Title A Chance at Christmas
Author Beppie Harrison
Genre Historical Romance (Regency)
A Chance at Christmas tells the story of a Christmas that very nearly never happened for Catherine and her younger brother, struggling with poverty and the boy’s serious disabilities. But an invitation does come for a splendid Christmas at a friend’s great house, and Catherine dares to form a plan that might provide a future for her brother. What she never dreams about is a future for herself as well. Can romance come as a shocking Christmas surprise?
There was indeed a man standing close by, his attention fixed on their carriage. There was no one else but them now. He must be the one sent for them.
It was going to be all right.
He was tall, a young man, clearly a gentleman by his elegant dress. His boots shone and his cloak was multi-caped. He looked at her directly, with cool grey eyes and long lashes that would have been spectacular had he been a woman.
“Miss Woodsleigh, I believe?” he asked as she stepped out of the coach. “My sister Katie sent me to fetch you.” His words were as smooth and well-spoken as might be expected of a fashionably-dressed Englishman. Was this then the brother on whom she had pinned her hopes? Elegant he was indeed. Warm-hearted? She hoped he might be.
“I am Viscount de Montjoy,” he said.
She looked into his face as she came out of the carriage, hearing John’s boots thud behind her as he descended the step. Did the man have some of the look of Katie? He did seem courteous, rather than annoyed to be sent on such an errand. A hopeful sign, perhaps. She smiled at him.
Automatically, she reached back to steady John as his left boot landed on the step. Then he shifted balance to his right before stepping, leading again with his left foot, down to the ground. She kept her hand on his elbow as he rocked a bit before standing upright.
Viscount de Montjoy, who had answered Catherine’s smile with one of polite welcome, stared past her to John, clearly taking in his lame leg, twisted arm, and all.
His forehead creased. “Who is he?”
Foreboding plunged from Catherine’s head down to her toes. She took John’s arm.
“My brother.” She did not feel her lips move. She made a valiant effort to keep her smile. She would not let disappointment overwhelm her. Not yet. This was Katie’s brother, after all. The man on whom her fragile hopes rested.
He surveyed John attentively and then nodded. “I see. Does he require assistance to reach my carriage?” He half turned to indicate a neat, well-maintained landau perhaps fifty feet away.
“I do not,” John said for himself just as Catherine began to speak. She folded her lips to cut off words she might have said.
The viscount raised his left eyebrow, as if surprised John could speak.
“My man will take your bags.” He lifted a peremptory finger and a man in livery approached. A footman, perhaps? A coachman? Catherine’s family had never run to menservants, and she was unsure of what his position might be. She would have to pay close attention when they were in Katie’s house to make sure she didn’t make mistakes.
The footman, if such he was, took the heavy bag from Catherine and as John had set down his lighter one, grabbed that one as well. He headed off in the direction of the carriage and the viscount started to walk briskly after him.
He came to a stop almost immediately.
“I am sorry,” he said directly to Catherine. “Is my pace too rapid for your brother?”
Again John spoke up politely but firmly. “I believe I can nearly keep up, sir,” he said. “You will not have to wait long for me.”
The viscount looked at him, the eyebrow raised again. “Indeed.”
After a momentary hesitation John set off again. Catherine held back to keep an eye on his progress but he kept pace almost exactly. Perhaps that was just as well. It certainly would demonstrate John could do more than one might expect from a casual glance. Of course his leg would pain him afterward. She hoped there would be a chance for a sit-down and a bit of a rest once they reached their destination.
John lurched forward, not far behind the viscount, and Catherine matched her speed to his. Pride for his determination warmed her, even on such a cold winter late afternoon.
The viscount waited at the door of the carriage for them to enter. John also waited for Catherine to go ahead of him, but she knew he would need some assistance, however proud he might be. She shook her head as slightly as she could, and John nodded with equal restraint, and she put a hand under his bad elbow as he heaved himself up and in. When she stepped in after him, she started to sit on the seat with its back to the horses, as they had been seated in the coach, but the viscount, following closely behind, would not permit it.
“Please take the other seat.”
She fleetingly considered objecting for the sake of politeness, but decided quickly against it, and tugged John in the other direction. He fell down on the seat, rather than sitting more gracefully as he was usually capable of doing, but usually he had not just been walking so briskly. Catherine pulled her cloak and skirt around herself, hoping the viscount might not notice.
It was so important that he see what John could do, not what he could not.
Beppie Harrison lives on Boston’s South Shore close to the ocean in a big white New Englandish house with her husband, a lawyer daughter, and an assortment of dogs and cats. They live a somewhat trans-Atlantic lifestyle. Her husband is an English architect, and they lived in London at the beginning of their marriage, only moving to the States when they had young children. Now the children are grown, they return to old friends and familiar places as frequently as they can. In many ways, England still feels like their second home.
For Beppie, the pull from across the Atlantic comes not only from the dales of Yorkshire and the buzz of London, but from Ireland. Did it start with its literature, its green beauty, or its wonderfully garrulous people? However it happened, both England and Ireland draw her now.
Her first fiction trilogy, the Heart Trilogy, is placed primarily in Ireland during the Regency period. The Grandest Christmas, a companion novella for the holiday season, is a warm and cozy read for Christmastime. Her upcoming quartet of novels is placed again in Regency times, but, as introduced by the novella The Dowager’s Season, introduces four cousins to the excitement and romance of London’s presentations and balls.
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