing could have prepared her for the gorgeous Captain Daniel Alexander, or the secrets he keeps!
About the Author
Bronwyn Scott is the author of over 50 books. Her 2018 novella, "Dancing with the Duke's Heir" was a RITA finalist. She loves history and is always looking forward to the next story. She also enjoys talking with other writers and readers about books they like and the writing process. Readers can visit her at her Facebook page at Bronwynwrites and at her blog at http://www.bronwynswriting.blogspot.com
Margaret McPhee trained as a scientist, but was always a romantic at heart. She wrote two manuscripts and suffered numerous rejections from publishers and agents before joining the Romantic Novelists Association. A further two manuscripts later and with help from RNAs new writers' scheme, her first regency romance was born. Margaret enjoys cycling, tea and cakes and loves exploring the beautiful scenery and wildlife of the islands of Scotland with her husband.
Read an Excerpt
The Reverend Alex Martindale looked down at the innocent babe in his practised arms and braced for the inevitable storm. Red-faced, eyes scrunched up against the holy water dripping into them, the Honourable Philip Martindale, heir to considerable estates and, far more importantly, apple of his parents' doting eyes, roared his displeasure.
Having baptised every infant in the parish for the past two years, Alex was used to the noise. Nevertheless he shot a look over the aristocratic squaller to its father, Viscount Alderley. 'Takes after you, Dominictemper and all.'
The Viscount grinned. 'Not me, cousin.' He glanced at his wife. 'Must be Pippa.'
Alex snorted and continued blessing his little cousin, the child whothank God from whom all blessings flowhad displaced him as Dominic's heir. There was a tug at his surplice and he glanced down.
His goddaughter, the Honourable Philip's elder sister, looked up at him solemnly. 'You got water in his eyes, Uncle Alets,' she explained. 'Mama or Nurse better give him his next bath.'
'Ah. Was that it?' he said, preserving a clerical straight face. 'Thank you, Emma.'
* * *
The christening party in the Great Hall at Alderley was a rowdy and cheerful affair. It was conspicuous for the absence of the guest of honour and his sister, both of whom had retired early to the nursery in the company of their nurse.
Alex toasted the heir to Alderley with as much, if not more, enthusiasm as the next man. He gazed around the Hall, noting that the party, attended by many of Dominic's tenants, was winding down. A far less boisterous gathering of the local gentry, including himself, had been entertained in the drawing room, but Alex suspected that Dominic and Pippa, having seen the last of those guests off in their carriages, were just as happy mingling with the tenantry.
He made his way across to them. Dominic laid a friendly hand on Farmer Willet's broad shoulder and shook his hand in farewell, saying, 'I'll find out about that bull', and turned to Alex with a grin.
'Staying to supper?'
Tempting, but'No, thank you. Mrs Judd would kill me.' His housekeeper was the sort of benevolent tyrant it was unwise to offend. Staying out to supper without notice would ensure his breakfast eggs were boiled, not poached, for a week.
Dominic snorted. 'Why the devil didn't you just tell her you'd be supping here? You must have known one of us would ask you.'
He had, of course. Dominic was his cousin and closest friend, but he preferred not to take his welcome for granted.
Pippa smiled at him, her oddly penetrating gaze suggesting that she knew precisely how he felt, and understood. 'Tomorrow, then?' she suggested. 'We do need to talk about this village school you're starting.'
He returned her smile. 'Tomorrow. And perhaps you'll return the favour next week.'
'That will be lovely,' said Pippa cheerfully.
'Do you want the carriage, Alex?' asked Dominic.
'Thank you, but no. I'll enjoy the walk.'
* * *
He did enjoy the solitary walk. Twilight had closed in and a rising moon glimmered on the frost crunching under his boots. Another year was nearly gone, four weeks until Christmas; tomorrow would be Advent Sunday and he should have been thinking about his sermon, but instead gave himself up to the crisp, cold moonlight that spilled over the fields he was crossing. The familiar path ran clear before him, an ancient right of way. Sometimes he wondered about all the people who had used this path before him, the ancestors of men and women he now served as their rector. Romans, Saxons, Vikings, Normans: all of them coming as invaders, but being tamed by this land until they all belonged to it under God, as much as it belonged to them.
Not for the first time he thanked God that he had been called to serve Him in such a place. A place he had known and loved all his life. The place that had been his home since his father's early death. His uncle, Dominic's father, had taken him in, along with his mother, and educated him as a younger son, making little distinction between his own sons and an orphaned nephew. Except that he had understood that his bookish nephew would do far better being schooled by Mr Rutherford, the rector, and had not sent him off to Eton with his cousins.
He had been very, very lucky. Blessed. And his widowed mother had been able to live out her days in safety and peace. He knew of other women, bereft of family and fortune, who had not been so lucky.
He will lead me to lie down in green pastures
Counting his blessings was one thing, but if he lay down in this particular pasture right now he'd catch his death of cold and Mrs Judd would be more than annoyed at the waste of his good supper, so he hurried on.
He didn't enjoy his solitary meal nearly as much as the walk. It wasn't Mrs Judd's excellent cooking, but the fact that there was no one to share it with him. He had shared the rectory with his predecessor and mentor Matthias Rutherford for several years before the old man's death earlier that year.
Rutherford had resigned the living a year earlier, but stayed on in the rectory, increasingly frail, but alert. It had been like losing his father again. Worse, in a way, because this time he had known exactly what he was losing. He had known Rutherford far better than his own father. And now Christmas was coming, the first without the old fellow. Grief was no stranger; he had buried his mother and his elder cousin, Dominic's brother Richard. It was part of his calling to comfort the bereaved. Sometimes he thought it might be nice for the comforter to be comforted.
He caught himself up at once, rising from his chair and deliberately sloughing off the melancholy that had crept over him. Grief was one thing, self-pity quite another. One of the more insidious sins. And he had comforters: Dominic, Pippa, even little Emma and Philip. He chuckled, remembering Emma's critique of his handling of Philip.
Still, it would be something to have a companion. Someone to share the rectory with him. Someone with whom to talk on quiet evenings. Someone to share his now solitary post-dinner brandy and assist with the parish.
Now that he thought about it, the more he realised what an idiot he'd been not to think of it earlier. His gaze fell on the chess table, its armies frozen for the past ten months. It was obvious: he needed a curate, one who played a decent game of chess and could take up the post of village schoolmaster.
In the opinion of Miss Hippolyta Woodrowe, Cinderella was a complete ninnyhammer. Of course, Cinderella had been extremely lucky. But in Miss Woodrowe's opinion it was a great deal better not to rely on luck. Let alone relying on Prince Charming to gallop up waving a glass slipper to save a damsel from destitution.
Having foolishly cast her cousin Tom in that role two years ago, Polly Woodrowe had learned her lesson. Prince Definitely-not-so-Charming preferred to forget your very existence, let alone your claim on his affections, once your fortune was gone.
She snorted. Easier to believe in the fairy transforming pumpkin, rat, mice and lizards into an equipage suitable for a princess, than that Prince Charming would still have loved Cinderella when he found her in rags.
'Toss her down the Palace steps more likely,' she muttered, as she walked along the village street. Of course, it seemed that Cinderella had been sweet-natured almost to a fault, because not only did she never become bad-tempered at her lot, but she actually forgave her beastly stepsisters in the end.
Clearly Cinderella had possessed a much nicer character than Polly Woodrowe could lay claim to. Cinderella had waited patiently, suffering in stoic silence, waiting for her prince. Polly felt like kicking someone. Several someones.
In the two years since her remaining trustee had explained that her fortune was gone, gambled away by his fellow trustee's son, Polly had learnt to depend upon herself. She shivered a little and lengthened her step. Only the other day her younger cousin, Susan, had complained that, 'Hippolyta walks much too fast. Ladies shouldn't stride so, should they, Mama?' Well, a lady who wanted to keep warm in a cloak of inferior quality, and reach her destination before her toes froze quite off, walked as swiftly as she could. Especially if she wanted the officially sanctioned errand to the village shop to cover her real goal.
And there it wasthe rectory gate. Her stomach churned at what she was about to do. Perhaps Mr Martindale would not be home. He might be out visiting parishioners, or or burying someone. Her steps slowed. He was bound to be out. She could return another time. Or not at all. He would think her forward. Pushy. Her aunt thought she was pushy now. When she had still been wealthy her father's merchant status hadn't mattered. Now apparently she gave herself airs, her father's connection with trade abhorrent to her cousins.
She hesitated. Since when had she cared what a mere country rector might think of her? But she had always liked Alex Martindale. A much older schoolboy, he'd been kind to the little girl visiting her cousins. Sometimes she'd watched him going to and fro from his lessons at the rectory, dazzled when he'd given her a kindly greeting. The same friendly greeting he'd given to the village children, a smile in the grey eyesthe Alex Martindale she remembered was not one to look down on those less fortunate than himself.
People changed, though. Or perhaps as you got older you simply learned more about them. A great deal of it unpleasant. She knew a pang of regret for the innocent young girl who'd had a definite tendre for a handsome boy. Brought up to know her duty, she had obediently turned her eyes to her Cousin Tom, who she was assured by her aunt had a great fondness for her.
She snorted and kicked at a clod of mud. Alex Martindale had probably changed anyway. Everyone grew up. And her idea was a foolish one, especially since it would be bound to get back to her aunt and cause even more trouble.
Polly had half-turned away from the rectory gate when she realised what she was doing: giving in before she'd tried, bowing meekly to her fate instead of doing something about it as she had decided yesterday while her cousins were in church. Her aunt had decreed her bonnet and cloak far too shabby to attend church with the familyalthough apparently not too shabby to walk in to the village on an errand todayand there had been a pile of mending. So if Mr Martindale thought her an ungrateful, grasping, ill bredthat comment of Aunt Eliot's had really stungpushy baggage who gave herself airs, then so be it. That pile of mending had been the final straw in a week of slights and snubs.
Gritting her teeth, she stiffened her wilting spine and set her hand to the gate. He would either listen to her, or not.
Think ill of her, or not. A lady with only herself to depend on could not afford scruples about being thought forward. And if she had not her own good opinion, then that of others counted for nothing.
'Miss Woodrowe to see you, Rector.'
Alex looked up from the letter he was writing to the bishop, outlining his plans for the school and his intention to employ a curate. 'Miss Woodrowe?' For a moment he was puzzled. Then it came to him. Miss Hippolyta Woodrowe, of course. Niece to Sir Nathan Eliot, that was it. The wealthy Miss Woodrowe. Heiress to a mill-owner. Quite possibly the fortune had been exaggerated, but she had visited often with her widowed mother, a welcome and feted guest, even as a child and young girl.
'Show her in, Mrs Judd.' He put his pen back in its holder and rose as Mrs Judd stood back to admit his visitor. He frowned. Perhaps it was the light. The day was gloomy and he'd only lit the lamp on his desk, but he could not reconcile his memory of the lively, well-dressed Miss Woodrowe, who had always had a shy smile for him, with this unsmiling young woman in the drab cloak with its mud-spattered hem. Perhaps he was remembering the wrong girl?
'Miss Woodrowedo come in. Mrs Judd, tea if you please.'
Miss Woodrowe came forwards and put back the hood of her cloak. Something inside him stilled. Hair the colour of fine sherry, confined severely at her nape, and those eyes, the exact colour of her hair, fringed with dark lashes this was indeed the girl he remembered. He'd always been fascinated by the matching colour of hair and eyes. But, heavens! She'd been a child when last he'd seen her.
'Good day, Mr Martindale. I hope I'm not disturbing you?'
Girls grew up. He knew that. But
'No, no. Not not at all.' What the deuce did one do with a young lady when she called on one alone? 'Er, won't you come nearer to the fire?'
He hurried ahead of her and pushed the chair closer to the hearth. It clattered against the fender and he suppressed a curse at his clumsiness. 'You are visiting the Eliots?' he said, and she nodded. 'When did you arrive?' He brought another chair to the fire.
'A week ago.'
That chair clattered on the fender, too. 'A week?' Before he could think the better of it, he asked, 'Why did you not come with your cousins to Alderley the other day for the christening?'
Her chin lifted a little. 'I was not invited, sir.' She began to undo her cloak strings.
'Nonsense.' He waved her explanation away. 'Had Lord and Lady Alderley known of your visit, of course you would have been invited. You were friendly enough with Pippa as children. Herelet me take that.' He reached out and lifted the heavy, damp cloak from her slender shoulders. A faint soft fragrance drifted about her and his senses leapt. He'd forgotten, if he'd ever realised, that she was so pretty. Of course she'd been little more than a child the last time he'd seen her and now she most definitely wasn't. She was taller, for one thing. Not much, she still only reached his shoulder, but she was definitely taller. Taller, andhis hands clenched to fists on the cloak. Now that her cloak was off, he could see that she'd changed in other ways. She'd his mind lurched filled out. Slightly stunned at the direction his thoughts were taking, he hung the cloak on a hook by the fire, fumbling so that he nearly dropped it. Good God! What was the matter with him? Firmly, he banished thoughts that edged towards unruly and turned back to her.
'Will you tell me what I may do for you, Miss Woodrowe?' There. That was better. He sounded more himself. Rational and logical.
She had not sat down, but faced him with her chin up and those tawny eyes full of something he could not quite name.
'I wish you to employ me, Mr Martindale.'
He gulped. He'd been living alone for a while and had a slight tendency to talk to himself, but he didn't really think his mind that badly affected. Or his hearing. 'I beg your pardon, Miss Woodrowe?'
She blushed. 'I need a job. And I understand you are starting a school here in the village, so'
'Miss Woodrowe,' he broke in, 'is this some sort of silly joke?' He didn't bother to disguise the annoyance that clipped his voice. 'A wager with your cousins, perhaps?' It was precisely the sort of idiotish prank Miss Susan Eliot would think famous. 'You are' He stopped short of voicing precisely what he was thinking: she was an heiress. And logically an heiress could not possibly need a job.
The blush deepened. 'I'm not joking,' she said quietly.
Something about her voice warned him. And he looked at her properly, looked beyond the bright tawny eyes with their fringe of dark lashes, beyond the disturbing changes in her, and saw her gown.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a fun group of Regency novellas with a Christmas theme. It's nice to have stories you can read quickly during this busy time of year or to get you in the mood for Christmas any time. In Christmas Cinderella, the heroine is being ignored by her relations now that she's lost her fortune. They'll only tolerate her if she does their bidding as basically an unpaid servant. Talk about a Cinderella complex! The local vicar needs a schoolteacher for the new school, but he certainly wasn't planning on a female applying for the job. Can he keep the relationship between himself and the girl he admired as a youth strictly business? I enjoyed Finding Forever at Christmas because I always like when the more reserved, duty-bound sibling finally gets the girl despite his more outgoing, stunningly handsome brother. It was great to see the heroine discover which brother she could truly count on and fall in love with. The Captain's Christmas Angel is a great sea adventure where the hero is saved from drowning due to the eagle eye of the young widow on board a ship bound for England. She's leaving behind an unwanted suitor, and he's running for his life. They are both keeping secrets and hoping to start fresh when they reach England. There's a little danger, a little mystery, and a lot of romance!