Today, HJ is pleased to share with you Anne Barton’s new release: One Wild Winter’s Eve
ONCE YOU’VE HAD A TASTE OF SCANDAL . . .
As the Duke of Huntford’s sister, Lady Rose Sherbourne follows the rules of well-bred society. Always chaperoned. Never engaging in unseemly behavior. Well, except for that one summer, years ago. And yet she’s never been able to forget that handsome stable master or the stolen moments they shared. She’s always wondered what might have happened if he hadn’t disappeared without a word . . . Now she’s about to find out.
YOU CAN NEVER GO BACK
Charles Holland never expected to see Lady Rose again. And yet the years haven’t lessened his devotion-or his desire-in any way. Despite their differences in class, Charles cannot stop himself from wanting to possess her. But as they uncover one intimate secret after another about her family, they realize that, this time, their love may come at a very dear price . . .
Enjoy an exclusive excerpt from One Wild Winter’s Eve:
Even nice, obedient girls needed to escape now and then.
Lady Rose Sherbourne left Huntford Manor shortly after breakfast. A warm breeze whipped tendrils of hair against her cheek, and the heels of her boots sank into the deliciously soft grass, still slick with dew.
Each step across the vast lawn took her farther from the house, its imposing grandeur, and its paralyzing memories.
Better yet, each step took her closer to Charles.
She glanced over her shoulder, assuring herself that no one had seen her slip away. Her visits with the stable master—like so many other things—were best kept secret.
But the truth was, there was nothing improper about her relationship with Charles. Not really.
Perhaps the sight of his tanned forearms, large hands, and easy grin made her breath hitch in her throat. There wasn’t a seventeen-year-old girl in all of England who’d be unaffected by his strength and confidence. But her visits with Charles were not about flirtation. They were about preserving her sanity.
Some days, when she could feel it hanging by the very thinnest of threads, she fled to the stables and watched him work. The even strokes of his brush over a horse’s coat, the rhythmic flexing of his shoulders as he pitched hay soothed her frayed edges. With him, she could forget who she was and what she’d seen. She could simply bask in the moment, and if she wasn’t completely happy, well, she was close.
She sighed. Yes, the very best thing about Charles was the way he made her feel…normal.
As he tended to an injured horse or poured water into the troughs, he’d talk to her, his deep, expressive voice washing over her and healing her soul. While she perched on an upside down pail, he’d tell funny stories, without seeming to find it odd that their conversation was completely one-sided.
Without minding that she never spoke.
Upon realizing that she was mute, some invariably analyzed her. When, precisely, had she stopped talking? Could she make any sounds at all? What doctors had she seen and what treatment did they prescribe? Others took her silence as a personal challenge, saying all manner of outrageous things in order to provoke a response—one that never came.
But Charles didn’t treat her as an object of curiosity. He simply accepted her.
In her satchel, she carried a couple of books for him, carrots for Prometheus, and a small jar of milk for Romeo. She’d missed them terribly the past two days, too busy with dress fittings and ball preparations to steal away for a few hours. And so, this morning she’d seized the opportunity to spend time with them, in spite of the gray clouds gathering in the western morning sky.
As she walked into the stable, the familiar smells of horses and hay tickled her nose. She looked around for Charles’s shock of blond hair, topped by the brown cap that was always slightly askew. He wasn’t there, and yet his presence filled the place. His overcoat hung from a peg beside the door, and a pair of work gloves lay on the ledge of an empty stall beside an open, face-down book. She glanced at the spine and smiled at his choice of reading material: Annals of Agriculture and Other Useful Arts.
One morning, over a game of chess, he’d shared his dream of owning land. Selfishly, she hoped he wouldn’t leave Huntford Manor anytime soon. She withdrew the volumes of mythology and Grimm’s fairytales from her bag and placed them beside his book.
The half dozen stalls to her right were occupied by thoroughbreds—the very best a duke’s money could buy. In a smaller stall to her left was Prometheus, a faithful old draft horse of questionable breeding. His ears perked up when he saw her, and she dug into her satchel for the carrots. He slurped them from her hand, then gave a haughty snort, gloating for the benefit of the thoroughbreds.
Rose wished she could ask Prometheus where Charles was. And where Romeo was for that matter. The fluffy gray cat was usually first to greet her, twisting around her ankles, shamelessly crying for attention and treats. She peeked into the empty stall beside Prometheus—the one Romeo had usurped shortly after Rose found him—and checked the dry trough where the cat liked to nap. Empty. Only one thing was sure to bring her fickle friend out of hiding. She poured his milk into a tin bowl and waited.
She turned as Peter, the freckle-faced stable hand who worshipped Charles, shot her a grin. “Are you looking for Mr. Holland?”
“He went searching for Romeo.”
Rose tilted her head in a silent question.
“The cat wandered off two days ago and hasn’t been ’round since.”
Oh dear. Rose frowned.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Holland will find him.”
She walked to the back door of the stable and gazed at the thick woods that lay beyond. Peter stood beside her and pointed to a dirt path that led through a clump of trees and disappeared in the brush. “He went that way—not long ago.”
Rose gave the boy a grateful smile and headed down the trail.
A sudden gust of wind plastered the skirt of her green morning dress to her legs, and she glanced at the darkening sky. Romeo had seemed well enough during her last visit, but what if he’d gotten sick? Or ventured into the woods and foolishly tangled with a snake or fox? She picked up her pace, ignoring a rumble of thunder so low she could feel it in her belly.
She followed the path as it meandered around the trunks of towering elms and twisting oaks, looking for Charles or Romeo. Once, she would have called out to them, her words floating through the forest. Now, she was as silent as the hare that trembled in the hollow log near her feet. She’d forgotten the sound of her own voice.
And sometimes feared she’d never hear it again.
A familiar but unwelcome thudding began in her chest. She mustn’t dwell on her troubles, mustn’t dwell on the past. She walked faster, as if putting distance between her and her worries were just that easy.
Low-hanging branches grabbed at her hair, and thorny underbrush scratched at her ankles. The woods blurred past her, muddy green. Her ragged breathing echoed in her ears, and the pungent smells of damp soil and leaves closed in around her, almost suffocating in their intensity. She picked up the front of her skirt and ran, looking down and dodging the stones and sticks in her way.
The toe of her boot caught on a gnarled root. Her satchel sailed through the air and the ground rose up to meet her.
Until a pair of strong arms caught and steadied her.
Blinking, she looked up at Charles. He searched her face, his expression a mixture of concern and wonder.
“What’s happened? Are you hurt?”
His hands easily encircled her arms above her gloves, his palms warm against her bare skin. His light brown eyes crinkled at the corners, letting her know he was happy to see her.
Was she well? She took a deep breath and felt the tension in her body uncoil. The forest came back into focus and her breathing slowed. Her heart still beat fast, but for possibly different reasons. She nodded.
Charles looked at her arms where he clasped them, frowned, and released her quickly, as if his hands had betrayed him. He raked his fingers through his sun-streaked hair before retrieving his cap from the ground and stuffing it into the back pocket of his trousers. Then he scooped up her satchel, handed it to her, and led her toward a small clearing several yards away.
“I found Romeo,” he said. “The only problem is, I don’t think we can call him Romeo anymore. Look.”
He pointed at a nest of leaves on the ground, protected by a log on one side and a large rock on another. The cat rested there, sprawled on his—no, her—side, two tiny black kittens nursing under her watchful, weary gaze.
Delighted, Rose clasped her hands beneath her chin and knelt for a closer look.
The babes climbed and tumbled over one another, greedy for their mother’s milk and attention. But as Romeo licked the back of one’s head, her leg twitched and lifted. Another kitten.
Charles’s brow creased. “You might not want to watch this, Rose. It’s, ah, messy. Let’s return to the stable. I’ll do a few chores, and then you can beat me at chess.”
She shook her head firmly. Nothing could drag her away.
Chuckling, Charles sank on his haunches beside her, so close that his thigh brushed the skirt of her gown. “Amazing, isn’t it?”
Rose watched transfixed as the third kitten’s hind paws emerged first, followed by a rounded belly and pointed face. The tiny creature resembled a bat wrapped in cobwebs, eerily still.
Romeo stretched, and her foot sent the newest kitten rolling like a mummy. It landed several inches from the leafy nest, and Rose’s fingers itched to nestle it beside its mother’s warm body. She took off her gloves.
“Patience,” Charles whispered. “It’s best if we let Romeo take care of this herself.”
However, the gray cat was distracted and tired. Rose didn’t blame her one bit, but after a minute passed, she shot Charles a pleading look. The newborn kitten, trapped in a thin film, looked so lifeless compared to its fuzzy siblings.
She reached out, unsure how to help but knowing she had to try.
“Wait. The less we handle the kitten the better.” Using a handkerchief pulled from his pocket, he carefully broke the membrane and wiped the kitten’s face.
Though its body unfurled slightly, it didn’t move. Didn’t breathe.
Charles’s mouth was pressed in a thin line, and Rose wanted to scream at Romeo. Take care of this one. It needs you.
“If it doesn’t start breathing soon, it’s not going to survive.” He swept the kitten into his handkerchief, laid flat on his palm. “Come on, little one.”
Tears gathered in Rose’s eyes. The creature looked so small, so helpless, with its eyes closed tight and its chest motionless. She leaned over Charles’s hand, wishing she could somehow breathe life into the kitten.
Desperate, she lifted a corner of the handkerchief and rubbed it over the kitten’s chest. The fur there turned soft as down, but her patient remained in a precarious twilight—not quite alive, not quite dead. Several drops of crimson stained the crisp white cotton handkerchief. That couldn’t be good. Tears rolled down her cheeks, and because she didn’t know what else to do, what else to try, she rubbed the kitten’s chest harder.
Charles clasped her wrist, stilling her. “I’m sorry, Rose.”
No. This kitten was like her. Fragile and broken, but not dead.
She closed her eyes and made one last, fervent wish.
Overhead, thunder cracked, sending birds fluttering. Raindrops pattered on the canopy of leaves, searching for a path through the dense foliage. Several drops plunked on her head, streaked down her forehead, and mingled with her tears. But Charles’s warm strength flowed through her, and she willed it to flow through the kitten as well.
“Rose. Look, he’s moving!”
Unbelieving, she opened her eyes. The kitten yawned and stretched its paws, writhing on Charles’s hand.
He gazed at her with wonder. “You did it.”
His words made her glow on the inside, but then his face dimmed.
“He’s not out of danger, though. It shouldn’t be bleeding this much.” He pointed at the kitten’s belly. “See where the cord ripped? We need something to tie around it. Do you have anything in your bag?”
Frowning, she shook her head. She had string at the house, of course, but by the time she ran there and back, it could well be too late.
Where to find string or thread? She flipped over the edge of her gown, hastily yanked a thread from the hem, and held it up for Charles to see.
“Perfect. I’ll hold him while you tie the strand tightly around the cord. Don’t worry, you won’t hurt him. Or her,” he added with a heart-stopping smile. “We’ll have plenty of time to figure that out later.”
Her hands trembled so badly that the thread missed its mark and she tied a knot in the air.
But Charles spoke softly, his breath warm near her ear. “Take your time. This one’s a fighter. You’re almost there.”
The rain fell harder, plopping on the backs of her hands as she worked. Charles held his cap over the kitten to shelter it, and Rose remained focused on the task before her. She pressed on, ignoring the thunder, the kitten’s blood, and, most daunting of all, her self-doubt.
At last, she pulled the strands tight and looked at Charles triumphantly.
“Well done.” The approval in his voice and in his eyes made her belly flip—in a strange and pleasant way.
She held up the ends of the thread, each several inches long.
“Here, hold our patient. I’ve got a knife.” In one smooth motion, he snapped open a pocket knife and cut the extra lengths off the thread. “Let’s return him to Romeo and his siblings. See if he can hold his own.”
Gingerly, Rose placed the kitten in the nest, just under its mother’s chin. He huddled close to her neck, nuzzling against her fur and soaking up her warmth.
Romeo remained vexingly aloof.
“The kitten won’t take no for an answer,” predicted Charles. “Watch.”
Refusing to be ignored, the runt crawled his way on top of his mother’s head and slid down her nose. At last, she began to lick his fur.
“Thank God!” Charles jumped up, lifting Rose and spinning her till she was breathless and dizzy. Lowering her slowly to the ground, he added, “He’s going to be fine.”
The kitten would be fine. And maybe—just maybe—she would be too.
Because standing there in the rain, with Charles’s hands firmly on the curve of her hips, she felt strong enough to face anything. Even her past.
His chest rose and fell as rapidly as hers did—faster than it should. His amber eyes turned a rich chestnut, and his gaze dropped to her mouth. Like he wanted to kiss her.
There was a long list of reasons why she shouldn’t let him.
She was a lady; he was a stable master.
She was gently bred; he bred horses.
She was expected to marry a gentleman; he came from a long line of servants.
And yet, in spite of all that, she placed her hands on his chest and lifted her chin, inviting him to kiss her. It was, perhaps, the most daring and reckless thing she’d ever done.
Charles was worth it.
Excerpt. ©Anne Barton. Posted by arrangement with the publisher. All rights reserved.
Giveaway: 2 Print copies of One Wild Winter’s Eve (A Honeycote Novel) – US/CAN
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Meet the Author:
Anne Barton began swiping romance novels off her mom’s bookshelf as a teenager, so when she had the chance to spend a semester in London-home to her favorite heroes-she packed her bags and promptly fell in love with the city, its history, and its pubs. She dreamed of writing romance, but somehow ended up a software analyst instead.
Fortunately, a few years and a few careers later, Anne found her way back to writing the stories she loves and in 2011 won the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart® for Regency Historical Romance. She lives in Maryland with her husband (who, sadly, is not a peer of the realm-but a great guy nonetheless) and her three children, who try valiantly not to roll their eyes whenever she quotes Jane Austen. Her weaknesses include reality TV, cute-but-impractical shoes, and caffeinated beverages of all kinds.