Amelia lifted her champagne glass high to avoid an elbow and made a slow path through the festive crush. An arm suddenly linked into hers, and when she saw it belonged to her dearest friend, Lady Louisa Carmichael, she smiled and leaned in closer. “I heard you’ve had to secure a room at the Roasted Pheasant for the night.”
“Where on earth do you dig up your information?”
“So, it’s not true.”
The young widow threw her head back on a laugh. “I didn’t say that.”
“Then you’re sharing my room tonight,” Amelia decided.
“Thank you for the offer, darling, but that’s bound to ruin all my fun. Speaking of which…” She slanted her gaze in the direction of the dance floor as the music trailed off. “I’ve promised the next dance to Lord Ambry.” She slid her arm free and spun about, directly into an approaching footman. A silver tray went flying one way and a folded note went the other. “Oh, dear!”
“We’re terribly sorry,” said Amelia, watching a stout grey-haired man walk over the note. It stuck to the sole of his shoe and went with him.
“Forgive me, m’lady,” muttered the footman, his head bent as he stooped to retrieve the tray. “I have a message for you.” He came back up, his gaze still on the ground. “Where did it go?”
“I believe it went to the dining buffet,” Amelia told him. A puzzled look crossed his face and she quickly added, “Not to worry, I’ll go after it.”
At that moment, Lord Ambry intercepted them with a shallow bow. Dark hair curled untamed around his cravat and eyes, a deep, deep blue, skipped right over Amelia to linger on Louisa. “Shall we?”
Amidst the flurry of Louisa sauntering off with the dashing Lord Ambry and Amelia striding toward the buffet table that had been set up along the ballroom wall, the footman was left to stand, staring after her.
Luck was on her side and Amelia found the note partly showing from beneath the creamy linen cloth that draped over the buffet table to the floor. The paper was thoroughly scuffed, but only a little sticky. She’d withdrawn to a shadowed area by the curved staircase before she thought to question whether the footman had been delivering the message to her or Louisa.
All doubt disappeared as she started reading and immediately recognised Thomas’s handwriting. As far as she was aware, Louisa had never even met him. No, this letter was clearly meant for her. She and Thomas had practically grown up together, but she hadn’t seen him since he’d left on his Grand Tour almost three years ago. Every three or four months, he'd sent her a letter detailing his travels and she'd cherished every single one of them.
We need to talk.
I’m at the Summer Lodge by the lake. Please hurry, it’s urgent. I’ll wait here until you come.
Amelia rushed up the staircase and down the passage to her room. She kicked her slippers off and rummaged through the wardrobe for a pair of sturdy walking boots and her thick, velvet coat. She grabbed the matching velvet hat, plumped it directly on her curls and tugged it down low enough to cover her ears.
Oh, how she’d missed Thomas. She hadn’t appreciated him nearly enough until he was no longer there to make her laugh, to tempt her into his outrageous schemes—to tease her! She hadn’t forgotten about that. But I still missed you like the devil would miss his fire if ever it were taken from him.
The second her boots were on, she hurried out, pulling her coat on as she went. To avoid the ballroom, she used a secondary staircase leading directly to the west wing. This part of the house was quiet and she saw no one as she passed through the library to the French doors that led outside. A thick blanket of snow covered the landscaped gardens and beyond as far as she could see. Moonlight glittered off the frozen lake and the row of tall elms beyond looked like giant white skeletons.
Amelia was halfway to the lake before she slowed her step, sucked in a frosty breath and gave proper thought to Thomas’s note. Why hadn’t he attended the ball if he was home? Why couldn’t he have come to see her up at the house? What could possibly be so urgent as to send her outside, alone, in the middle of this deathly cold, darkly silent night?
The lovely Wendy Soliman will be picking up the story on the 6th, so be sure to stop by to see where our story goes from here.
And don't forget: Each post will contain the name of a Christmas carol. As readers, you're asked to follow the blog and then post a comment on each entry naming that carol. The person with the most correct answers will win a bundle of SEVEN fabulous Carina historical novels to keep them entertained over the festive period, and beyond.
Click HERE to read Part 2...