Read The Present Online

Authors: Johanna Lindsey

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #General

The Present

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As the entire Malory family gathers at Haverston to celebrate the season, a mysterious present arrives anonymously. The gift is an old journal -- a tender and tempestuous account of the love affair between the second Marquis, ChristopherMalory, and a dark gypsy beauty named Anastasia, who seeks a love match with a non-gypsy in order to save herself from a prearranged marriage to a brute. Though the dashing English lord Anastasia sets her sight upon burns for the exquisite, exotic miss, Christopher could never consent to wed such a lowborn lady. But miracles have been known to happen in this season of peace and giving and love, as two extraordinary people seperated by cicumstance of birth begin a passionate dance of will and wiles. And in the miraculous blossoming of a glorious romance at a long ago Christmastime, there are wise and well-learned lessons that will enrich the hearts of the Malory descendants -- and, indeed, of everyone who has ever dreamed.

Synopsis

A new novel from JohannaLindsey is a gift in any season. However, her new holiday-themed tale of the incorrigible -- yet intoxicatingly gorgeous -- Malory clan, The Present, is a particularly irresistible stocking stuffer. There's plenty of drama surrounding the family Christmas tree even before a mysterious package arrives, one that will forever alter how the Malorys see themselves. The Present has dark secrets, family tensions, unrequited love -- all the ingredients of an unforgettable historical romance novel.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or the publisher.

1350 Avenue of the Americas New York, New York 10019

Copyright © 1998 by Johanna Lindsey

Interior design by Kellan Peck

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ISBN: 0-380-97725-7

All rights reserved, which includes the right to reproduce this book or

portions thereof in any form whatsoever except as provided by the U.S.

Copyright Law. For information address Avon Books, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data:

Lindsey, Johanna,

The present : a Malory Holiday novel / Johanna Lindsey.—1st ed.

The Malory clan always spent the christmas holidays at Haverston, the ancestral estate in the country where the oldest among them had been born and raised. Jason Malory Third Marquis of Haverston and the oldest of foul brothers, was the only family member who was still a permanent resident. The head of the family since he was only sixteen, Jason had raised his brothers—two of whom had been utterly scandalous in their pursuits—and a young sister.

At present the various Malorys and offspring were quite numerous and difficult to place, sometimes even for Jason himself. So it was a very large brood that gathered at Haverston these days for the Christmas season.

Jason's only son and heir, Derek, was the first to arrive, more than a week before Christmas. With him came his wife, Kelsey, and Jason's first two blond and green-eyed grandchildren.

Anthony, his youngest brother, was the next to arrive only a few days after Derek. Tony, as most of the family called him, admitted to Jason that he'd deserted London early after hearing that their brother James had a bone to pick with him Annoying James was one thing, and some-thing Anthony often strived to do, but when James was out for blood, well, Tony considered that a different matter entirely.

Anthony and James were his youngest brothers, yet only a year apart in age themselves. They were both skilled pugilists, and Anthony could hold his own with the best of them, yet James was heftier, and his fists were frequently likened to solid bricks.

With Anthony came his wife, Roslynn, and their two daughters. Judith, the oldest at six, had taken after both her parents, having her mother's glorious red-gold hair and her father's cobalt blue eyes, a seriously striking combination that Anthony feared was going to make her the reigning beauty of her day—which as her father and a reformed rake he was not looking forward to.

But his younger daughter, Jaime, was going to break some hearts as well.

But even with all his guests, Jason was the first one to notice the present that had appeared in the parlor while the family was breakfasting. It was hard to miss, actually, placed prominently up on a pedestal table next to the fireplace. Wrapped in gold cloth, banded with a red velvet

ribbon and bow, it was oddly shaped, nearly like the size of a thick book, yet a round protrusion on top suggested it was nothing that simple.

Poking a finger at it showed that the protrusion could move, yet not very much, as he found out when he tilted the present sideways and it didn't change position. Strange, yet stranger still was that there was no indication of whom the present was from, nor whom it was for.

"A bit early to be passing out Christmas gifts, ain't it?" Anthony remarked as he sauntered into the room to find Jason holding the present. "The Christmas tree ain't even been brought in yet."

"That was my thought as well, since I didn't put it here," Jason replied.

"No? Then who?"

"I've no idea," Jason admitted.

"Who's it for, then?" Anthony asked,

"I'd like to know that myself."

Anthony raised a brow at that point. "No card?"

Jason shook his head. "None. I just found it here on this pedestal myself," he said, and put it back.

Anthony picked up the present as well to poke at it a bit. "Hmmm, someone sure dressed it up fancy. I'll wager it will fascinate the children—at least until we find out what it is."

As it happened, it fascinated the adults as well. In the following days, since none of the family owned up to having put it there, the present created a sensation. Just about all of the adults poked, shook, or otherwise examined it, yet no one could figure out what it might be, or whom it was for.

Those having arrived so far were gathered in the parlor the night when Amy walked in holding one of her twins. "Don't ask why we're late, you wouldn't believe it she said, then in the next breath, "First the wheel on the coach fell off. Then not a mile down the road, one of the horses lost not one, but two of his shoes. After we finally get that all taken care of and we're almost here, the bloody axle broke. I thought surely Warren was going to kill that poor coach by then. He certainly kicked it enough. If I didn't think to wager with him that we would arrive here today, I really don't think we would have. But you know I never lose a wager, so ... By the by, Uncle Jason, that poor unmarked grave doing in that lovely clearing east of here. The one close to the road that runs through your property We ended up walking through it to get here, since it was the shorter route by that point, to just head across that clearing."

No one said a word at first, still in bemusement after that long dissertation. But then Derek said, "Remember that grave m'self, now that you mention it, cousin. Reggie and I came across it when we were younguns gadding about the estate. Always meant to ask you about it, Father just never got around to it, then forgot about it."

They were all looking toward Jason by then, but he merely shrugged his broad shoulders. "Devil if I know who was laid to rest there. That grave has been there since before I was born. Asked my father about it once, as I recall, but he put off answering, hemmed and hawed so much,  actually, that I figured he just didn't know, so I didn't ask again."

"Think we've all come across that grave at one time or another, least those of us who were raised here,'' Anthony remarked to no one in particular. "Strange place for a grave, and a well-tended one at that, when there are two cemeteries nearby, not to mention the ancestral cemetery right here on the property."

Judith, who had been standing next to the pedestal staring at the mysterious present, came over to her cousin Amy and held up her arms to take the two-year-old twin from her. Judy was tall for her age, and very good with the toddlers. Amy was only surprised that she got no greeting, and said so.

"Where's my hug, puss?"

Those exquisite features just stared at her mulishly. Amy raised a brow toward the girl's father.

Anthony rolled his eyes, but explained, "She's pouting 'cause Jack ain't here yet."

Jack was James and Georgina's oldest daughter. Every one knew that Jack and Judy, who were only month apart in age, were inseparable when they were together, and they were so fond of each other that their parents made sure they were often together—especially since neither was very happy when they were separated for very long.

"Am not," Judith denied in a pouting mumble as she marched back to the pedestal.

Jason was the only one to notice when Amy's attention centered on the present that had garnered everyone's curiosity. He would have thought nothing of it, except for her expression. Her brief frown made him wonder if she was getting one of her feelings about it. This niece of his had phenomenal luck, never having lost a wager in her life, which she attributed to these "feelings," as she called them, that she got. Jason considered such things as feelings exceeding strange, which was why he would as soon not hear if she was getting one now. So he was relieved when her frown eased and she gave her attention back to his brother.

"Uncle James hasn't arrived yet, then?" Amy surmised from Anthony's last response.

Anthony did some mumbling himself. "No, and hopefully he won't."

"Oh, dear. You two are fighting?" Amy surmised again.

"Me? Fight my dear brother? Wouldn't think of it," Anthony replied, then, "But someone bloody well ought to tell him this is the season for good cheer."

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