Caught in a Snowstorm
on Christmas Eve with Valerie Bowman
on Christmas Eve with Valerie Bowman
About the Author:
Valerie Bowman writes Racy Regency Romps with a focus on sharp dialogue, engaging storylines, and heroines who take matters into their own hands! Publishers Weekly calls Secrets of a Wedding Night, an “enchanting, engaging debut that will have readers seeking future installments” and Romantic Times Book Reviews says, “This fast-paced, charming debut, sparkling with witty dialogue and engaging characters, marks Bowman for stardom.” It has been nominated for Best Historical Debut of 2012 by RT. Booklist gave Secrets of a Wedding Night a starred review! You can find Valerie on the web atwww.ValerieBowmanBooks.com and on Facebook and Twitter.
I was so excited when I was given the theme of ‘Caught in a Snowstorm on Christmas Eve.” Why? Well, not only is it a fantastic set up…it just so happens to be the set up of a pivotal scene in my third novel, Secrets of a Scandalous Marriage (St. Martin’s Press, October 2013). The hero, James Bancroft, Viscount Medford, has risked his reputation and his life to save the heroine, Kate, Duchess of Markingham, from being put to death for the murder of her hideous husband. Medford has commissioned Kate to write the most scandalous pamphlet to date…Secrets of a Scandalous Marriage.
This is an exclusive sneak-peek of the scene in which Kate and Medford are reunited on a snowy Christmas Eve at Lily and Devon’s country estate. They haven’t seen each other in days and were unsure they’d ever see each other again. Their friends conspired to get them together in the middle of a snowstorm on Christmas Eve. And who doesn’t like a little holiday angst?
Caught in a Snowstorm on Christmas Eve
The music room was on the first floor at the end of a long hallway. James made his way toward it, each step making him more sure that he didn’t know what he would say once he saw her. But Kate was here. Kate. Surely, he’d think of something—the right thing—when he came face-to-face with her.
He stopped several paces from the door. The strains of Moonlight Sonata floated out of the room. She was playing the pianoforte again. She loved that piece.
Taking a deep breath, James opened the door without knocking. He stepped inside the darkened room. The music stopped. Only a single candelabra burned on top of the instrument.
Kate glanced up at him, her blue eyes wide.
He expelled his breath. He’d thought it might be a dream, her being here, some cruel joke Lily had played on him. But there Kate was, sitting on the piano stool, across from the French doors, wearing a ruby red gown that made him shudder. She looked like a dream come to life. He squinted. The firelight bounced off her silken hair. He longed to run his fingers through it.
“Kate,” he breathed.
She shook her head a bit and her red-gold curls bounced. “Lily and Annie told you I was here?”
“Yes.” Affecting a nonchalance he didn’t feel, James pushed his hands into his pockets and made his way over to the pianoforte.
Kate stood, pushing out the stool with the backs of her knees. She wrung her hands. She stepped toward him, slowly. They were only a pace apart. He could smell her perfume. The hint of strawberries. His mouth watered.
“James, are you…angry?”
He furrowed his brow. “Angry? Why would I be angry?”
“That I’m here. These are your friends, and I’m intruding.” She glanced away. “I don’t belong here.”
He had to struggle to keep his hands in his pockets. He wanted to reach out and…touch her, pull her into his arms.
“No, Kate. I’m not angry with you. I’m glad you’re here.”
She tentatively raised her gaze to his. It was pitch black outside but the candlelight illuminated a bit of the outdoors. The snow fell steadily beyond the windows.
“Are you?” she breathed.
“I wanted to visit you, Kate. I wanted to tell you how glad I was that you were freed.”
She expelled her breath and met his eyes. “I’m sorry I returned the money. But I just couldn’t take it. Not after…your house.”
“That money belongs to you.”
“I don’t care about the money.” She closed her eyes briefly. “James, may I ask you a question?”
He smiled at that. “You know you can.”
“Why haven’t you published the pamphlet yet?”
He shook his head. “Let’s not talk about the pamphlet, Kate. The pamphlet doesn’t matter.”
Her brow furrowed. “But…why? I’d expect it would be more popular than ever now that my name is cleared. It would sell wonderfully, pay for the repairs to your house, the money you spent for Mr. Abernathy, Mr. Horton.”
“I don’t care about any of that,” James ground out.
Kate let her hand drop to her side. “I don’t understand.”
James paced away, toward the French doors. “Damn it, Kate. Publishing for me has always been a drive. A need. My father was always so blasted frightened of any hint of scandal. But now…I don’t care about it anymore. You were right. I should use the press for good. Expose the real truth about things going on, the wrongly accused, the poor.”
She closed her eyes. “James, don’t do that just because of me.”
He opened his mouth to reply, but she put up a hand to stop him. “Wait, first, I must thank you. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have had a defense. Wouldn’t have hired Mr. Abernathy. Wouldn’t have had a runner investigating my case. I wouldn’t be free right now.” She paused, looking down at her feet. “I owe you my life.”
His voice was raw. “You owe me nothing, Kate.”
She walked past him, trembling, and his fingers ached to reach out and stroke her cheek.
“You didn’t let me finish,” she said. “I owe you my life, and I don’t want you think I’m ungrateful, but I’m leaving. I’m going to the Continent. My reputation is still in shreds here. There’s nothing I can do about it. I must leave. But I’ll always be thankful to you-” She turned back to face him, pushing up her chin.
James scrubbed his hand through his hair. He cursed violently under his breath. “I can make this right, Kate. I can fix your reputation-”
She whipped her head around to face him, her curls falling enchantingly over one shoulder. “No, you can’t, James. You know that. Even you can’t fix this.”
He clenched his jaw and met her eyes. “How do you intend to live on the Continent?”
“I’ll have my dower money. I can make a life…”
“The money from the pamphlet is still yours, Kate. You should take it.”
Her jaw tightened and an angry look came into her eyes. She turned on her heel, ran over to the double doors, and pushed them open. A blast of cold air shot through the room, and she ran out, into the black, freezing night. Into the snowflakes.
James followed her, stalking out into the snow behind her. “What do you think you are doing?”
She turned on him, her eyes flashing blue fire. The snowflakes floated down her alabaster cheeks. She turned in a circle, around and around, and breathed in the cold air. Her breath came in short puffs. Then she took two very deep breaths and exhaled slowly. “I’m feeling James. Feeling. Feeling this air. Feeling the snow. I never knew if I’d feel this again.”
“What does that have to do with the money?”
She turned on him, eyes still flashing. “I don’t want your money, James. I never wanted it.”
James had to stop himself from reaching for her. Instead, he clenched his fists at his sides. “What do you want then? Say the word. I have friends. I have money. We can make the blasted ton accept you again.”
She advanced on him, pointing a finger at his chest, and he retreated, slowly, shuffling backward through the snow, the cold wetness seeping through the legs of his breeches.
“You’re always trying to fix everything,” she said. “Always trying to make things right. That’s why you hired a runner for me, and that’s why you’re doing this now. But my reputation is another thing altogether. Even with my name cleared I’ve been involved in a scandal I will never live down. Even if George hadn’t been murdered, I was already accused of adultery. My husband was going to divorce me. None of that has changed. God, James, don’t you know by now that not everything can be fixed?”
James closed his eyes. He was helpless. Helpless. The one thing he wanted to fix more than all the others was standing here in the snow looking more beautiful than he’d even seen her, and telling him he was a failure.
“I can fix this,” he growled through clenched teeth. “I’ll publish whatever you want me to, use the printing press to save your reputation. You’re a duchess—”
She whirled on him, her scarlet gown flaring around her ankles looking blood red against the pure white snow. The flakes that still clung to her impossibly long lashes were illuminated like sparking diamonds by the candlelight that filtered from the windows of the house. “No!” she cried. “Don’t you understand? I don’t want to be a duchess. I never wanted that.”
James clenched his fists. “What is it you want, Kate. Tell me. I’ll make it happen. I swear it.”
She bowed her head. “No. I can’t.”
He took two steps forward and grabbed her shoulders. “Tell me,” he demanded. They were close enough for the little puffs of her warm breath to evaporate against his chest.
She looked up at him, trembling. Her eyes locked with his. “I want to spend the night with you.”
*Don't forget to stop by Ramblings From This Chick for Anne Barton's Scene*
Young, widowed, and penniless, Lily Andrews, the Countess of Merrill, has strong opinions on marriage. When she spots a certain engagement announcement in The Times, she decides to take action. She will not allow another hapless girl to fall prey to a man—particularly the scoundrel who broke her heart five years ago. Anonymously she writes and distributes a pamphlet entitled “Secrets of a Wedding Night,” knowing it will find its way into his intended’s innocent hands…HOW TO SEDUCE A WIDOWDevon Morgan, the Marquis of Colton, desires a good wife and mother to his son—someone completely unlike Lily Andrews, the heartless beauty who led him on a merry chase five years ago only to reject him. When Devon’s new fiancée cries off after reading a certain scandalous pamphlet, he vows to track down the author and make her pay. But when he learns it’s his former fiancée Lily, he issues a challenge: write a retraction—or prepare to be seduced—to find out how wonderful a wedding night can be…
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