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Authors: A. S. Fenichel

Christmas Bliss

BOOK: Christmas Bliss
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Christmas Bliss

A.S. Fenichel

 

Blush sensuality level: This is a sweet romance (kisses
only, no sexual content).

 

Emma is running from a tyrannous uncle bent on killing her
young brother, just to gain his fortune. John, the Earl of Compton, is looking
for something to change his unfulfilling life. When they meet on a dark street,
nothing can change their fate.

John is so instantly smitten and socially inept, he proposes
in less than twenty-four hours. Emma’s plight to save her brother has her so shaken,
she agrees to the hasty Christmas wedding.

The threats to Emma’s life, and John’s fierce defense of her,
demonstrate to both that the match might be more than just a convenient
arrangement. If only they can thwart her uncle’s devious assault and live to
enjoy each other.

 

Christmas Bliss

A.S. Fenichel

Dedication

 

For Jimmy, who taught me about the joy of the Christmas
season.

 

 

Acknowledgements

 

Special thanks to my editor, Briana St. James who always
steers me in the right directions on all of my books and especially for helping
me make the genre leap with
Christmas Bliss
. You’re a gem.

Thanks to my mother Eleanor, for being a wonderful listener.
Thanks to Karen Bostrom and her critical eye.

As always, thank you to my wonderful husband Dave. He is the
inspiration from whence all romance blooms in my heart and mind.

 

Chapter One

 

John Scarborough was just beginning to feel as though he was
himself again. The troubles of politics had left him in a bad temper, but the
walk in the cold of December brought him back to civility. He could almost
imagine his troubles falling away with each step that drew him closer to home.
He no longer wished to wring the neck of a certain political opponent. Yes, the
man was an idiot, but he felt he could return to his seat without committing
murder.

At least that was a relief.
He laughed at his own
sarcastic thought.

Most men of his wealth and position would have taken their
carriage home, but a brisk walk always made John feel better after a long day
of arguing in the House of Lords. His carriage was generally only a few minutes
behind him, since the footman and driver refused to leave him completely alone
at night on the streets of London.

A shadow could easily be seen crouching beneath the hedge
that fronted his home in the West End of London. Pickpockets and thieves often
skulked around in the finer residential areas, hoping to earn a nights work.
Often these villains beat their prey and left them for dead.

John took a better hold of his walking stick, prepared to
fend off the trespasser if necessary. “You there, what is your business?”

He heard a woman gasp. When she stood up from her hiding
place, the light of the full moon gave enough illumination for him to see she
was well dressed in a fashionable walking costume.

His eyes narrowed. “Were you going to accost me as I entered
my home, wench?”

“Certainly not.” Her tone was crisp, as if she was offended.
It reminded him of when he was a boy and had insulted his nanny.

She turned back to the hedge, crouched down and lifted
something out of the bushes.

John raised his staff. “I am not above striking a woman.
Whatever nefarious plan you have, I advise you to desist.”

When she turned, the bundle she’d picked up and held to her
shoulder turned out to be a small child of five or six.

John was rarely surprised by people. In fact, he found most
people quite predictable. Everything about this girl had caught him by
surprise. Exhaustion must have gotten the better of his senses. He lowered his
arm and weapon and gaped at the girl.

Her voice was educated and cultured. “I’m sorry we
frightened you, Lord Compton. We shall be on our way now.”

“You know me?” He didn’t know why that should bother him.
Quite a lot of people knew him on sight and he was standing in front of his own
home.

“Of course.”

He could hear the smile in her voice, though the night did
not permit him to see her face clearly enough to verify if the sound translated
to her lips.

Embarrassment washed through him. His neck felt hot,
reminding him of when he’d been at school, and was unsure of an answer demanded
by the instructor. “Why are you hiding in my shrubbery?” he demanded.

She lifted the sleeping child higher. It was a boy from the
look of his clothes. It was past nine and the child slung his arms about her
neck and rested his head on her shoulder. He looked as if he was a very heavy
sack of potatoes.

“That is a very long story, my lord. I apologize again for
our intrusion. We shall move along.”

“Wait,” he commanded.

She turned back around, and even in the dim light, he could
see her eyes were wide with shock.

She was not a street person. She had an education. Perhaps
her carriage had broken down. He could not just let a young lady walk off into
the dark of the London night. “You must be cold. My carriage will arrive in a
moment. I shall have you and your son brought home.”

There was a long pause and she stared at him. “That is very
kind, my lord, but my
brother
and I cannot go home and if we could, we
would not require a carriage, since it is just across the street. Thank you,
though. It is very kind of you to offer.”

She walked away.

John stood looking from her to the house across the street.
“Are you the Trent girl?”

“Yes, my lord.” But she just kept walking away down the
street and into the cold, dark, dangerous night.

She did not cross the street as he had expected. He rushed
after her. “Where are you going?”

“I will try to find a place for the night, and then in the
morning we shall…”

She didn’t finish her sentence, and he suspected she had no
idea what was to happen in the morning. He was tired. He’d had a long day. The
last thing he wanted was to get involved in someone else’s problems. But here
she was, a girl he had not seen in years. He thought she could not be more than
fifteen. She was clearly running away, and that would not do.

He sighed. “Where is your father?”

She looked at him and with the moon above them he could see
the moon reflecting off her eyes. Her head cocked to one side. “My father is
dead, my lord.”

Somewhere in the back of John’s overtaxed mind, he
remembered that August Trent had passed on last winter. “Of course. I am sorry.
I had forgotten.” Once again, he felt heat rising on his neck.

She didn’t say anything, and when he didn’t speak, she began
to move down the street again. She looked quickly toward the house across the
street, and seeing movement at the front door, hid behind a large tree.

John watched her for a second and then leaned against the
tree as if a gentleman getting some fresh air. The butler from the Trent
townhouse looked out across the street and then closed the door.

“He’s gone,” John informed her.

She stood and hurried down the street again.

He could see that her brother was becoming heavy for her to
carry. She had to keep lifting him higher and with less and less success. “I
think it might be best if you came inside for a while. Then you can tell me
your long story, and we can all get warm.”

She stopped and turned back to him. Those spectacular eyes
were filled with wariness and she looked as if she might run at any moment.
John was in no mood to chase her down.

“The child is exhausted and probably cold. You do not wish
him to become ill, do you?” It was all he could think of to get her to comply.

“I will not be returned to Trent House.” She sounded firm,
but her voice broke, and he thought she might cry.

Tears from a girl after the day he’d had, would not do. “I
understand.” He didn’t actually understand, but it seemed as if it was the
correct thing to say to get her inside the house. Of course, once he’d said it,
he was obliged to keep his word, which compounded the problem of what to do
with the pair of runaways.

She nodded and started back toward the front gate of
Scarborough House.

John lifted the boy from her arms and, after a short pause,
she allowed the exchange and followed them into the large house.

The butler opened the front door, and seeing his lordships
guests, gave orders for the fire in the back parlor to be fed and tea to be
brought. Several footman and maids started rushing around.

“Thank you, Dorsey,” John said to the butler. Perhaps I can
put down the young sir in the parlor and you can collect my hat and coat
there.”

“Yes, my lord. Shall I have rooms made up for Miss Trent and
the young master for the night?” Dorsey asked.

John was only mildly surprised that the butler knew exactly
who their guests were. His servants were almost always better informed than he
was about the neighborhood. He spent too much time at court to follow the
goings on at home. He looked at the exhausted girl before him. A footman was
helping her with her coat. She swayed on her feet and he worried that she was
near collapse.

“I think that might be for the best. Is my mother still
awake, Dorsey?”

“I believe so, my lord. She generally writes her letters at
this time in the small salon.”

John nodded. “Please ask her to join us in the parlor at her
earliest convenience.”

“Of course, my lord.”

Once tea was served and they were warming by a rather
enormous fire, John took a good look at his guest. Her hair was dark red and
had escaped from the chignon that was probably, under normal circumstances,
sufficient to hold her great mass of wavy hair. However, the pins had not been
sturdy enough for the evening’s activities. Her eyes were so deep a blue that
in the firelight they struck him as dark and liquid as the sea. And in spite of
her exhaustion, he could see a great deal of intelligence in those lovely eyes.
He could almost see her mind working out what to do next.

She was not as young as he had first thought. He must have
missed a few years of her growth. She had been very young when he was at school
but now he realized that must have been ten years ago. She was probably one and
twenty. Without the heavy coat she had been wearing and in the light, her
figure spoke volumes about her age. This was no schoolgirl. Miss Trent was a
grown woman. He had to shake himself away from baser thoughts before he
embarrassed himself.

He tried to distract himself by looking around the room.
When
had these Christmas decorations appeared.
Again, it was only mildly
surprising that he had not noticed that the house was already prepared for the
coming holiday. He was, after all, very busy with the business of government.

He took another sip of his tea and returned his attention to
his guest. “Would you care to tell me why you have run off, miss Trent.”

She turned and looked at him as if she had forgotten he was
there. “I am not running, my lord. I am protecting my brother.”

He had no idea what she was talking about. “From what, if I
may ask?”

She sighed. “As I said, it is a very long story.”

He did not get the opportunity to press his guest further.
The door hinge squeaked and they both turned to see his mother enter the room.
He thought perhaps she had been listening at the door for a few minutes. His
mother had a way of always knowing everything. But since the countess would
never be so rude as to eavesdrop, he dismissed the notion immediately.

“Emma, my girl.” The older woman opened her arms.

And, much to John’s surprise, Emma jumped up and ran into
his mother’s embrace. “Countess.”

He stood. “I take it you two know each other.”

“Of course, John. Emma’s family has lived across the street
since before you were born.”

“Of course.” He thought about all the days he had spent in
the House of Lords instead of getting to know Emma Trent better. A quick memory
of a little girl in bright red pigtails at a picnic flooded his mind and was
gone just as quickly. He thought he must have been about fifteen and had come
home from school on a break. He’d been much too important to pay any attention
to a mere child. Of course, he could never have guessed she would blossom into
a beauty.

Margaret Scarborough moved the young woman over to the couch
and sat down, holding both her hands. “Now, tell me what has happened to bring
you out on a cold night.”

Good. Now we shall get to the bottom of things. Mother
will sort it all out and I can get back to more important matters.
He
looked back at Emma Trent and wondered what matters could be more important.
Nothing came to mind.

“I fear my uncle is going to kill Oliver.”

She said the words so softly, yet so plainly, that a chill
rushed up John’s spine.

She’s mad.
For some reason, that made him very sad.
Why should it bother him if the woman from across the street, whom he didn’t
even know, had lost her senses? Yet his gut twisted with regret. It shouldn’t
matter to him. Tomorrow she would be out of his house and off his hands. Her
sanity had no bearing on his life. A woman such as Emma Trent had no place in
the life of a politician. His chest tightened as if a rope had been bound
there.

His mother stared at her for several moments, but said
nothing.

Emma dropped her eyes to her hands, now white knuckled in
her lap. “I know you don’t believe me. No one believes me, but it’s true. He is
bent on having Father’s fortune and will go to any extreme to have it. He went
last week to convince the court that Oliver was conceived illegitimately, and
now that that has failed…”

His mother frowned. “I see. Why don’t we all get some sleep,
and in the morning, when you are feeling better, we can have a long talk about
everything?”

Tears filled Emma’s remarkable eyes and John did not think
he had ever seen such sorrow before. His chest tensed further. He was awash
with sadness for her.

She kissed the countess’s cheek and moved to pick up her
brother’s sleeping form.

“I will carry the boy,” John said.

Once upstairs, he put the boy in a room that had been made
up for him. “You have the room just next door, miss Trent. If you need
anything, the house and I are at your disposal.”

“You are very kind, my lord.”

He grinned. “The men in the House of Lords would think you
daft for saying such a thing.”

She returned the expression and he thought his heart might
stop beating. For an instant, he imagined he could spend his lifetime trying to
make this woman happy. He shook the image away.
How could she ever be happy
with someone like you?

“They would likely think me daft anyway, my lord. Their
opinion of women is not so lofty to begin with, and I have not shown myself in
the best light this evening.” She blushed.

The sight was almost more charming than her smile. He had to
get away from this woman. She had put some kind of spell on him. From the
moment he spotted her, he’d been unable to form a consistent thought. First he
thought her a thief, then a mother and then a child. Once they entered the
house, he’d believed her intensely beautiful, mad and pitiable, and now,
irresistible. She muddled his mind. It wouldn’t do.

BOOK: Christmas Bliss
7.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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