Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Romancing a Christmas Past - Part 2

Read Part 1

    "I believe we are both accommodated at the Roasted Pheasant this evening, Richard.”
    Lord Ambry glanced down at his partner. “You’re remarkably well informed, Louisa.”
   "Certainly I am. That way one avoids being stuck with people one does not wish to acknowledge.”
    "Or to renew old intimacies with?” Richard arched a brow, amused.
   "It is most ungallant of you to suggest such a thing.” She fluttered her lashes at him. “Rest assured, you don’t fall into that category.”
   "How gratifying.” 
   Less than one tenth of Richard’s attention was taken up with Lady Carmichael. He was restless and even the prospect of a night spent in Louisa’s irreverent company failed to inspire. He glanced into the dining buffet as they whirled through a turn in the dance. Miss Slockholme, Louisa’s little friend, was behaving in a most singular manner. Almost on her knees, she appeared to be searching for something beneath the buffet table. Now she’d withdrawn to an alcove where she obviously believed herself to be unobserved and was reading a note. Why that should concern him, Richard was at a loss to know. The machinations of young ladies fresh to the marriage mart, even heiresses of Miss Slockholme’s ilk, were of no interest to him.
   In spite of that, his interest was piqued.
   When the dance concluded, Richard escaped the ballroom before a determined matron, dragging an insipid chit in her wake, could detain him. He headed for the library in the west wing and poured himself a substantial measure of the duke’s excellent brandy. He’d not been there above five minutes before the sound of footsteps reached his ears. He withdrew into the shadows, astonished to see Amelia Slockholme, dressed for the outdoors, heading for the French doors that would take her to the garden.
   "What the deuce—”
   Without hesitation, he followed her into the cold night air.

  Shivering, Amelia drew her coat more tightly about her. She had been to this estate often and knew the grounds well. The sky was clear and a full moon lit her path. Moving slowly, her feet crunching across the frozen ground, she made slow progress towards the summer lodge, still wondering why Thomas found it necessary to act with such caution. Perhaps he had only just arrived back in England and hadn’t received an invitation to the ball. Even so, he could have called upon her tomorrow. Why the urgency? Something wasn’t right about all this, but unless she went to the summer lodge she would never find out what troubled her old friend.

   Deep in thought, Amelia forgot to look where she put her feet, slipped on a patch of ice and, with a startled oath, fell headfirst into the thick snow, her hat flying from her head. Or she would have fallen, had not a strong arm snagged her waist and saved her at the last second. Disorientated, she turned and found herself looking up into the bluest eyes she’d ever seen in a gentleman’s face. Trapped in the circle of Lord Ambry's arms, a gambit of strange sensations invading her body and she suddenly felt over-warm. She must be sickening for something.
   "Oh, it’s you,” she said, somewhat ungraciously.
   Lord Ambry released her immediately, his expression as frosty as the conditions. “At your service,” he said, inclining his head. 
   "Might I enquire what you’re doing out here, alone, on such a cold night?”
   "You might, but I fail to see why I should answer you.”
   Lord Ambry appeared taken aback by her pert response. He was reputedly the most eligible bachelor at this gathering. Presumably, not many ladies had the temerity to speak back to him.
   "Foolish child. Do you not realize the dangers of wandering abroad alone?”
   Amelia pulled herself up to her full height. “Firstly, Lord Ambry, I am not a child. I’ll have you know that this is my second season.”
   His lips quirked. “My apologies.”
   "And secondly, what harm could possibly befall me in the duchess’s garden?” Apart from you.
   "I assume you’ve forgotten that, had it not been for me, you would even now be prostrate in the snow, with a broken ankle, or worse.”
   "You exaggerate.”
   "Do I?”
   He continued to block her path, looming large and dangerous in the periphery of her vision, the most unlikely of protectors. Damn the man, he clearly wouldn’t leave her alone until she offered him some sort of explanation.
   "Since you seem intent upon learning my business, I lost an earring earlier and came to look for it.”
   "Alone? In the dark?”
   "It isn’t dark. The moon is sufficient illumination. I can see quite clearly.” I can certainly see you. Your eyes are no longer blue but almost black, presumably because I’ve displeased you.
   His penetrating gaze rested upon first one of her ears, and then the other. Both had earbobs securely attached. God’s beard, why couldn’t the moon go behind a cloud and obscure his vision?
   "I found it and was about to return to the house,” she said, tossing her head, daring him to defy her.
   "Then I shall escort you.”
   "No thank you. I’m perfectly familiar with the route. Besides,” she added, smiling sweetly,” I have been told that you’re one of the dangers I would do well to avoid. How would it look it we were observed returning from the garden together?”
   "I shall escort you only as far as the terrace.”
   "Your concern for my reputation is touching, but I don’t need your help.”
   He surprised her by reaching out and grabbing her arm. “Who are you meeting in there?” he asked savagely, nodding towards the summer lodge. “What did the note say?”
   "What note…how did you—“
   "You are both an innocent and an heiress, which makes you a prime target for fortune hunters. If you were to be discovered alone in a compromising position with a man you would be ruined.”
   "I shall not be discovered. They are all too intent upon celebrating the season and making free with the duke’s wine.”
   "Joyous Noel,” Lord Ambry said, rolling his eyes.
   The sound of approaching voices took them both by surprise.
   "She must be out here somewhere.”
   "It’s all right,” Amelia said, relief sweeping through her. “It’s only Louisa.”
   "I can see fresh footprints here in the snow,” another voice said.
    Lord Ambry canted his head, listening. “She isn’t alone. She must have assembled a party to search for you. We can’t be found here together.”
   "Don’t worry, Lord Ambry, I won’t make any demands upon you if we are.”
   "It’s your reputation that’s in danger, not mine.”
   "Because yours is already beyond recall, perhaps?”
   "There’s no time for this. They’re getting closer.”
   "It’s of no consequence. As you rightly pointed out, I am an heiress. Suitors tend to overlook the occasional lapse in protocol under such circumstances.”
   "So cynical,” he said softly.
   Still holding her arm, he led her up the steps to the summer lodge, opened the door and pushed her inside. “Stay in there. I’ll call when the coast is clear.”
   "But, I—“
   He closed the door on her objections.
   Amelia had barely drawn an indignant breath before someone grabbed her from behind and covered her mouth with his hand to prevent her from screaming…


 The talented Georgie Lee will be picking up the story on the 8th, so be sure to stop by to see where our story goes from here. Over to you, Georgie.

Click here to read Part 3

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.


Eliza Knight said...

Great continuation Wendy! This is so much fun, I can't wait to see what Georgie comes up with!

Christi Barth said...

The carol is a translation of the French Joyeux Noel. How did you make me want Lord Ambry to do naughty things oh so quickly?

Wendy Soliman said...

It's a gift, Christi!

Callie said...

The carol is Noel. Not fair! I don't want to wait until the 8th to pick up the story.

I'm loving this!!

Callie Hutton

Kirsten Arnold said...

This is a great continuation, Wendy! You all are fantastic! Can't wait to see what's next.


The carol: Joyous Noel

Wendy Soliman said...

Thanks, Kirsten. Nor can I!

Anonymous said...

She's gone from the fat into the fire. Why do we have to wait until the 8th?

Wendy Soliman said...

I know the waiting's tough but we have to give Georgie a couple of days to plot the next episode!

Joan said...

Oh no! Who's in the summer lodge with Amelia? Is it Thomas? Is it Santa? Or is it... Someone More Sinister?

Noel is the carol. Can't wait for the 8th -- this is so much fun!

Claire Robyns said...

Oh, love that you went back a step and dragged Lord Ambry into the frey. Can't wait to see what's next!

kog said...

Another exciting installment. My curiousity is piqued!

Carol is "Joyeux Noel"

Chicks of Characterization said...

Loving this!! can't wait for the next installment!!

Carol is "Joyeux Noel"

Great job ladies!!


Courtney said...

This is fun. Thanks for the story!

Today's carol is Joyous Noel.

Gehayi said...

The carol of the day is Joyous Noel.

The_Book_Queen said...

Dang, I've been missing all the fun this past week!

Mystery and intrigue seem to abound so far in this tale. :) I'm definitely loving it!

And the carol is Noel, one of my favorite songs actually.


DawnM said...

My post doesn't seem to have shown up,
the song is Joyeux (Joyous) Noel

Stevie Carroll said...

And the fun continues!

'Joyous Noel'

Kathryn Merkel said...

Joyous Noel

Things are getting very interesting. I'm off to the next part.

drainbamaged.gyzmo at gmail.com

Shelley B said...

The carol is Joyous Noel.