Christmas Bride is the last of my traditional Regencies, published in 1993. This book is a prequel, of sorts, to my Saint of Seven Dials series, in that it introduces Noel Paxton, hero of Innocent Passions.
All of her life, Holly has dreamed of adventure and heroics. Indeed, she would far rather be a spy for the British against Napoleon, like her twin brother, Noel, than make her London debut. That is, until she meets Hunt, the handsome Marquess of Vandover. After a whirlwind courtship, they are married on Christmas Eve–Holly’s (and Noel’s) birthday. Holly is deeply in love, and her new husband’s career in the Foreign Office allows her to rub shoulders with diplomats and ambassadors, feeding her love of adventure. The future seems full of promise until her inept attempts to assist her husband in his career–and become a heroine in her own right–leads her to trust the wrong person. Suddenly Holly is plunged into a terrible conflict of loyalties, where she must choose between saving her nearly-broken marriage–and her beloved brother’s life!
Thoughtfully swirling the wine in his glass, Hunt glanced across the rim at his wife. It occurred to him that he still did not know her as well as he ought. She had told him of her childhood while they were in Derbyshire, relating various scrapes and starts of her youth, but what was she really like now?
Besides curious. He smiled to himself. He had not missed the way she had attempted to ferret information out of the ministers and diplomats last night, and look at her now. As curious as a cat, his Holly was. Perhaps he should caution her against that, given the present concerns at the Foreign Office—and her mother’s nationality. If she happened to arouse anyone’s suspicions, it would do his career no good at all.
After dinner they all went to the theatre and thence to a supper at Lady Mountheath’s. When Hunt finally found himself alone with Holly in her chamber, he was almost too tired to remember what he had wanted to say to her. But not quite.
“You seemed to enjoy yourself tonight, my dear,” he said casually, as he removed her hairpins.
Holly flashed a smile over her shoulder. “Yes, I did. The theatre is still a rather novel experience for me, I must admit.”
“And last night, as well. I’m gratified to see how well you get on with the ambassadors, in particular.” He paused, letting the silky black strands flow through his fingers. “You are becoming quite an asset to me, you know.”
She turned to face him fully then, looking so lovely in her sheer nightdress, her hair unbound about her shoulders, that he could barely concentrate on her reply.
“I hope that is true, Hunt, for I truly wish to be! And I very much enjoy conversing with such important men—it makes me feel as though I am a part of the events shaping the world.”
“Yes, well, that is as it may be. Still, it will not do for you to become too much a part, if you see what I mean.” She looked confused, and no wonder. The conversation was not going quite as he had planned. Perhaps he should have waited until morning, when he would be less tired, less…distracted.
“What I mean to say,” he tried again, raking his fingers through his own hair and trying not to stare at her smooth, white shoulders, “is that there is such a thing as being too friendly, too curious. Especially right now.”
Comprehension dawned in her eyes. “Do you mean because of this, ah, delicate internal matter?”
“Damn it, Holly! How—?” Hunt sharply reined in his astonishment. “I beg your pardon. But just what do you know?”
She shrugged prettily, distracting him again. “Only that there appear to be security concerns. No one would tell me more than that.”
“And you shouldn’t have been asking.” He gave an exasperated sigh. “Very well, I may as well tell you, if only to prevent you trying to worm it out of Castlereagh himself. It appears there is a security leak in the Foreign Office. Certain confidential information has reached the French during the past week or two—since our arrival in Town, in fact—which has enabled them to intercept messages that could be detrimental to our negotiations in June. At this point, no one—no one—is above suspicion.”
“And you are investigating who the leak could be?” she asked eagerly, apparently not the least put off by the seriousness of the situation. She put her hands on his shoulders, her face close to his. “Oh, Hunt, do let me help! Please?”
“Absolutely not!” He drew back, aghast. “It would be completely inappropriate, Holly, and possibly dangerous, as well.” He reached for her again.
But she pulled away from him, disappointment plain on her face. “Inappropriate! Honestly, Hunt, at times you sound almost like my sister Blanche. All you think of is the proprieties, when perhaps I might be of use to my country. I may be a woman, but I long for excitement, for glory, as much as any man does. As I’m sure you do.”
“I find all the excitement and glory I need on the hunting field,” he said dryly, willing himself to believe it. He had always fought to suppress the very feelings she called up, trying to satisfy his adventurous tendencies through his obsession with the hunt. He could not afford to forget his responsibilities to the name he bore, responsibilities that his father, Reg, everyone except his grandmother, took so lightly.
“Are you not even trying to find out who it is?” Holly’s expression was still clouded.
“Of course I am,” he said gently. “We all are. But cautiously, through time-honoured means. ’Tis safest that way. Can you not see why I wish you well away from it?”
She sighed. “I suppose so. But if an opportunity arises where I may be of help, you will let me know, will you not?”
In answer, he gathered her into his arms and kissed her thoroughly, then drew her gently towards the blue canopied four-poster bed.
Holly went with him willingly.
In the morning, she decided, she would write again to Noel. Perhaps he could shed some light on the mystery. If she could discover the traitor’s identity herself, Hunt would have to realize just how valuable an asset she could be, both to him and to England!
What Readers Are Saying
Wonderful a must read. This book is another great book written to keep you hooked. I love the suspense of what is to happen next. Great job!! –Amazon Reviewer
I encourage readers to download this sweet love story. It’s delightful and romantic. –NY Times bestselling author Cheryl Bolen.