'Twas the Week Before Christmas ...
Suspecting he can never be the man Emma Peters wishes him to be, Lucien Morgen, the fifth duke of Willyngham, decides to break off their long-standing engagement... only to discover the innocent fiancé he set aside for years has unexpectedly blossomed into a passionate, irresistible woman.
When All Through the House...
As the family counts down to Christmas, everyone else seems to realize Lucien and Emma are truly meant to be--except the oblivious couple. With the help of some very mischievous children, Emma and Lucien are about to discover that a little mischief beneath the mistletoe might just open their hearts to love.
Release date: March 13, 2014
Publisher: Oliver Heber Books
Print pages: 142
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Thirty Ways to Leave a Duke
Tanya Anne Crosby
Newgale, Spring 1838
Emma didn’t quite know what to say.
The frown lines etched about the duke’s lips seemed to deepen with every attempt she made to cheer him. Pressing her hands at her sides, she quashed the urge to lift her fingers to his mouth and soothe the harsh lines from his face. It wouldn’t be proper, she realized.
Like a marble statue, her betrothed stood, hands linked behind his back, peering down at the narrow ribbon of beach below. He hadn’t spoken for the longest time.
Above them seagulls wailed, swooping gracefully toward the sea. The ocean crashed below, pounding restlessly at the shore.
Peering down alongside him, Emma mustered the courage to breach the silence. “Beautiful, is it not?” she asked, and swiped her palms down across her new lemon-yellow morning dress. She’d worn the gown just for him—because he’d once told her the color reminded him of sunshine. He said he thought it a very merry shade, and after her father’s warning of the duke’s sour mood, she hoped it might somehow cheer him.
“Lovely,” he replied, distracted.
Emma frowned. She had been so flattered when Lucien Morgen, the fifth duke of Willyngham, had first paid her notice. Of all the ladies he might have courted, he had selected her instead. It seemed a dream come true—a fairy tale, and even now as the duke stood before her, Emma could scarce believe he had asked for her hand in wedlock.
Distractedly, he lifted his glance from the beach below, and turned to look at her with the strangest expression; one Emma couldn’t quite begin to decipher. He seemed deeply troubled somehow.
She smiled for his benefit. “I just knew you would think so. I have always loved it here,” she confessed.
He was looking at her curiously, his blue eyes unnaturally brilliant, and something about his expression sent a shiver down her spine—a winter chill in the middle of July.
Emma’s frown deepened and she rubbed her arms nervously. “Although it does get rather chilly,” she said. “Even in summer, the wind manages to ravage everything in its path.”
“People have a way of doing that, as well,” he disclosed, and his eyes seemed a touch more melancholy suddenly.
She knew his mother had passed recently, but it was something more than that, she sensed. He’d been behaving curiously all afternoon and she thought perhaps the account in the Times must have upset him more than anyone realized. She only wished she knew precisely what had been said, for her father had refused to enlighten her. He had only mentioned it at all so that she might be apprised of the duke’s mood. And yet… how could she help him if she didn’t know what it was that was troubling him?
He was still staring at her… as though studying her… looking for some reaction… to something.
Emma didn’t believe she had said anything that might have unsettled him. If anything, she had been doubly attentive today, trying in vain to make him feel better.
Fidgeting under his scrutiny, she decided perhaps she should stop trying to cheer him at all and simply allow him his rotten mood. Everyone was entitled once in a while and she didn’t seem to be able to alter it anyway.
She sighed and turned to peer out over the tumbling gray-blue ocean, avoiding his gaze. “Sometimes, I come here... and imagine what wonders must lie across the sea. Father simply loved the ocean! Have you ever been on a ship, Your Grace?”
The duke’s face twisted, as though somehow her words had given him physical pain. “Devil hang me, Emma! You don’t understand, do you?” He shook his head.
Emma felt suddenly more ill at ease than she had ever felt in his presence. “Your Grace,” she began, “are you ill? You seem so—”
“You are so sweet, Emma.”
Emma thought it might have been a compliment except for the way he’d said it. Somehow, by his tone it seemed a less than desirable trait. Feeling defensive yet having no notion why, she demurred, “Not so sweet as you might think, Your Grace!” After all, how many times had her father complained that she was full of more spit and vinegar than most boys?
And once again, he gave her that look—that odd, odd look that tugged at her heart. That look that made her yearn to hold him tight. And yet she felt a little slighted as well, for the look upon his face also made her feel as though she were little more than a child. And to that end, she informed him saucily, “In fact, I do think you like to believe yourself a trifle more dangerous than you are, Your Grace.”
His brow arched. “Is that so?” He sounded suddenly amused by the charge, though by the bleak look in his eyes one would never have guessed he was amused at all. In fact, he was beginning to appear every bit the dangerous rogue her friends had claimed him to be.
He took her by the hand. “Emma, dear—you simply have no idea...”
She lifted her chin. “Oh, but I do!” she asserted, beginning to grow vexed with his insinuations that she was less than able to think for herself. She was eighteen now after all!
He shook his head. “No. No, you don’t. I have thought about this quite a long time... all day, in fact, I have been trying to find a way to explain—”
Somehow, sensing she didn’t wish to hear what he was about to say, Emma interrupted, “But I do know—I do!” She reached out to place her hand to his lips. “You’re a good man, Lucien, despite the rubbish the Times may have printed—despite what people might say.”
He continued shaking his head, denying her.
“And I know because—well, because I think I love you!” she exclaimed before thinking better of it. “I could never love—”
“Damn it, Emma!” he exploded, seizing her hand and bringing it tenderly to his lips, as though to shush himself.
Emma started at his tone.
Before her eyes his expression turned to one of utter disgust and her eyes misted at the way he looked at her.
He seemed to regain his composure swiftly and released her hand abruptly, discarding it. “I don’t want you to love me,” he assured her.
At his hurtful words, Emma felt hot tears sting her eyes. She took a step backward. “But I-I think I already do!” she heard herself saying, and even as she said it, she could scarcely believe she was disgracing herself so terribly.
“No,” he argued. “You don’t. I can assure you that you don’t know the meaning of the word.”
Wounded by his unexpected vehemence, Emma dared not speak for fear that if she did, great sobs would heave forth from her breast. Shaking her head in dismay, she took another step backward. She couldn’t believe she’d bared her heart and soul to him and that he was trampling it without so much as a thought. She averted her face, fighting back tears.
She did know what love was! She knew because she received it unconditionally from those she loved, and she returned it with equal measure. She refuted his claim with all her breaking heart, but said nothing.
He seized her by the shoulders and forced her to face him then, pulling her away from the cliffside. “But then again neither do I—listen to me!” He shook her gently. “Don’t you understand, Emma? I don’t want you to love me.” His eyes pleaded with her. “To love me, you may as well fling yourself down that bloody cliff.”
Turning to look below, Emma stifled a cry at how close she’d come to the edge, yet contrary to his hateful words, he drew her into an embrace, and she’d never felt more confused than she did in that instant. Try as she might, she couldn’t find her voice to speak, and then he broke away, placing one last chaste kiss upon her forehead.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, moving her safely away from the cliff edge. “I shall speak with your father at once.”
And before Emma could clear the catch from her throat, he was walking away. Only then did her tears begin to flow. She couldn’t imagine how things had gone so terribly wrong—couldn’t begin to perceive what had happened—couldn’t imagine what she might have done—what she might have said.
And then he was gone.
No explanation. Nothing. Pride forbade her to go after him.
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