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Elisabeth Fairchild

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A Homespun Regency Christmas

Regency Christmas Wishes Anthology

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3,
Canada

(a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin
Books Ltd.)

Penguin Group (Australia), 707 Collins Street, Melbourne, Victoria 3008, Australia

(a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.)

Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110
017, India

Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, Auckland 0632, New Zealand

(a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)

Penguin Books Rosebank Office Park, 181 Jan Smuts Avenue, Parktown North 2193, South
Africa

Penguin China, B7 Jaiming Center, 27 East Third Ring Road North, Chaoyang District,
Beijing 100020, China

Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the
product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance
to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is
entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have control over and does not have
any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT

An InterMix Book / published by arrangement with the author

PUBLISHING HISTORY

InterMix eBook edition / November 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Donna Gimarc.

Excerpt from
A Game of Patience
copyright © 2002 by Donna Gimarc.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or
electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy
of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized
editions.

For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

ISBN: 978-1-101-59923-5

INTERMIX

InterMix Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

INTERMIX and the “IM” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Chapter One

Christmas raced toward Broomhill Hall, cavorting with galloping horsetails of snow
that rode the back of a raw, screaming wind, swallowing up the winding country lanes,
slowing carriages and coaches.

A cold, persistent draft whistled in through a low spot on the threshold of Broomhill
Hall, the voice of a lost soul, echoing through the library, sending bright sparks
and hot ash dancing about the old hearth like Christmas imps. The flue, in dire need
of a sweep, hummed a rising tune, a bagpipe’s windy wail that prodded Lord Copeland
from the cozy lap of his chair to stir the fading fire with rare irritation.

“Don’t die on me!” He clanged the poker and convinced himself the moisture in his
eyes was inspired by ashes and acrid smoke. He blinked hard. The red eye of flame
winked back, awakening.

“You’ve life in you yet,” he insisted. “Don’t waste it! Burn! Damn you.” The begrudging
flame took heed, licking lichen-blighted wood.

Gabriel looked up from his spot by the bookcase, silky ears swinging golden in the
firelight. The dog wore the same look his lordship’s physician had two day’s earlier
as when he’d lifted his ear from the listening cone propped against Copeland’s chest.

The room’s heartbeat had quieted—the case clock in the corner suspended its ticking,
the pop and crackle of the fire had subsided—as though time held its breath.

“You must put your affairs in order,” the physician had warned.

Cope made light of the man’s grim finality. “I know. Christmas is almost upon us.”

***

Christmas galloped toward Broomhill Hall, singing, “Fa-la-la-lala-lala-lah-lah!” On
the road from Andover, a coach full of hired musicians bowled merrily along, the wind’s
hand pushing the horses and plucking at their manes. Inside the rattling, swaying
vehicle the gentlemen raised their voices in cheerful Christmas carols to warm their
hearts as they drew capes and cloaks tighter to warm exposed fingers and toes.

“Don we now our gay apparel. Fa-la-la-lala-lala-lah-lah!”

Broomhill Hall’s kitchen beckoned Christmas with rows of golden mincemeat pies, piles
of brandy-soaked, fruit-studded cake. Browning turkeys turned on the spit, filling
the air with mouthwatering scent.

Golden-eared Gabriel had tucked himself under the chopping block with a fresh ham
bone to gnaw. Before him paced a set of legs, white stockings flecked with gravy.
“Christmas will be ruined!” the roasting chef roared, punctuating his concern with
widely flung droplets from a ladle he waved like a scepter. “No capon! No sirloin!
No goose!”

“Calm yourself,” came the authoritative command of Bolton, Lord Copeland’s butler,
his stockings and livery spotless, his intention to keep them so.

The roasting chef went red in the face. His voice rose in agitation. “Calm myself?
We’ve a countess, two earls, and a duke coming. Am I to feed my lord’s guests sausages?
Sausages!”

Bolton’s back stiffened, his pace quickened, and with unstoppable purpose he burst
through the swinging kitchen door into the cold buttery and larder. Two of Dawson’s
delivery lads shouldered a side of pork and necklaces of sausages onto shelves, their
chilled breath a ghostlike mist. Bolton sailed past, through the servants’ entrance,
his own nostrils now streaming steam—out into the stinging wonder of the wind and
snow.

Dawson, the local butcher, wearing thick sheepskin gloves, a turned-down hat, and
a bloody apron tied over snow-dappled coat, eyed the sky with disfavor. He gave Bolton
no more than a glance.

“Haste, lads! Haste. The heavens are falling.”

His lads raced past, leapt into the delivery wagon. As Dawson took up the reins to
turn his heavy-shanked cart horses, Bolton blocked their exit, long nose scarlet,
his lips turning blue.

“Do you mean to ruin the Earl’s Christmas, Mr. Dawson?” His rigid posture and brittle
tone were icier than the wind.

Dawson bunched the reins tight. “Not at all, Mr. Bolton. Unforgivably spiteful, this
wicked weather. Has me worried. Would not want you trapped here with nothing to eat
for Christmas, now, would I? Occasion’s too important for that.”

“You’ve no idea, man. Absolutely none.”

“Never fear. God’s truth,” Dawson promised, gloved hand to heart. “We’ll be back once
the weather clears with the beefsteak and capons, as promised. My apologies to his
lordship that I could not bring them today.”

With a slap of reins and the jingle of chain and leather traces, the wagon pulled
away, snow whirling about Bolton like a live thing. He lifted his customarily stoic
countenance to glare at the heavens, wondering if his lordship’s guests would be able
to make their way through the building storm.

***

Just outside of Andover, lashing Christmas wind and snow had overcome the Honorable
Henrietta Gooding and her companion, bound for Broomhill Hall. So thick were the whirling
snowflakes that the coachman misdirected his team. The horses misstepped. With an
ominous creaking groan, the coach tipped sideways, horses squealing, the coachman
shouting oaths. A horrendously loud, wrenching wooden snap announced the death of
the singletree as the coach tipped. Up became sideways, and when the two bruised and
shaken women had to be helped through the window of their vehicle by their profoundly
apologetic driver, it was if his hands reached down to them from the sky.

“Godforsaken weather!” the coachman shouted against the wind. “One cannot see where
the road begins and ends, marm.”

“Ghostly, is it not?” Henrietta shouted. Snow veiled the road as much as it hid the
ditch. “The horses are not injured?”

“No, marm, but the footmen are a bit scratched up from landing in the hedgerow.”

“Turn around,” she ordered. “No sense in killing ourselves for Christmas. Kirkland
would be the first to say as much.”

***

Christmas crept down the smoking flue with the howling wind and teased the curling
ribbons on the parcel Lord Copeland wrapped. Deep red rubies for Margaret.

It had been a difficult year. Margaret had suffered a miscarriage. Her grieving husband
had lost a great deal of money on a particularly idiotic bet made the week of the
funeral. Odd, how some men reacted to heartbreak.

Copeland wished he might do more, wished he might erase his sister’s suffering. He
wished for more Christmases to share with her. He leaned back in his chair with a
sigh.

Smells like Christmas
,
he thought.
Juniper and yew. Cinnamon and cloves. Roasting duck. Ah, glorious Christmas! Bright
and dancing as the fire. A bright and lively Season.

He meant this to be the best Christmas ever; a memorable Season, to lift Margaret’s
spirits—to lift his own. His gift. Perhaps his final gift—this giving of the Christmas
spirit, gathering friends and family for a lighthearted fortnight.

At his feet, Gabriel stirred, paws twitching. Deep in the fawn-colored throat a trapped
bark whiffled like the wind. As if in answer, the heart of the flame stretched high,
throwing forth fingers of light that banished shrinking shadows.

Copeland opened his desk drawer, stirring papers, reaching for scissors, encountering,
instead, the carved toy at the back. Memories of a long-ago Christmas sparked as he
palmed the carved wooden cup with its string-held, holly-red ball. Staring into the
past, string dangling, his smile failed him, faded.
How many years? Twenty?

A cold draft fingered his ankles, returning him to the present, to the roundness of
the little wooden ball. He tossed it high, caught it on the second try, and thought
of James.

Thock.

A sound out of time, out of memory, out of the ashes.

Thock. Thock.
Silly thing, silly to hang on to it, but he could not simply toss it out. It had
been meant to make cheerful another Christmas. For James.

He missed. The ball swung wild. He no longer mastered a child’s game. Carefully winding
string around stick, he tucked his memories, along with the toy, back into the drawer.

The fire flickered, smoke eddied. Shadows skated behind the curtains and into corners,
throwing darkness like a cloak about the fire’s brazen shoulders. He must have the
chimney cleaned when weather permitted.
If you live that long.

Perish the melancholy thought!
He pressed finger to wrist. The room was quiet but for the pop and flare of burning
resin. His heart beat against his fingertip, the pop and flare of his life. How taken
for granted was the beating of one’s heart, until it ceased to do so reliably?

With an agitated gesture, he flexed his fingers above the letters and bills crowding
the blotter—strong hands—his father’s hands—
the hands of a dead man
.

Gabriel leaned into his knee. Copeland fingered the silky flop of golden spaniel ears.
He stroked the proud white chest. The adoration in the dog’s amber eyes gave comfort.

“No room for dreary, melancholy thoughts, Gabe. It is the Christmas Season. I will
have Christmas spirits.”

Gabe listened with gratifying attentiveness.

“I will think only of today. The moment. The Season’s happy tasks before me.” Copeland
plucked up his list. He would not think of his heart. Of breaking Henrietta’s.

“This shall be the best Christmas ever. Do you hear?” He sounded far more certain
than he felt. “The first step to making something so, is believing in it.”

The clock ticked; a shushing rhythm of snow gathered at roof’s edge and fell in clumps
on skeletal hedges. Copeland listened carefully for the unsteady timing of a pulse
that lost step now and then, feeling for that moment powerless and disillusioned despite
his brave words. Believing he was well, his heart whole, could not make it so.

***

Christmas deposited a substantial trail of dried leaves, bark chips, and a powdering
of glittering, star-like snow in Broomhill Hall’s gleaming marble entryway as four
footmen and both of the gardeners struggled under the Yule log’s enormous, weather-chilled
weight.

Bolton’s severe expression did not ruffle head footman Browne.

“Too big for the servants’ entrance, Mr. Bolton.” His voice was calm. “Had to bring
it in the front way, don’t you see?”

“You will see to it that order is restored?”

“Of course, Mr. Bolton.”

“And more mistletoe, Ashby. I want fresh mistletoe.” He called back over his shoulder
as he hurried on. “Enough for every doorway.”

Ashby dared grumble under his breath, “Best Christmas ever, ’e wants. Everything perfect,
’e says. And I’m to climb trees in this dreadful weather! Feet and hands like blocks
of ice, and everyone knows mistletoe will not stay fresh at Broomhill Hall. The Mistletoe
Bride breathes on it, sir. Withers it in a trice.”

“Enough of that nonsense, Mr. Ashby.”

“Never known a more miserable Season, Mr. Browne.”

Browne cowed him with a severe look. “I have, Mr. Ashby. As has Mr. Bolton, and his
lordship. In this house. You will hold tongue, in future, on your petty discontent.
We are fortunate indeed to be a part of Lord Copeland’s household, Mistletoe Bride
or no Mistletoe Bride. I would not have you forget that.”

***

Lord Copeland looked up from his ledgers when Bolton entered his study with the mail.
“Christmas cannot be deemed too stimulating. Can it, Mr. Bolton?”

“That would depend upon your definition of
too
, my lord.”

“Friends. Family. Good food. Song and spirits?”

“Sounds like lively good fun, my lord.”

“Yes. I would have a lively Christmas, Mr. Bolton. The best ever, if we can manage
it.”

“Of course, my lord.”

The fire danced high, sending shadows slinking. The brass dragon andirons seemed to
writhe upon the hearth. The part of Copeland’s soul that wanted to go on living writhed
even more violently. The desire to survive rose hot and thick at the back of his throat.
Like anger. Like rage.

“Best ever, Bolton.”

“As you wish, my lord, and to that end, the post boy and the butcher have been, and
word has come that while the weather has called a halt to construction on the almshouses,
the roofers are finished cutting slate.”

“Capital.” Copeland rubbed his hands together. The atmosphere crackled with the potential
of well-laid plans. He forced a smile, determined to be cheerful, determined not to
imagine, even for a moment, either that his guests would not be able to get through
this dreadful snow, or that he would not see finished his pet project, the row of
almshouses that would soon house the local widows and orphans.

The cup-and-ball toy rolled from beneath his ledger into his lap. He had thought the
thing put away, back into its drawer and the dark reaches of memory, and yet here
it was, the ball dangling across his thigh, waiting to be tossed again.

Thock.
He tossed the ball and caught it. Tossed it again.

“You will remember, my lord, your sister’s friend arrives today?”

Thock.

“Ah, yes. The music teacher from Andover.”

Bolton arranged the mail upon the desk.

“The Yule log is in place, my lord.”

“Is it grand?”

“Massive, my lord. Four men, it took, to drag it in.”

“A beautiful thing, a decent fire. And a house full for Christmas. Have we plenty
of candles, Bolton? I would have the house cheerful.”

The ball swung wild. Sheepishly Copeland tucked the toy into the drawer. “Silly thing
to hang on to.”

“One cannot simply toss away the past.” Bolton calmly gathered up the breakfast tray.

Copeland sighed. “Nay. Nor the future. As much as one might wish. One can only—”

“Prepare for the best Christmas ever, my lord?”

Copeland smiled. “You are a prize beyond value, my good man.”

“Do you mean to tell the family, my lord?”

Copeland straightened his shoulders, stiffened his spine. “Marcus must be told. As
future heir.”

BOOK: Elisabeth Fairchild
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