An Accidental Fire
on Christmas Eve with Carolyn Jewel
on Christmas Eve with Carolyn Jewel
About the Author:
Carolyn Jewel was born on a moonless night. That darkness was seared into her soul and she became an award winning author of historical and paranormal romance. She has a very dusty car and a Master’s degree in English that proves useful at the oddest times. An avid fan of fine chocolate, finer heroines, Bollywood films, and heroism in all forms, she has three cats and a dog. Also a son. One of the cats is his.
Off The Cliff
Cumbria, England, 1811
Georgina Ellis pulled her cloak tighter around her and told herself she would on no account look to her left. She did not want to see his home. She was not here to remember how badly she’d made a fool of herself. She was here to be her father’s eyes and heart.
The cold cut through her, though she wore her warmest cloak and her thickest gloves. When she was a child young enough to be held, her father would bring her here, just the two of them. He’d walk to the very edge with her in his arms, and they would gaze at beauty. He gave her a kiss on the cheek for pointing out the things she knew. To the right, their home. A kiss. Colbourn Close, Lord St. Aubyn’s house, there, to the left, where she would not look. A kiss. An eagle, Papa. A kiss. The river. A kiss. Mama’s grave. A kiss.
She walked to the edge of the escarpment, savoring the familiar tingle that raced up the back of her legs. Her chest tingled, too, and her breath caught. As always, the sensation thrilled her. She did not look to her left. He did not deserve even a moment of her attention.
Why then, a tiny voice asked, does your heart pain you so? If she were over the heartbreak, she’d be able to look at his house. Wouldn’t she?
“For God’s sake, step away from there.”
Heart in her mouth, she whirled to see a tall man standing some ten feet from her. He extended a hand to her. She tipped her head to one side. “Oh, it’s you.”
St. Aubyn put one booted foot atop a protruding rock. The upturned collar of his coat was horribly dashing. She hated him for it. “It’s you.”
“How clever of you.” He was as handsome as ever, with his brown eyes and too strong nose. Alas, she was as foolish at twenty-five as she had ever been. She still loved him. She turned her back to him and wished him gone.
“Miss Ellis. Please. Move away from the edge. You’ll fall.”
“I shan’t.” She looked to her left and feigned shock and horror. “My God, Colbourn Close is on fire.”
“I’m sure I see flames. You’ve quite the Christmas fire going down there.” Smoke curled lazily from several of the chimneys. She watched the speck of a servant walking a horse from the stable block to the paddock. “Fly, sir, like the wind, or you will lose everything.”
“Have pity on me, won’t you?”
She turned around. Her knees were jelly. She’d been in society enough to know he wasn’t the most handsome man in the world, but even in London, he’d make a good showing. “I shan’t do that either.”
He stared at the ground, his hat in one hand. “Miss Ellis.”
“Lord St. Aubyn.” She curtseyed.
“Come away from the ledge.”
“No.” She gave him her back once more and took in the vista her father so loved.
With a sigh, she walked away from the edge of the cliff. She’d risked her heart for him and had been given a disappointing answer. It was not his fault he did not love her in return. He watched her march past him. She had her pride. Later she might regret feeling so very satisfied that he’d expected her to stop and she hadn’t.
He caught her arm, his fingers sliding down her arm until he had her wrist. She tugged, but he did not budge. In London, she had mastered the art of the killing glance. Ruthless now, she used it on him. “Release me, St. Aubyn.”
“It’s Christmas day, and your house is on fire. Surely, you have better things to do than mock me again. Will you really risk everything for such poor sport?”
“My house is not on fire.”
“I assure you it is.” She yanked on her arm and his fingers loosened. She nodded toward the escarpment. “See for yourself.”
He scowled at her.
“You know I never lie.”
“While he strode to the edge, she hurried down the path.
“There’s no fire,” he bellowed. The wind carried his words away, but she heard them and walked faster. He caught up with her halfway to the bottom. She increased her pace. So did he. He spoke directly over her head. “I owe you an apology.”
With every step she knew the best way to maintain her dignity would be to listen to him with an empty smile while he pretended to be sorry. At the end she could say, I accept your apology and go on with her life. Except she couldn’t. Words stuck in her throat along with tears and resentment and hurt and the painful knowledge that she had loved him for as long as she could remember, and he had let her go on wearing her heart on her sleeve while he flirted with every woman in the world except her.
“I am in love with you, Miss Ellis.” His words rang out. Sharp. Determined.
She stumbled but caught herself and kept walking. The road was in sight now and she could see he’d tied his horse to the back of her carriage.
“I was an oaf and a fool. Selfish and proud.” His legs were a deal longer than hers and now that they were nearly to stile between the field and the road, he had the advantage. He matched her stride for stride. “Vain. Stubborn. Blind. Cruel to you, who deserved so much better.”
She whirled on him and jabbed a finger at him. “Don’t you dare pity me. I am not a pitiful woman.”
“No. You are not.” He looked her up and down, then stuck out a hand to help her over the stile. “Foolish. I was a fool.”
“You said that already.” Her coachman sat up straight while her groom tucked a flask into his coat and jumped down from the top of the carriage. “However, you have a great many faults. I forgive you the repetition.”
“A bloody damn fool.”
“You will not curse in my presence, sir.” Her groom glanced the other way and reversed course to the other side of the carriage. Her coachmen coughed once and pulled his hat lower on his head. “Finney, do fetch Lord Aubyn his horse.”
St. Aubyn moved close. Too close. “I told myself it wasn’t possible that the woman my father wanted and expected me to marry would ever be woman I wanted to marry. You were perfect, he always said. Beautiful and polite and amusing. Even I could see everyone is happier around you.” He towered over her, staring at her, eyes flashing. “You’d settle me, he said. Make me a better man. Naturally, I told him to go to hell. And said much the same to you, I’m sorry to say.”
She sucked in a breath. “Finney?” From the other side of the carriage, her groom let out a groan. “Do please let’s go. We ought not detain Lord St. Aubyn while his life goes to ruin.”
He slapped his palm on the carriage door and sent poor Finney a glare that put her killing gaze to utter shame. “I am sorry for that.” He put the fingers of his other hand to her cheek and turned her head to his. “Miss Ellis. My dearest. My darling.”
She put her hand over his mouth. “I’ll thank you not to say what you don’t mean.”
He twisted his head, and she dropped her hand. “I shan’t. I won’t.”
“Never. I’ve learned my lesson. I am in ruins if you leave again. While you were gone”—He shook his head—“when you left, my life diminished. I didn’t notice right away, it came on so slowly.”
“Nothing but ashes when you return home.” She couldn’t think anymore why she thought she liked tall men. St. Aubyn was taking up all the space.
“I’d think, there’s an amusing thing that’s happened. Miss Ellis will want to hear that, and I’d realize I couldn’t tell you.”
“A shame you were so deprived.” Coward that she was, she could not bring herself to look at him. “I do love a good story.”
He snorted. “You know you’re most often in the middle of them.”
“I’d tell some other woman she was beautiful and think she was no match for you. You cannot imagine how that enraged me.”
She patted his cheek. “Poor man.”
“You took my heart with you when you left. Impossible, I said. It’s impossible I could love you so desperately.”
“Yes. As you once told me. At great length.” She held her breath. “Not now, Finney. I believe Lord St. Aubyn is groveling.” She whispered, “Aren’t you?”
“Yes.” He held her gaze, and she was back on that cliff. Soaring. “I am.”
“Go on, then.”
“I was in love with you and was too stubborn to admit it.”
“You haven’t run out of money, have you?”
“Not a bit.”
“You might have told me, you know. When you realized you loved me.”
“Did none of my letters reach you?”
“I didn’t read them. Why would I? I don’t correspond with gentlemen who break my heart.”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” With each word, his head came closer, his mouth came closer to hers. Her legs went weak again. Here she stood on solid ground and she felt herself at the edge of a cliff. He said, “But I’m not sorry I love you.”
“Yes, St. Aubyn.” She put her hands on her cheeks. “Yes. I’ll marry you.”
“Do you know,” he said. “There’s just nothing I love more than a good Christmas fire.”
*Don't forget to stop by Ramblings From This Chick for Elizabeth Essex's Scene*Available Now:
The Marquess of Fenris has loved Lady Eugenia from the day he first set eyes on her. Five years ago, pride caused him to earn her enmity. Now she’s widowed, and he’s determined to make amends and win her heart. But with their near explosive attraction, can he resist his desire long enough to court her properly?After the death of her beloved husband, Lady Eugenia Bryant has come to London to build a new life. Despite the gift of a medallion said to have the power to unite the wearer with her perfect match, Eugenia believes she won’t love again. And yet, amid the social whirl of chaperoning a young friend through her first Season, she finds a second chance at happiness.Unfortunately, the Marquess of Fenris threatens her newfound peace. Eugenia dislikes the man, but the handsome and wealthy heir to a dukedom is more charming than he has a right to be. Constantly underfoot, the rogue disturbs her heart, alternately delighting and scandalizing her. And when their relationship takes a highly improper turn, Eugenia must decide if the wrong man isn’t the right one after all.
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