I’m very excited to announce that my new novella, A Merry Christmas Chase, is being released as part of the box set Regency Quintet: Christmas edition. The novella (which is almost novel-length) has been something I’ve had on a back burner for some time. I put it aside when I first started writing Jane Austen sequels and variations, took it out a couple of times, and now finally was able to revisit it after being invited to be part of the wonderful Regency quintet. How could I say possibly say no?
I really enjoyed writing this novella. It’s my first Christmas story ever and I have to say there was something very special about writing it. For one thing I think it has a real Christmas message of giving instead of taking. For another, there were several snowy scenes that were such a pleasure to write. I love my hero Carsdale, too. He has a few things in common with Mr. Darcy, I think, but he’s completely fictional (whereas we all know Mr. Darcy isn’t 😉 ). My heroine, Cherry, is a lovely person and I found myself liking her more and more as the novel developed. The story also has its funny parts, quite in keeping with my love of chuckling while I write. Best of all, it’s also a warmhearted romance. Overall, as you can probably tell, I’m rather pleased with the result.
Other than my novella, there are four other stories.
A MOST UNUSUAL CHRISTMAS – Fenella Miller
Cressida Hadley has no expectations of enjoying herself this Christmas as Colonel Hadley, her irascible papa, is not in favour of frivolity. However, when Lord Guy Bromley and his family arrive on their doorstep everything cha
WINTER INHERITANCE – Melinda Hammond
Governess Verity Shore longs for a little adventure, then Rafe Bannerman arrives to carry her off to Highclough and Verity discovers that life can be a little too exciting!
HIS LORDSHIP’S CHRISTMAS BRIDE – Elizabeth Bailey
Isolde Cavanagh’s refuge proves even more intimidating than she feared when Richard de Baudresey, her reluctant guardian, decides on a radical change of plan for her future.
THE SIX MONTH MARRIAGE – Amanda Grange
Madeline Delaware finds herself falling in love as summer turns to winter in her convenient six-month m
arriage, and the night of the Christmas fete brings great joy, as well as a final problem to overcome.
There are three brand new stories, never published before, so you are really getting a bargain for only $1.99.
To win a free copy of this special Christmas Box Set, please leave a comment below.
Blurb: A Merry Christmas Chase
When the new earl at the Lodge catches Cherry poaching, she manages to get away before he discovers her identity. But the earl is serious about catching his poacher and bringing “him” to justice, so Cherry flees to her estranged rich aunt. Imagine her dismay when she discovers that the earl is a house guest there for the whole twelve days of Christmas! She has to rely on her ingenuity to throw him off the scent.
Lord Carsdale has come to the Christmas house party to find a wife, but there is something very odd about Lady Ashburn’s niece. At first he turns away from her, but as he catches glimpses of someone else behind the mask she wears, he gets more and more intrigued, unaware that she is leading him on a very merry chase, one where it is not clear who is the hunted and who the hunter.
Here is an excerpt of A Merry Christmas Chase. I hope you enjoy it!
The ground was frozen solid. If she had to wait much longer, Cherry’s fingers would be frozen solid, too. Only the knowledge that she would be providing Christmas pie for many tenants in the village kept her on track. They had precious little else and they had come to count on her for this yearly bounty, as they had counted on her father before her, that is, until his arm had been caught in a poacher’s trap and he was unable to hunt any longer.
A twig snapped and a large hare emerged from amongst the foliage. Cherry shifted to make sure she stayed downwind from her prey. From a distance, she heard men’s voices and she stilled, trying to work out where the sound was coming from, knowing that in the clear winter air noises carried more clearly. Then the voices ceased and she heard the muted sound of horse’s hooves moving away.
She heaved a soft sigh of relief. The new earl was in residence at Sorrelgate Lodge and rumour had it that he was far more rigid than his grandfather, who had rarely graced the village with his presence. It was said that he intended to replace Mr Ridges, the kindly old gamekeeper who had turned a blind eye to Cherry’s poaching, with someone younger. That meant tougher. It did not bode well. Since the enclosure laws had passed, poaching on someone else’s grounds carried a sentence of deportation or even hanging. The fact that she was a gently-born young lady had protected her so far, which is why the hungry villagers relied on her, but a determined landowner could change that. If she was caught, she would be at the mercy of the new earl.
For now, though, there was little danger, as long as she was cautious. After all, she knew the woods like the back of her hands, far better than any newcomer.
Mr. Ridges was still the gamekeeper, and Cherry’s arrow would be silent. She would give the villagers this one last feast then lie low until she had taken the new Earl’s measure.
She aimed at the hare. She’d already planned who would get it. She would give it to the Wilsons. Mr. Wilson had broken his leg, and with four young children to support and no wages, they needed anything they could get. She was sure Mrs. Wilson would contrive to make the meat last for a week. Saying a little prayer of apology to the hare, Cherry raised her bow, nocked the arrow, and snapped the nock onto the bowstring, preparing to let go.
At that very moment, a flash of white cloth appeared between the trees. A second later, a man appeared, holding a pistol before him, standing straight in the path of her arrow.
With remarkable presence of mind, she managed to nudge the arrow just as it left the bow, sending it to scrape the edge of the man’s hand instead. The gentleman’s hand, she should have said, because there was no doubt that this was no ruffian out to accost her alone in the woods. He was dressed in a layered overcoat, his buckskin trousers expensive and perfectly tailored to above shining black Hessians, a top hat crowning his head. Since she had never seen him before, she could only assume that the handsome personage standing before her was Lord Carsdale, the new landowner.
Lord Carsdale let out a quick curse of pain, but he did not look away to examine the wound she had inflicted with her arrow. It was a mere scratch, she knew, no more than an insect’s sting, but Cherry had counted on that momentary distraction for her chance to escape. Apparently Lord Carsdale was made of sterner material than that. He kept the pistol leveled and his eyes fixed upon her as he advanced in her direction. A reluctant admiration rose up in her. She squelched it ruthlessly. One could not admire the enemy.
For there was no mistaking the determination in his gaze. He would shoot her if she made any attempt to escape.
“One move, lad, and I’ll fire,” said Lord Carsdale, in a hard cultured voice, the sort accustomed to command.
Did he think she was a half-wit? That part was painfully obvious. What was far less clear was how she was going to get herself out of this one. Because, of course, she had to. The poaching laws were made to protect gentlemen like him from thieving criminals like her. At least he had not seen through her male disguise.
Well, she would just have to play along with his little game, then, and look for opportunities along the way.
“I didn’t mean nothing,” she said, hoping to sound more like a playful young boy than like a hardened poacher, which she supposed she was.
“That’s for me to decide, isn’t it?” said the gentleman.
He drew closer. He moved with an economy which fascinated her. She had never seen anyone move in quite that way before. There was something no-nonsense about the way he moved. He was a soldier, clearly, someone used to facing an enemy, probably a product of the Peninsular campaign against Napoleon.
It would not be easy to hoodwink him.
A few more strides, and he reached out to tear the bow from her hands. She thanked the heavens that the tricorn hat she wore was too big and sank down onto her forehead. Her eyes would be in the shade. As long as he didn’t take the cap off.
In theory, she knew, she ought to duff her cap at him, not keep it sitting insolently on her head, but she could not take it off, not if she didn’t want him to see her hair. Besides, she knew her eyes were a dead giveaway. Few people had hazel-green eyes like hers. He could identify her by her eyes in a crowd of five hundred people. So the hat stayed firmly on her head.
“I’m sorry sir,” she said, keeping her eyes to the ground, though it galled her to do it. “I won’t do it again, sir. I was just pretending to be Robin Hood. He used a bow and arrow, didn’t he?”
“As I recall,” said the gentleman, standing right in front of her. “Robin Hood used to steal from the rich to give the poor.”
Lord Carsdale had let loose his verbal arrow and it had scored a bull’s eye. He did not quite know it, and it would not do at all to let him know he was right.
She shook her head vigorously. “Not me, sir.”
The gentleman was silent for a long moment. It unnerved her, not knowing what was coming next. But she steeled herself not to look up.
It was the longest moment of her life. It was the first time her life had hung in the balance. The difference between life and imprisonment. That was what the gentleman’s next words would be. Or, at the very least, scandal for her as a gentleman’s daughter, since the family name would be dragged in the mud.
“I’m taking you to Heathshead. I’ll be handing you over to the magistrate,” said the gentleman, reaching out and grabbing her roughly by the shoulder. He was not going to let her go.
It was scandal, then, and perhaps worse. The magistrate was an acquaintance of her father’s and did not know of her clandestine activities. He would be horrified that a young lady they had admitted into their house was engaged in such an activity.
“And don’t try to escape,” he said, calmly as if talking about what he planned to eat for dinner. “I’ll hunt you down, you know. I was the best tracker in my regiment.”
As if she could escape when he was holding her by the scruff of the neck.
She stumbled over a branch, deliberately, hoping he would let go. But although his hold loosened, he found his grip again quickly and he gave her a push, treating her more roughly now, thrusting her ahead of him.
She could not afford to get too close to Heathshead. She would put the villagers in an awkward situation. If he asked for their help in securing her, they would have to give it. They owed their allegiance to him, after all. She would not want them to feel torn between helping her and obeying their master. No, if she was to have any chance of fleeing, it had to be before they reached the village, which was a mere five minutes away.
She needed a distraction.