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Authors: Kane,Samantha,Pearce,Kate

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Gift of Desire

BOOK: Gift of Desire
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Table of Contents
 

Gift of Desire

 

“The Gift” Copyright © 2013 by Nancy Kattenfield

 

“My Heart’s Desire” Copyright © 2013 by Kate Pearce

 

Cover Design by
Frauke Spanuth

 

Formatting by
Nadia Lee

 

This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writers imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any manner whatsoever without the prior written permission from the author except in the case of brief quotation embodied in critical articles and reviews.

 

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of these authors.

 

Gift of Desire

 

The Gift

 

On Christmas Eve, 1817, Captain Jeremy Highsmith of the Royal Navy and his best friend Lieutenant Rhys Wilkinson return to England after almost a year in captivity. Their bond of friendship grew even stronger as they were tortured while being held for ransom by the Bey of Algiers. All that kept them going was the idea of returning to Jeremy’s wife, Cordelia, the woman they both courted and are both still in love with. But will Cordelia be willing to accept both of them…in her heart and her bed?

 

For Cordelia Highsmith, the greatest Christmas gift she could ever imagine is the return of her husband and his best friend. But can she accept the even greater gift they offer…the two of them, hers, forever?

 

My Heart’s Desire

 

After a dreadful disfiguring accident and the loss of her husband, Caroline Lyndhurst has spent the last two years hiding away from society. One man has never forgotten her. Jasper, Lord Mansell is determined not only to see her again, but to persuade her that in the spirit of Christmas, true love can bloom again.

 

The Gift

Samantha Kane

Acknowledgements
 

First and foremost I’d like to thank Kate Pearce for inviting me to participate in this anthology. We’ve been talking about doing a project together for years and I’m thrilled that we’ve finally been able to achieve it. Kate is all kinds of wonderful, and I’m so happy to take our friendship one step further into the creation of this anthology.

I’d also like to thank my editor, Jennifer Barker, who fit this story into her very busy schedule. She is an extraordinary editor and I love working with her.

Thanks to family and friends who helped keep me on a tight schedule to finish this book on time. Your support means the world to me.

Chapter One
 

“Mrs. Highsmith! Mrs. Highsmith!” The ragged young boy ran into the improvised classroom calling out her name. Cordelia turned just as her mentor, Mr. Poundstone, chastised the boy.

“Jem,” he said sternly, looking at him from under lowered brows, “a young man enters a room quietly and respectfully and addresses a lady in the same manner.”

“Yes, sir,” Jem said breathlessly as he skidded to a stop. He didn’t even look at Mr. Poundstone, so focused was he on Cordelia. “They’ve brought prisoners back, Mrs. Highsmith. From Algiers.”

Cordelia dropped the slate she was holding. The crash as it hit the wood floor caused all conversation in the room to abruptly cease. It felt as if all the breath had suddenly been squeezed out of her. “Names?” she demanded in a rough, shaky voice.

Jem nodded. “He’s there. The captain. They brought your husband back.”

“It’s a Christmas miracle,” a little girl whispered from behind her.

Cordelia turned to Mr. Poundstone. She hated to leave him alone with all the children. She’d been working with him for months, trying to educate the lower-class children of Portsmouth, those who weren’t able to attend the public schools. At first it had been a way to pass the time after Jeremy was taken prisoner and held for ransom by corsairs who worked for the Bey of Algiers. Now she considered it a joy and a responsibility. But not today. Not when Jeremy had come home at last.

Mr. Poundstone nodded solemnly. “Go, my dear,” he said kindly. “You must.”

She needed no other encouragement. She grabbed her shawl and raced out of the classroom to the cheers of the children, heading for the docks and Jeremy. She didn’t even feel the cold. At last, Jeremy was home. She bit her lip as she ran, one thought in her mind.
Is Rhys with him?
She’d been too afraid to ask.
Please, please, God
, she prayed,
let Rhys be with him
.

* * *

 

Jeremy knocked on the door again, to no avail. He could sense the house was empty. Where was Cordy? She should be here. Had she left Portsmouth? There had been no message for him. They’d told him at the dock that she was here. Perhaps they were misinformed.

“It’s cold.” Rhys spoke from behind him. His voice was flat. He’d been anticipating seeing Cordy as well. It had been so long. They’d talked about this day endlessly. It had kept them going. It had been almost a month since their release and each day they’d had to wait for a ship home had been hell for both of them.

“It’s winter,” Jeremy replied logically. “Almost Christmas. We’ll be inside soon,” he told him, knocking again. A light rain had begun to fall, the skies gray and the day dreary. Hardly the setting for a happy reunion. “Perhaps she’s just gone out for a moment. She didn’t know we were coming.”

“I told you we should have sent a note from Gibraltar.” Rhys sounded angry. He was always angry now. The Rhys he had known since his school days used to joke and laugh and flirt outrageously. But the Bey had beaten that out of him. Jeremy pounded harder on the door.

“Jeremy.”

He spun around, wondering if he’d imagined the voice crying out his name. Rhys turned as well, and Jeremy found himself staring at the other man’s profile. He was still too thin, but they’d fed them well in Gibraltar after their release, and they’d been quartered like royalty on the ship home to England. Still, Rhys’ long nose appeared like a thin blade against his sunken eyes. His dark hair was unruly, the cold wind catching hold of it and tossing it about. He’d taken his hat off again. The naval uniform he wore hung loosely on him and he wrapped his arms around himself, shivering.

“Did you hear it?” Rhys whispered. Under heavy brows his dark brown eyes were haunted. He sounded almost afraid. Jeremy couldn’t blame him. There had been more than one incident in Algiers when Rhys had been mad with fever and heard her voice calling him. He’d scared Jeremy then. He’d thought he was going to lose him.

“I heard it.” He stepped over, next to Rhys, and scanned the street.

“Jeremy!” she cried out again, closer now. “Rhys!”

Then he saw her. She was running up the hill toward them, her blonde hair flying, a black shawl trailing from her hand, blowing behind her like a dark zephyr as she ran.

“Cordelia,” Rhys whispered.

Jeremy took a step toward her, his heart in his throat, every instinct telling him to run, but he was frozen, too afraid to leave Rhys’ side, the familiar guilt assailing him.

“Go,” Rhys said roughly, shoving Jeremy forward. “Go to her.”

Jeremy stumbled on the first two or three steps but then he was running to Cordy, and holding her at last. She was warm and soft and smelled like home, like roses and fresh-baked bread. He pulled back in their embrace and looked at her face. She was crying, her blue eyes red-rimmed, her smile so big it took up half of her face. He’d teased her about that big mouth on more than one occasion. Without saying a word he brushed a lock of hair out of the way and kissed her, kissed those smiling lips, and she sobbed into his mouth and held him so tightly he thought he might burst from happiness.
This. This is what I’ve missed.

“Rhys?” she asked when he broke the kiss. She wiped her cheeks with her palms, like a child. God, how he’d missed her.

He took her hand. “Come on,” he said, pulling her back to Rhys. It had always been like this. Why hadn’t he seen it before? It had always been the three of them. He tried not to dare hope too much.

When they were only a few feet away Cordy broke away from him and threw herself into Rhys’ arms. Jeremy could see he was unprepared for it and he stumbled a step or two. He should have known she’d greet him like that. He knew her as well as Jeremy did. “Rhys,” she said, a break in her voice. He wrapped his arms around her and buried his face in her neck, just as Jeremy had done. She placed her hands on his cheeks and pulled his head up so she could see his face, her expression worried. Then she kissed his cheeks and hugged him again, her cheek pressed to his.

When Jeremy saw Rhys smile for the first time in months he breathed a sigh of relief. Cordy was just what he needed. Just what
they
needed. Cordy tried to smooth Rhys’ wild mane of hair and Rhys let out a rusty laugh. Cordy followed and then Jeremy, and soon they were all laughing like fools there on the stoop. Jeremy stepped in and hugged them both. They were home.

Chapter Two
 

Rhys set his cup down. His hand was shaking again.
Dammit
. He wasn’t sure if it was fatigue or if he was being a ninny again.

“Are you all right?” Jeremy asked quietly from beside him.

“I’m fine,” he answered. He closed his eyes in shame at the frustration and impatience in his voice. Jeremy was the one person who didn’t deserve his anger. He’d always been there for Rhys, but Rhys had been too stupid to see it until Algiers. His mind went blank, as it often did nowadays when he tried to remember their captivity. He stared at Jeremy, a frown on his face. What had they been talking about?

“That’s right,” Jeremy said with a sad little smile that didn’t reach his soft brown eyes. “She’ll be back.”

Cordelia had gone to the kitchen to help the cook bring out dessert. There were no other servants. Cordelia had explained she’d let them go after a few months. There simply wasn’t enough work for them with just her around the house. She had a housekeeper who came in twice a week to take care of things for her, and a cook who lived elsewhere. He supposed she’d have to get them all back, especially if he stayed as Jeremy was insisting. If she let him after they told her everything.

He tried to pick up the cup again but he was still shaking. He slammed it back down and ran both hands through his hair, blowing out a frustrated breath. He felt Jeremy’s hand squeeze his thigh under the table, and his shoulders relaxed as his arms dropped back down to his sides. He turned and stared at Jeremy, his anchor in the turbulent seas of the last year. His dark curly hair looked artfully mussed, but Rhys knew it always looked like that. Like everything else, even perfect hair came easily to him.

“Is everything all right?” Cordelia asked from the doorway, watching him carefully. She could tell. She had to know. He tensed again.

“It’s fine,” Jeremy lied smoothly for him. He pulled his hand away and Rhys felt the cold chill of being alone again. “What have you brought? I feel like visiting royalty, you’ve given us such a feast.”

“Hardly, sir,” the cook, Mrs. Tuttle, said, bustling in around Cordelia. “If I’d known you both were coming, well, then, I’d have had time for a feast. And don’t think I won’t give you one tomorrow. A feast on Christmas Day, to be sure. Deserve one, after what you’ve been through. I’ve a goose and a pudding for you.” She set down a plate of small cakes and Cordelia came behind her, setting down a tray of baked custard.

BOOK: Gift of Desire
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