Experience a Dickens of a Christmas Faced with the daily extremes of gluttony and want in the Victorian Era, nine women seek to create the perfect Christmas celebrations. But will expectations and pride cause them to overlook imperfect men who offer true love? One Golden Ring by C.J. Chase 1855 Devonshire, England Wounded soldier Tristram Nowell returns home to indulge his mother’s wish for a family Christmas—and encounters Marianna Granville. Can he forgive the former heiress who jilted him years before? Star of Wonder by Susanne Dietze 1875 County Durham, England This Yuletide, Bennet Hett, Lord Harwood, offers Lady Celeste Sidwell matrimony and the Star of Wonder diamond necklace, as their fathers arranged. When the diamond disappears, will they find a greater treasure?The Holly and the Ivy by Rita Gerlach 1900 near Washington, DC A glass ornament. Love letters tied in red Christmas ribbon. Lily Morningstar and British antiquities expert Andrew Stapleton are drawn into a family secret that binds their hearts together.Love Brick by Brick by Kathleen L. Maher 1857 Elmira, New York SarahAnn Winnifred overcomes orphanhood apprenticing with pioneering doctors. Rufus Sedgwick, relocating his English estate, seeks help for his ailing Mum. Christmas reveals the secret wish of both hearts—for love. A Christmas Vow by Gabrielle Meyer 1899 Cambrigeshire, England Lady Ashleigh Arrington is hosting a houseful of guests for Christmas when railroad executive Christopher Campbell unexpectedly arrives from America with a mysterious agreement signed by their fathers before their birth. The Sugarplum Ladies by Carrie Fancett Pagels 1867 Windsor, Ontario, Canada, and Detroit, Michigan When Canadian barrister Percy Gladstone finds his aristocratic British family unexpectedly descending upon him for Christmas, he turns to American social reformer Eugenie Mott and her fledgling catering crew for help. Paper Snowflake Christmas by Vanessa Riley 1837 Framlingham, England How can widow Ophelia Hanover give her son a perfect Christmas when his guardian, the Earl of Litton, arrives early to take permanent custody of the boy? Father Christmas by Lorna Seilstad 1880 Blackpool, England Widowed harpist Beatrix Kent believes love can only come once in a lifetime, but this Christmas, carpenter Hugh Sherman hopes to pull on the musician’s heartstrings and prove her wrong. The Perfect Christmas by Erica Vetsch 1887 London, England Melisande Verity might be in over her head trying to create the perfect Christmas window display, but if she succeeds, will she finally attract the attention of her boss, Gray Garamond?
|Publisher:||Barbour Publishing, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||6.20(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.80(d)|
About the Author
Susanne Dietze began writing love stories in high school, casting her friends in the starring roles. Today, she's the award-winning author of a dozen new and upcoming historical romances who's seen her work on the ECPA and Publisher's Weekly Bestseller Lists for Inspirational Fiction. Married to a pastor and the mom of two, Susanne lives in California and enjoys fancy-schmancy tea parties, the beach, and curling up on the couch with a costume drama and a plate of nachos. You can visit her online at www.susannedietze.com and subscribe to her newsletters at http://eepurl.com/bieza5.
RITA GERLACH lives in central Maryland with her husband and two sons. She is a best-selling author of eight inspirational historical novels including the Daughters of the Potomac series of which Romantic Times Book Review Magazine said, "Creating characters with intense realism and compassion is one of Gerlach’s gifts."
Gabrielle Meyer lives in central Minnesota on the banks of the Mississippi River with her husband and four young children. As an employee of the Minnesota Historical Society, she fell in love with the rich history of her state and enjoys writing fictional stories inspired by real people and events. Gabrielle can be found at www.gabriellemeyer.com where she writes about her passion for history, Minnesota, and her faith.
ECPA-bestselling author Carrie Fancett Pagels, Ph.D., is the award-winning author of over a dozen Christian historical romances. Twenty-five years as a psychologist didn't "cure" her overactive imagination! A self-professed “history geek,” she resides with her family in the Historic Triangle of Virginia but grew up as a “Yooper” in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Carrie loves to read, bake, bead, and travel – but not all at the same time! You can connect with her at www.CarrieFancettPagels.com.
Lorna Seilstad brings history back to life using a generous dash of humor. She is a Carol Award finalist and the author of the Lake Manawa Summers series and the Gregory Sisters series. When she isn’t eating chocolate, she’s teaches women’s Bible classes and is a 4-H leader in her home state of Iowa. She and her husband have three children. Learn more about Lorna at www.lornaseilstad.com.
Erica Vetsch is a transplanted Kansan now residing in Minnesota. She loves books and history, and is blessed to be able to combine the two by writing historical romances. Whenever she’s not following flights of fancy in her fictional world, she’s the company bookkeeper for the family lumber business, mother of two, an avid museum patron, and wife to a man who is her total opposite and soul mate. Erica loves to hear from readers. You can sign up for her quarterly newsletter at www.ericavetsch.com You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact her on her author Facebook page.
Read an Excerpt
Bristol and Exeter Railway, Devonshire, England Monday, December 17, 1855
You must learn some of my philosophy. Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure.
Marianna Granville snapped shut her worn copy of Pride and Prejudice. It was all well and good for Elizabeth Bennet to espouse such twaddle in the midst of a marriage proposal from literature's most eligible gentleman. In real life, one's earlier behavior had a way of catching up with one eventually — whether thinking of it brought pleasure or not — and there would be no understanding Mr. Darcy waiting for Marianna when she came face-to-face with her past.
She stared out the window at the landscape she'd left behind five years ago when she'd fled with only a single gown on her back and a shattered heart in her breast. At least that organ should be safe from injury this time. No doubt her erstwhile suitor would spurn her, should he even deign to notice her at all.
"We'll arrive at St. David's Station soon."
Marianna turned toward her seatmate to find Miss Dorothea Nowell's dark gaze upon her. "I thought you were asleep."
"Too much excitement." The train whistle blasted through their first-class compartment, and the wheels screeched in protest as the brakes forced them to slow. "And too much noise."
The car lurched to a stop beside a sign that read Hele. Marianna set aside her novel and retrieved her fan. She flicked it open, but — though she waved it vigorously — her efforts were in vain. "I'd forgotten how awful a paper mill smells."
"To think, when you first arrived in Yorkshire, you pined so intensely for Devon."
"Those early days were ... difficult." Passengers bedecked with parcels exited onto the platform. Marianna watched them for several moments, thinking of her frightened, eighteen-year-old self traveling alone, so far from home.
"I can never adequately thank you for providing me —"
"Nonsense. I did everything for my own selfish reasons. I recognize a good investment when I see one." The sunlight streaming through the glass turned Miss Nowell's hair a frosty silver. "Are you terribly uncomfortable?"
"About returning? Some." Much. Accentuated by her impending loss, Marianna's emotions vacillated between tense and terrified, and no notions of Yuletide music, merriment, or magic could diminish her apprehension. And yet, as the once-familiar fields flew by, Marianna admitted — if only to herself — a thrill of pleasure to see her childhood homeland once more.
The earsplitting whistle blared again, and the locomotive began a slow chug-chug.
"Next stop, Exeter!" the conductor shouted in a volume only slightly below that of the whistle. "The end of the line."
End of the line. How apt.
"Miss Nowell ..." Marianna stopped to stifle the tremor that tinged her words. "Have you considered my request to provide me with a letter of reference?"
Her employer's lined face shuttered at the reminder of her approaching mortality. "In due time."
But time was an entity Miss Nowell no longer possessed.
* * *
Tristram Nowell gathered his silver-handled walking stick and pushed himself to his feet. Pain shot through his left leg like a blast from a cannon. The lengthy ride from London to Exeter had caused the damaged muscle to stiffen. He gritted his teeth and tried to ignore its protests with the same disregard his mother had displayed when she'd discounted Tristram's wishes and demanded his attendance at this year's Christmas party.
He paused for several moments to let his leg acclimate, then exited the compartment coach and scanned St. David's Station platform for the familiar livery. Ladies in wide skirts and men in tall hats hurried to their destinations below a bit of wilted greenery some intrepid soul had hung in a failed attempt to infuse the train shed with Christmas cheer.
He turned toward the tentative voice. "John?"
A broad smile split the visage of a man with thinning hair of gunmetal gray. "It is you, Cap — pardon me, Lord Lyddlebury now."
Unfortunately so. "A frightening thought, no?"
"It's wonderful to have you back at last." Despite John's warm words, he stifled further expressions of pleasure. Tristram's new station had that effect on old friends.
Tristram grabbed the man's hand and pumped it anyway. Perhaps he'd been wrong, staying away so long, waiting until his brother's death forced him to confront his past. "It's good to be back."
"Have you seen Miss Nowell and her companion? They were to travel on the same train."
"Aunt Dorothea?" His mother was pulling out all the stops if she'd convinced her reclusive sister-in-law to come for the holidays. Perhaps the Nowells needed a traditional Christmas with all the trimmings after so much tragedy. "No, I'm afraid I haven't encountered her."
John instructed a porter to transfer Tristram's luggage to the carriage then set off to find Aunt Dorothea. Trying to relieve the lingering stiffness in his leg, Tristram trudged to the end of the platform where a few local children sang "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen." Most of the passengers bustled past, paying them no heed. But Tristram lingered, his mind skipping back through the years to happier times when the Nowells invited one and all — rich or poor, young and old — to celebrate the holiday at Hollyford Hall. When the song finished, he dropped several shillings into the tin cup.
"Thank ye, gov'nor!" The largest of the children led his group in an enthusiastic, if not precisely melodic, chorus of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."
"There you are, you rapscallion." Aunt Dorothea's semi-caustic greeting easily carried over the carolers' refrain.
"And a Merry Christmas to you too, Aunt."
Though a full foot shorter than Tristram, she seized him by the chin, tilted his head, and studied his face as if looking for traces of boyhood dirt. "I see you finally removed that caterpillar from your upper lip. You look better without it."
Her candor extracted a smile from him. Aunt Dorothea had never adjusted to the new fashions that dictated facial hair on men. "And you look as beautiful as I remember."
Her laughter cackled through the frosty air. "You have a faulty memory."
"I trust you had a pleasant journey from Yorkshire?"
"I survived, which makes it a successful one. And that's all I require these days." She leant heavily on her cane, more fragile than Tristram remembered. A woman — the companion, he presumed — hovered protectively nearby. Swathed in an appropriately servile dark cloak, her bonneted head cast down, she revealed nothing of her face or features.
Tristram positioned his walking stick in his left hand and offered Aunt Dorothea his right elbow. "May I see you to the carriage?"
"Isn't that the lame leading the lame?" She laughed at her joke, snapped peremptorily at the silent wraith in her shadow, and then rested a frail hand on his sleeve.
The three of them followed John to the awaiting carriage with its Nowell insignia on the side. His insignia now. Tristram had ridden in this very vehicle a hundred times or more, but never before as lord.
He assisted the elderly woman onto the plush upholstery. "Aunt Dorothea, you and your companion must take the forward facing seat. I'll sit opposite."
"Oh no," countered the woman behind him. "You should sit with your aunt."
Tristram froze, the blood draining from his face as fast as if another shell had smashed into his leg. That voice. The one that laughed in his memories, whispered in his dreams, soothed in his delirium. He forced his expression to careful blankness as he about-faced and peered under her bonnet's brim. Familiar blue eyes gazed back from a countenance that was thinner. Older. Sadder?
But certainly not wiser. Not if she'd come here, to Devon, on his first Christmas back in five years. He studied her unfashionable attire with renewed interest. Beneath his burgeoning anger, a frisson of satisfaction danced through his mind at this reversal in their fortunes.
"Do you know Miss Granville, my companion?" Aunt Dorothea's words penetrated the fog in his mind, the anger in his heart.
Tristram unclenched his teeth enough to answer. "We've met." Danced. Laughed. Loved? No, only he had been so foolish as to open his heart. Mechanically, he extended his hand to assist Marianna Granville into the carriage.
Her lips, once so vibrant and expressive of her joy, flattened into a thin, pale line above the taut line of her jaw. She hesitated before placing her palm in his, accepting his help with all the reluctance he himself felt.
Grimly, Tristram glanced at the road that led to Hollyford Hall and wondered if a man in his condition could walk the ten miles distance rather than endure a confined space with the woman who five years earlier had rejected his marriage proposal.CHAPTER 2
Awkward didn't begin to describe Marianna's current situation. Obviously, her employer had failed to inform the family as to the identity of her companion — a companion the Nowells all knew, and no doubt detested.
Miss Nowell amused her nephew with a lively recollection of past family gatherings, liberally sprinkled with her usual acerbic wit, leaving Marianna to her own roiling thoughts. Beyond the carriage window, sunlight glimmered on the surface of the Exe River as the water gently meandered toward the channel. Not for the first time, she wished for a boat to whisk her away to parts unknown.
Lacking such a craft, she settled for an escape into the pages of her book. The words neither held her attention nor calmed her anxiety, so she hid behind the cover and took the opportunity to pray for peace, reconciliation, and understanding.
A tap against her foot yanked her attention back to the man across from her. Tristram hastily jerked back his leg, and their gazes met for long, uncomfortable moments.
"I beg your pardon." The throaty accent of the West Country gilded his deep tones. Five years away had accustomed Marianna to the singsongy quality of Yorkshire speech, but this voice, once so familiar, brought memories sweet and bitter flooding through her mind.
"That's quite all right." She pushed the words from her dry mouth. And then, remembering his recently acquired title, she added, "My lord."
He tipped his head in acknowledgment and wind-tousled hair fell across his forehead.
Her breath caught at that endearingly familiar idiosyncrasy. Once upon a time, in the throes of first love, she'd been bold enough to brush those unruly locks back into place. The remembrance of their silky softness brought a rush of heat to her face, and she retreated to the sanctuary of her book. Still, from time to time, she stole a glance over its edge at the man who now possessed a countenance every bit as forbidding and disapproving as a beginning-of-the-book Mr. Darcy.
Tension radiated along the shoulders that liberally filled out Tristram's black civilian's coat. The snowy collar of his shirt provided a dramatic contrast to the sable hair that skimmed the linen. The conversation had lapsed into companionable silence, and his lids drifted down to mask the thoughts behind those too-keen eyes. Once in a while he would absently rub his left leg, though he was careful not to stretch it out and thereby bump her foot again.
Last winter, Marianna had read the letters that arrived from Hollyford Hall detailing Tristram's injuries at the Battle of Balaclava to her employer. She had prayed for his healing and offered thanksgiving for his recovery. And yet, his survival had come at a price. The extent of his present pain surprised her, as did the lines at the corners of his dark eyes and the frown that framed his formerly cheerful mouth.
"War is a horrible business." So, Miss Nowell had also noticed his unconscious movements. The elderly lady clasped her hands together, fingers tightly entwined, and Marianna knew she was thinking of another dashing young officer, one who had fallen on the fields of Waterloo so many decades past.
Tristram stilled, the frustration cutting deeper into his cheeks. How difficult it must be, for a man once so strong and self-reliant, to admit weakness. Nevertheless, his eyes gentled as he covered his aunt's frail hands with one of his own. "Yes. It is."
His compassion transported Marianna back to a cold February afternoon when their ride had taken them to a hilltop cemetery. He'd offered not only the same consideration, but even a spray of greenhouse violets for her mother's stone.
And in that moment, Marianna's efforts to move past the ravaged dreams of her youth wilted away like so many flowers in winter.
* * *
The carriage turned down the long drive to Hollyford Hall. A plethora of emotions assailed Tristram as the house of Devonshire limestone rose in the distance. Sadness. Joy. Guilt.
The oldest part of the building dated back centuries to a distant Nowell ancestor who'd chosen the winning side in a royal feud and been rewarded with this piece of ground. Later generations had expanded the holdings during times of prosperity.
Along the walkway, the servants lined up in rank order from the butler to the lowest scullery maid, in a show of respect for the new lord's arrival. More so than ever, the enormity of his responsibilities assailed him.
John drew the horses to a halt, and Tristram leapt from the carriage. The damaged muscle in his thigh protested and gave way. He dropped the walking stick and grabbed the side of the coach to keep from diving face-first into a puddle.
A gasp hissed from inside the coach. Marianna's face popped into the doorway, concern flooding the blue of her gaze. "Are you injured?"
Wonderful. As if losing his balance and stumbling in front of the entire staff wasn't embarrassing enough, he did it in her presence. He forced nonchalance into his words. "I'll be fine."
Fortunately, she accepted his words without dissenting and retreated to help his aunt. Tristram planted the walking stick firmly in the ground for support and, ignoring the pain still blazing though his leg, assisted both ladies from the vehicle. As he escorted Aunt Dorothea to the wreath-bedecked door, the maids on either side dipped into curtsies. He acknowledged the housekeeper — new since he'd last been at Hollyford Hall — and addressed the old butler by name. That worthy man let an uncharacteristic smile escape his normally imperturbable demeanor.
At the top of the steps, Tristram greeted his waiting mother with a kiss on the cheek. "As you requested, Mother, I'm home."
"None too soon. I'm getting too old to travel to London when I wish to see you."
Guilt pricked his conscience for using his injury to avoid coming here in the months since his return to England. "You'll never be old to me."
"I'm almost a grandmother twice over — just not by you."
"Don't scare him away when he's only arrived, Mama." Tristram's younger sister, Lucinda, put an arm around him and hauled him into the house while Mother greeted Aunt Dorothea and saw to her needs.
Tristram stepped inside the entrance hall. And stopped. The fragrance of fresh-cut evergreens assaulted his senses with memories of long-ago holidays. Below a chandelier festooned with red ribbons, the dark oak banister curved around to greet him. Swags of greenery draped its length, tied in place with big red bows — a good thing, perhaps, since it lessened the temptation to recapture lost childhood with a slide down it once more. The familiar portraits of his grandparents hung in their accustomed positions below the same decorative plaster frieze. But there had been changes too. White paper with gold leaf now covered the walls' blue paint, and a red Persian rug cushioned his feet. Longing swelled in his throat, restricting the airflow to his lungs.
Aware of Lucinda's quizzical gaze on him, he shook off the surge of sentimentality. He shrugged out of his coat and passed it to the butler before returning his focus to his sister. "I'm surprised to see you here. You looked ghastly when I saw you two months ago in London."
"You don't have to be quite so truthful. The nausea has mostly passed, and I have more energy than before. Helen tells me to enjoy this respite because once the baby comes, I'll be tired for the next several years." Lucinda threaded her arm through his and led him away from the bustle of relatives and servants, down a corridor to the study.
"Well, you look radiant now." Tristram waited for her to take a seat in a fireside chair before appropriating the one on the other side of the hearth. "Thank you for saving me from all the fuss."
"Mama is probably annoyed I sprinted you away, but I suspected this would be rather overwhelming for you all at once."
"Not only for me. I didn't see Helen in that formidable formation. My arrival must revive painful memories."
"She took Victoria to visit her parents for a few days."
An image of his three-year-old niece's bright eyes and shining curls filled Tristram's mind. "I hope Helen doesn't feel I've come to displace her. I told her that she and Victoria have a home here for as long as she wants. Forever, if she so wishes."
"She didn't want to intrude upon your homecoming. She'll be back before the party. What with the news of your injury and Benedick's passing, last Christmas was a somber affair. We'd like to make these holidays special for Victoria. And Mama."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Victorian Christmas Brides Collection"
Copyright © 2018 C.J. Chase.
Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
One Golden Ring,
Star of Wonder,
The Holly and the Ivy,
Love Brick by Brick,
A Christmas Promise,
The Sugarplum Ladies,
Paper Snowflake Christmas,
A Perfect Christmas,