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Authors: Joan Smith

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A Christmas Gambol (21 page)

BOOK: A Christmas Gambol
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“Have no fear, lordship. I’ll get you where you want to go.”

The carriage did soon make a turn. Disoriented in a strange place, Cicely assumed they were heading west. Another turn soon brought them back northward. They continued for another hour. The snow came in fits and starts, sometimes forming a moving, lace curtain in the darkness beyond the carriage window, sometimes disappearing. They reached Chesham during a lull in the snowfall. The sign proclaiming Chesham was large enough to be legible from the carriage. Cicely had to lower the window to read the smaller print below, giving directions to the Great North Road.

She turned and stared at Montaigne, who was also reading the sign. His expression showed not the least concern, but a definite touch of satisfaction.

“Montaigne! Is it possible you are kidnapping me?” she asked in a choked voice. She lowered her head to her raised hands and erupted into a strangled burst of laughter.

As laughter was the last thing Montaigne expected to hear, he easily mistook her response for tears. “Cicely, I can explain!”

“No, no!” she said, shaking with the effort to conceal her soaring joy.

Montaigne moved to the banquette beside her and drew her into his arms. “How else could I convince you I want to marry you?” he asked.

“Gretna Green?” she asked in a strangled whisper.

“If you hate the idea, we can turn back and be in London before midnight. No one need know. I didn’t tell Meg. Don’t cry, my dear. It was a foolish thing for me to do.”

His arms held her warm and close in the darkness of the carriage. When she didn’t draw away, he removed her bonnet and stroked her hair with loving fingers, while soft words of endearment were showered on her.

“I think I have loved you from the moment you roundly condemned
Chaos.
Or perhaps it was when you flirted that old slice, Gresham, into pretending he didn’t despise it. You would be happy in London, darling. I could make you happy.”

Cicely made no reply, but only snuggled her head into the crook of his neck, trying to assimilate that this was really happening, that Montaigne loved her. He tilted her face up to see what expression she wore and saw the laughter there. When she drew her lower lip between her teeth to stifle the merriment, he felt as if he had been kicked in the stomach by a mule. She wasn’t even angry, only laughing at his clownish attempt at romance.

“I see you are amused at my folly,” he said, stiff with embarrassment. “I’ll tell John Groom to take us to Berkeley Square.”

“Oh, Monty! How divinely romantic! I could never understand how you wrote
Chaos,
but I see now you really are perfectly romantic and ridiculous beneath your businesslike facade. Kidnapping, Gretna Green, and a wedding over the anvil! It is worthy of Ravencroft. You must really love me if—”

His lips seized hers in a passionate kiss, bringing her outpourings to a stop. His strong hands were gentle as they stroked her cheeks and caressed the nape of her neck. They brushed warmly down her throat, as if he had to touch her to confirm that she was there, and happy.

His gentleness made her feel loved and wanted without feeling threatened by his passion. When she responded warmly to Montaigne’s touch, his arms went around her to crush the breath out of her. Cicely shyly looped her arms around his neck and returned the pressure. It seemed strangely intimate to feel his crisp hair between her fingers. A quivering excitement stirred Cicely to the innermost core of her being. As the kiss deepened, she felt a melting warmth invade her. It grew to an aching, primitive longing as the excitement swelled to consume her in its flames.

Later, when Montaigne loosened his grip and gazed down into Cicely’s upturned face, he saw she wore an expression of perfect enchantment. It was a look as old as time, yet as new and thrilling as their love. A look that would be etched into his memory for all time.

His voice was rough with emotion when he said, “Of course I love you, you sweet idiot. Didn’t I tell you so last night?”

“Naturally you had to pretend you did after those horrid ladies said those things.”

“I didn’t have to pretend,” he said firmly and kissed her again for her folly.

“And you don’t have to ruin your career by a runaway match, either—though it was a lovely idea,” she said, and drew a deep, blissful sigh.

“We could still do it! Let’s!”

“No, let us enjoy the anticipation a little longer. And Papa, you know—”

“Yes, you’re right, of course.”

As the carriage began to move, Montaigne opened the window and called, “Back to town, Harelson. We’ve changed our minds.”

“As you like, your lordship.”

He closed the window and turned back to Cicely. “Now where were we?” he asked in a softly intimate voice and drew her into his arms to continue his lovemaking.

The return journey seemed to pass much more quickly than the trip north. The roads were becoming clogged with snow by the time they reached Berkeley Square. The Fairlys were out, but the lights were still burning belowstairs. Coddle admitted them. He didn’t make any inquiries, but his raised eyebrow suggested curiosity.

“I was taking Miss Cicely home, but we decided we couldn’t make it in this storm, so I brought her back here,” Montaigne said.

“Very wise decision, if I may say so, milord.”

“The Fairlys are out?”

Coddle nodded. “I expect they will return early, as the snow is worsening. Would you care for tea, Miss Cicely, and perhaps a snack?”

“That would be lovely, thank you, Coddle.”

They went into the saloon. Montaigne applied the poker to the banked coals in the grate. A shower of sparks flew up, and soon a good fire was burning. There was much to discuss before he left. He confessed that he had written to Mr. Caldwell asking him for permission to marry Cicely and inviting him to London for the pantomime.

“Why didn’t you tell me, Monty?”

“Because I’m a romantic lunatic. I wanted everything to be perfect, with your papa and Anne here.”

“Everything is perfect,” she said, squeezing his fingers. “Now Papa will come. My little play would not budge him, but marriage to Lord Montaigne! That is a more admirable achievement.” She gave him an arch smile and added, “In Papa’s eyes, I mean.”

“Wretch!” The word was a caress.

Wild horses would not have kept Mr. Caldwell away when he read the charmed words, “I wish to apply for permission to marry your younger daughter. You are aware of my worldly circumstances, I think.” The letter continued for another page, with details of the visit to London.

It would be hard to tell whether Anne or Mr. Caldwell was happier at the news. Mr. Caldwell’s letter of permission was dispatched posthaste and arrived with Montaigne’s post the morning after the aborted flight to Gretna Green. Caldwell and Anne left the next day for London. Once Cicely’s family was at Grosvenor Square, she was permitted to join them at Montaigne’s palatial mansion. She was extremely gratified at her fiancé’s treatment of them, which was thoughtful and generous without showing the least touch of condescension.

They spent a week being shown around town by Montaigne and Cicely. Their guests made an excellent excuse to return to
King Lear
and actually watch the play.

It was arranged that the wedding would take place at home in the middle of January.

“I must acquire my trousseau,” Cicely pointed out when Montaigne wished to make use of the special license.

“The banns take three weeks!” he cried, as if it were three years.

“Papa already arranged that with the vicar before he left Elmdale. There is no getting out of it, milord.”

“I’m happy you are aware of it, miss.”

Lord Montaigne made his fiancée a betrothal gift of a sable-lined cape. With her check for
Georgiana
in her pocket, Cicely bought a slightly less grand fur-lined garment for Anne. The ladies looked as fine as ninepence as they sat in a box on the grand tier for the premier performance of Cicely’s Christmas pantomime. Mr. Caldwell could not have been happier if Cicely were marrying a royal prince.

The Fairlys filled the other two seats. The Duke and Duchess of Morland had retired to Hastings, so Anne was not able to see the living model of Eugenie, about whom she had heard so much. She not only saw Mr. Witherspoon but found him so attractive that she encouraged Montaigne to include him in several of their outings. Society could not be hard on Miss Cicely when her brazen behavior had yielded the excellent result of catching herself a lord. The McCurdle ladies were two voices crying in the wilderness.

The short pantomime was received with great applause. The audience laughed in all the right places and clapped loudly at its termination. But the greatest thrill for Cicely was to see, on the playbill and program,
CHRISTMAS
SKETCH
BY
Miss
CICELY
CALDWELL
. The program was carefully placed away with her souvenirs.

To return his generosity, Caldwell invited Montaigne to spend Christmas at Elmdale. They arrived on the evening of the twenty-fourth. The house was redolent with the aroma of fir boughs that decorated the doorways and hung in swags along the banister and mantel. A crackling fire in the grate lent a welcome warmth and light to that grand chamber. Cook had prepared a pot of mulled wine that hung on the fireplace hook to welcome them.

Anne hastened off to speak to Cook as soon as she had taken off her bonnet and fur-lined pelisse. Mr. Caldwell sent for his steward to learn how the estate had managed without him during his absence. Cicely was left alone with Montaigne in the saloon. She walked to the window to gaze out at the wintry scene before her. The boughs of the soaring spruce in front of the window were heavy with snow, but the night was clear. Pinpricks of numberless stars twinkled in the black velvet sky.

Montaigne went to look over Cicely’s shoulder. He slipped his arm around her waist and pulled her against him.

“A beautiful night,” he murmured. “I always find myself looking for the star of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve.”

“I pretend the North Star is it,” she replied, peering up in search of it.

Then she turned around. “Do you know, Monty, it was just one month ago that you came here and asked me to let on I had written
Chaos Is Come Again.
What a month! I have been to London and met all sorts of interesting people, I have sold my novel, and had my little sketch performed. Why, if I ever put that into a book, everyone would say it was a fairy tale. And on top of it all— Why are you looking like that?” she asked as he frowned playfully at her.

“What you have outlined is merely a success story. Your first-class fairy tale would provide a Prince Charming and a wedding.”

A slow smile formed, lifting Cicely’s lips and softening her eyes with love. “I was going to say that! I was saving the best for the last.”

“Am I the best? Who said comparisons are odious?”

“Mrs. Malaprop, wasn’t it?” When he shook his head in frustration, she added, “Eugenie would have given a better answer, but I am not Eugenie.”

“No, you are not, and I thank God for it,” Montaigne said, drawing her into his arms.

Over his shoulder, Cicely spotted the North Star. “There! There is the Christmas star!” she cried.

Montaigne just glanced at it. His Christmas star was here, in his arms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 1996 by Joan Smith

Originally published by Fawcett Crest (0449224937)

Electronically published in 2007 by Belgrave House/Regency Reads

 

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

No portion of this book may be reprinted in whole or in part, by printing, faxing, E-mail, copying electronically or by any other means without permission of the publisher. For more information, contact Belgrave House, 190 Belgrave Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94117-4228

 

     http://www.RegencyReads.com

     Electronic sales: [email protected]

 

This is a work of fiction. All names in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to any person living or dead is coincidental.

BOOK: A Christmas Gambol
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