A Lady’s Christmas Miracle (Preview)

Prologue

February 1806

Lady Anne Gladstone looked listlessly down at her husband’s grave, her grief threatening to close off the air to her lungs. How can this be? She had still not come to terms with the fact that her William was gone.

Her daughter clung to her hand, squeezing it as she backed away from the gaping hole in the ground. Anne looked down at her four-year-old daughter, her grief surging around her heart like a wave. She bent to pick the child up and nuzzled her face into her short, bright red curls. “It’s all right, my darling,” Anne whispered. But even as she said the words, she was unsure if she believed them. “Papa is not in the box, not really. He is in Heaven. Remember what we talked about, Jane?”

“Yes,” Jane nodded and buried her face in Anne’s neck. Anne held her close, rubbing her hand up and down her back. Jane was quickly becoming too heavy for Anne to hold, but she was not about to let her down. Jane needed her just as much as she needed Jane.

They were alone now. The weight of that realisation was like a ton of bricks that had been released over her head, crushing the very spirit out of her. What are we to do now, William? Tears stung her eyes as she watched the cemetery keepers start to shovel dirt over her husband’s casket. Panic began rising in her chest. She wanted to scream for them to stop, for she knew when the grave was filled, she would have to leave the cemetery. She would have to try to rebuild her life, and that of her daughter’s without the love of her life by her side.

Anne jumped when a hand touched her shoulder. She turned slightly, looking into her father’s eyes. “Let me take her, dearest,” he offered, holding his arms out for Jane. Anne let out a breath as she handed Jane into his waiting embrace.

“Thank you,” she mumbled, turning her attention back to the grave.

“Come away, dearest.” Her father placed a hand on her arm, gently pulling her to the cobblestone walk a few yards away.

She shook her head, never once taking her eyes off the grave. The cemetery keepers had settled into a rhythm now, their shovels working to put the dirt into the hole at a steady pace. The dirt clods hitting the casket made a sort of funeral dirge, the beat pounding in time to Anne’s heart, Thud, Ker-thunk. Thud, Ker-thunk.

“You go on ahead, Papa. I shall be along in a moment.”

She heard her father’s retreating footsteps, muffled by the wet grass. Thunder rolled overhead, and the rest of the mourners started to head for cover. But Anne did not care if she was caught in the rain. Nothing could hurt her any more than she already was. William had died and taken her heart with him.

She pulled a coral pink rose out from under her black cloak, holding it out in front of her. She looked to the gravediggers, and one elbowed the other as she stared. “Would you mind giving me a moment alone, gentlemen?”

They both nodded, backing away to stand at a tree a few yards away. Anne let out a shaky breath, clasping the rose stem tightly. She gasped when a thorn pierced her index finger, and she pulled it away to see that a drop of blood was forming there. Anne paid it no mind. It could not compare with the pain throbbing in her chest.

“William—” she whispered brokenly. “This is not fair. We were supposed to spend our lives together. I was to grow old with you.” She let out a mirthless laugh. “How unkind Fate has been to us.” They had had only four years together as man and wife. Too short. But then again, it was probably that way for all people who found love in this life. No matter if they had four years or forty, it was never enough.

“I do not know how to go on, my love,” she choked out. She allowed her tears to flow unmasked. Now that she was relatively alone, there was no use in keeping her mask of strength in place. “I love you, William. No matter what happens, I will never forget you. I promise.”

Anne stepped forward, holding the rose over the casket. It was now piled high with a layer of dirt. She let the bloom fall; its delicate beauty contrasted against the dark brown earth. After a few moments, she looked up at the gravediggers and nodded. They came back and continued on with their work as she turned away.

She wiped furiously at her tears, wishing for nothing more than solitude. But her father was there in an instant, setting his pace to match hers as they walked out of the cemetery. Jane had fallen asleep, and he allowed Anne to climb into their waiting carriage first. He then handed the sleeping child into her arms before climbing in after her.

Anne snuggled her daughter close, taking a small amount of comfort from holding her much in the same way as when she had been a babe. She kissed Jane’s forehead, lingering for a little longer than usual. Fear gripped her heart. What if something happened to take Jane away from her as well?

“Anne, dearest,” her father called to her, seeming to sense her unrest. She looked up at her father. He was Lord Henry Marston, the Duke of Risinghurst. And he was usually her rock. But today, she saw that tears welled in his eyes as well. She sniffed, straightening, trying to hold herself together. Her father knocked twice on the ceiling of the carriage, signalling the driver to go. The coach lurched forward, and then they were bumping down the pitted, muddy road toward her father’s estate.

“What is it, Papa?” she asked softly. She shifted Jane in her arms, allowing her father to sit next to her.

He sighed heavily, tears spilling out onto his cheeks. Despite his rank, her father had never been afraid to show her his emotions—something extremely rare for a man in his position. “I want to make a suggestion that I hope you will not take the wrong way.” He took a deep breath, and then plunged in. “I want you to consider coming to live with me at Clatsbury Manor.”

Anne had been expecting this. Her childhood home was beautiful. And before William’s passing, they had been there several times a week. William had been working with a world-renowned garden designer, trying to update her father’s gardens. Anne felt her heart clench. While she loved her father, she was unsure if she wanted to share his household again. And what would her mother have to say about it? She had been battling several health challenges over the last few months, as well. Indeed, that is why she had not been able to attend the funeral and burial.

“I do not know if that is wise, Papa. With Mama so ill, will it help to have Jane there?”

“I should think Jane’s presence to be a bolstering agent for your mother, rather than a challenge, Anne. You know how your mother dotes on Jane. And I could sorely use the help running the household. With your mother so often confined to her bed, I have had to take on overseeing the servants, as well as my other duties. You have run your own household for the last five years and have ample experience with how an estate is run. I would count it a great favour if you would consider it.”

Anne thought for a moment, trying to keep the bitter tinge out of her voice. “You are not just saying this because you are worried about me? That I will not look after Jane as I should?”

Her father shook his head. “Of course not. But perhaps we can be a help to each other in this trying time.”

Anne said nothing for several seconds, watching the grey landscape pass by. Raindrops started hitting the roof. She expelled a sigh. There was no use keeping up two households. It would be more economical for her to go back to her father’s house. Of course, she would never want for anything, as William had made sure that they would be well-looked-after in the event of his death. However, none of them could have foreseen he would leave them so soon. Their life had barely had a chance to bloom. And now it was over.

“Very well,” she said finally. “I will close up Burberry House for now.” Perhaps someday she would have the strength to go back to the home she had built with William. But the thought of going back to an empty house made her want to be sick. There were too many memories floating around in the house to cause her pain.

Her father reached over and took her hand, clasping it tightly. She had not realised how cold her fingers were until her father’s hand had enveloped hers.

“It does not have to be forever, Anne. I know it may not feel like this right now, but life will bloom once more. Right now, we are in the deepest winter we have ever faced. But by the grace of God, we will get through this—together.” He squeezed her hand, giving her a sad smile.

Anne nodded silently. No matter how much her father wished it, she knew that she would never love again. She believed that people were only given one chance at a great love, and she had had hers with William. Her fingers curled around her father’s, but she felt no warmth. How could her heart have broken so entirely, yet she remained breathing? She looked out the window once more, feeling the weight of her grief come crashing down on her shoulders once more. The length of life stretched before her in her mind’s eye, overwhelming her spirit. Oh, William, she said silently. How will I face the next fifty years without you?

Chapter One

November 1810

Anthony Smith turned his little cart onto the long drive leading to the Duke’s country estate. The back of the cart was piled high with all his worldly possessions, and sleeping beside him was his young son, Michael. The long drive was covered in cream-coloured stones, which looked to have been raked clean of any debris, for it glistened softly in the evening sun.

He nudged Michael as they neared the mansion. “Son, wake up. You’ll want to see this,” he whispered. Smiling, he looked down at his boy as he stretched, wiping the sleep out of his eyes.

Michael groaned and then looked up at the great house. “It looks like a medieval castle!” he exclaimed, awed by the sheer magnitude of it. The white marble stones gleamed in the late afternoon sunlight, and while there was a tower, it looked nothing like the medieval castles of old. But Anthony was not about to spoil the wonder for his son.

“It is a beautiful place, indeed,” Anthony agreed. “But from the sound of the Duke’s advertisement, the gardens will need a lot of work. I see they have tried to keep up on the front of the house. Perhaps the gardens will not be so bad.”

Michael yawned, stretching once more. “Will Mama be joining us soon?”

Anthony froze, his heart thudding with anger and sadness. “No, Son. Mama is not coming back.” He tried to keep the edge out of his voice, for Michael was having a hard time accepting his mother’s abandonment. At the tender age of ten, Michael should not have had to deal with so much heartache and loss.

Michael slumped his shoulders. “Why did she leave us, Papa?”

Anthony closed his eyes for a moment. This was not the conversation he wanted to be having right now. “I don’t know, Son. But it is over, you know that. It is time to look forward to better things.” His tone was gruff, for which he was sorry.

Michael clamped his mouth shut, looking out over the expanse of green that surrounded the house. Towering old pine trees stood to attention along the drive, like sentinels keeping watch.

Anthony and Michael were about to embark on a new journey, and he had hoped that a change in location would help Michael move on from the painful months they had endured. But it would seem that he had not forgotten his mother. While she had been good to Michael, she had inflicted so much pain on Anthony that he had still not found it in his heart to be sorry for her untimely demise.

It was ironic, really. She had always longed for a better life. Anthony’s wages would never have put them in the lap of luxury, and he thought that his late wife had known that when they married. But for unforeseen reasons, she was always presenting him with schemes that would supposedly increase their meagre wages and bring them up in society. Perhaps it was because they had married at such a young age. She had never had the chance to experience life outside their tiny hamlet.

The night she had left them was one of the worst days in his recollection. A year ago, he had come home to find Michael alone. The house had been dark, with no fire in the hearth. A letter had been propped against the mantel, her only goodbye. And for the months that followed, he and Michael had struggled to come to terms with her abandonment.

She had left him for a merchant. A merchant! And not a very good one, by all accounts. He did not know what was worse: the fact that she had been heartless enough to leave their son or the fact that she had cheated on him with a preening fop who had probably not done an honest day’s work in his life.

“Papa, I’m cold,” Michael complained, wrapping his arms tighter around his waist. Anthony put an arm around his shoulders and pulled him close.

“We’re almost there, Son. Just a few more minutes, and we’ll be in our new home.”

“I liked the old one. It smelled like Mama.”

Anthony gritted his teeth and let the comment slide. “Look, there is the housekeeper coming to greet us.” Anthony raised his calloused hand, and Michael started to wave to the older woman. She was dressed in black, as was customary for housekeepers. But her eyes were kind, and she wore a welcoming smile as they pulled up to the front of the house.

“Hello, Mr Smith, I am Mrs Fenters. We are so honoured to welcome you to Clatsbury Manor. You must be tired after your long journey. Won’t you follow me?” She had a clipped way of speaking that denoted her love for organisation and order. She had said as much in her letters as they had come to an understanding about his wages and the particulars of where he and Michael would live on the estate.

“Where shall I park the wagon, Mrs Fenters?” Anthony asked, not wanting to leave it out in front of the house to block any visitors that the Duke might be expecting.

“Oh, do bring it along to the side of the house. It will be safe there, and you can take it straight to the cottage via the lane that connects it to the main house. Come along,” she waved, walking briskly down the drive. She turned down a narrow lane and soon showed him where he could leave the wagon and pony until they were ready to go to the cottage.

“His Grace is so looking forward to having someone of your expertise to care for the gardens. They have slipped into a sorry state since his son-in-law’s passing. It is positively tragic, for he had such grand plans to update the landscaping.” Mrs Fenters waved them into a small courtyard where the servants could walk around during their times of leisure, he assumed.

“This is where the men like to come out and enjoy a pipe or read the newspaper when the weather permits it. And sometimes we like to take our meals out here, during the warm summer days.

Of course, those days are long gone, as the weather has turned. But perhaps you and your son would like to join us sometimes when the weather is again in our favour?”

She did not give him a chance to answer, for she was off again introducing him to a housemaid who had come out of the servants’ entrance to take a little break, no doubt.

“This is Miss Barrow, one of our upstairs maids. And now, I shall take you in to meet our cook, Mrs Kent.” Her briskness was making him tense, even though he knew she meant nothing by it. Panic started to rise in his chest. He wished she would have allowed them to meet the Duke and settle into their little cottage before introducing them to everyone. He was not sure how Michael would react to meeting so many new people.

“I want to thank you for your warm welcome, Mrs Fenters. But should we not meet with His Grace? Surely he will want to know that we have arrived?” Anthony placed a hand on Michael’s shoulder, drawing him close. Already, he could see that Michael was a little uncomfortable as people halted their work momentarily to gawk at them.

“My apologies, Mr Smith. His Grace has already gone into dinner with his family. He will meet you tomorrow.” She turned and continued down the narrow hall toward what he assumed was the kitchen. Michael clung to his coattails as they made their way toward the light at the end of the hallway. When they came into the kitchen, they could see that they were indeed in the midst of dinner preparations.

“Mrs Kent, may I steal you for a moment?” Mrs Fenters asked as they came into the over-warm kitchen. It was a bustle of activity, with kitchen maids slicing and chopping, footmen coming to and fro carrying dishes that were ready to take up to the dining room. Scullery maids were washing dishes in the basin, clanking the metal pots together to add to the cacophony of sounds issuing from the kitchen.

“Can you not see how busy I am, Mrs Fenters? It will have to wait.”

Mrs Fenters cleared her throat and took a step forward. “Our new gardener has arrived, along with his son. Would one of the maids be willing to make them each a cup of tea and perhaps gather a morsel of food for them? They have travelled a long way to be with us.”

Mrs Kent looked up from her task, her forehead beaded with sweat. Her features immediately softened. “Oh, I do beg your pardon, Mr Smith. We have been eagerly awaiting your arrival. Show them into the dining room, would you, Mrs Fenters? Amelia, boil water and take in the leftover biscuits from this afternoon’s tea.”

Mrs Fenters thanked the cook, who nodded at Anthony and Michael in turn and then went back to her task of preparing a delicate whipped mousse. Anthony and Michael followed Mrs Fenters into the servants’ dining room, in which a vast, long wooden table took up most of the space. “The servants will not take their dinner until after His Grace has a been served and retired to the drawing room. But I cannot ask you to wait that long.”

“We are fine, Mrs Fenters, I assure you.”

Mrs Fenters waved him off. “Nonsense.” She then turned to Michael, motioning that they should sit down. “Are you fond of madeleines, Michael? Mrs Kent is famous for them.”

Michael flashed him a confused look. “I do not know what a Madeleine is, ma’am,” he answered.

The maid came in with a simple white porcelain teapot, three cups and saucers of the same plain white design, and a plate of biscuits. “Oh, then you do not know what you have been missing.”

She picked up the teapot and poured them each a cup, and then offered Michael the plate. “The seashell-shaped one is a madeleine. Never have you tasted such a sweet, soft cake, and the chocolate makes it absolutely heavenly. Please,” she said, urging them to take one.

Michael looked up to him for his approval, and he nodded. The dining room was void of any other servants, which made both of them feel more at ease. Anthony felt that he could catch his breath and come to terms with the fact that they were really here. Weeks of planning had brought them to this moment, and it was just now starting to set in that he had moved him and his son across the country.

“You are very kind, Mrs Fenters,” he said. He was glad that she was, for Michael’s sake. He did not need any more upheaval in his life. Michael’s face lit up when he took his first bite of the madeleine. Anthony followed suit, impressed by the treat. Yes, he was sure that they would be happy here—in time. If only he could get his son to understand that his mother was not coming back, then perhaps they would both be able to move on.

Guilt washed over him as he listened to Mrs Fenters and Michael converse. He asked questions about the estate, and she answered them as best she could. He hung his head for a moment. He had still not told his son that his mother had passed away. And perhaps he was wrong, but somehow he was not able to tell him that she had left, only to die a few months later of a fever. What had it all been for? If she had stayed with them, his son would have at least been able to say goodbye to his mother one last time. Instead, her selfishness had cost him the love and security of the family they had built. Still, he struggled with how to tell him. Was it better that he thought she was still alive, that it would someday be possible to see her again? Or would it be better to crush him now and let him deal with the grief that she was gone forever?

When they had finished their tea, Anthony asked that they be taken to the cottage so that they might settle in. “Oh, but you will not want to go there tonight. There is some tidying that needs to be done, and the fires have not been built up yet.” Mrs Fenters tried to argue, but Anthony was adamant.

“No, thank you, Mrs Fenters. We will be just fine in the cottage. You have been all kindness to us, but I would like to get settled this evening, as much as is possible, so that we might be ready to meet with His Grace in the morning. I am sure you understand?”

Mrs Fenters softened. “Of course. Well, I will have one of the footmen direct you, and they can also help you unload your belongings.”

Within minutes, they were in their cart, bumping down the little lane that wound through the green and trees toward the south side of the estate. Anthony held a lantern to light their way, and when they reached the end of the lane, he called to the horse to slow, pulling gently on the reins.

“There it is, Son. Our new home.” They paused for a moment, looking at its white plaster and dark wooden beams gleaming in the moonlight. Dark green vines climbed up the side of the cottage, making it look like an enchanted fairy house. And behind their new home were towering oak trees. “Look, Michael. Those trees are just begging to be climbed. I think this is going to be a wonderful house for you to grow up in. What do you say?”

Michael nodded deftly. Anthony did not press him but clicked his tongue and slapped the reins on the horse’s back, moving toward the house once more. He climbed down from the cart and helped Michael down as well, standing in front of the house for a moment. He took his son’s hand, giving it a light squeeze. “Welcome home, my boy.”

Chapter Two

“…and they all lived happily ever after. The end.”

Anne closed the book and smiled down at her daughter, snuggled up in her bed against the howling wind that seemed to want to beat right through the window. Anne pulled the covers up closer to Jane’s neck, ensuring that she would be warm enough. Anne cupped her daughter’s cheek in her hand, her bright green eyes sparkling. She tucked a strand of dark red hair behind Jane’s ear and smiled sadly. Jane had inherited her father’s looks, so different from Anne’s golden blonde hair and blue eyes. Sometimes people had a hard time believing it when Anne told them that Jane was her daughter.

“I wish fairy stories were real,” Jane said, interrupting her thoughts. “Like Father Christmas.”

Anne looked down at her once more, wondering what strange turn this conversation might take. She smiled at the fact that Jane still believed in Father Christmas. She was a precocious child at eight years old, with wisdom and insight far beyond her years in many ways.

Sometimes Anne felt at a loss as to how to answer some of her questions. Her mind was sharp and agile, just as her father’s had been. Anne felt like she was not qualified to parent such a brilliant child sometimes. She could not help but think that Jane would have been much better off if she had died instead of William.

She shook her head, trying to keep the disturbing thoughts at bay. “What do you mean by that, dearest?”

“I mean, I wish dreams came true in real life.”

“Well, sometimes they do.” Anne continued to tuck her in and then placed her hand on Jane’s cheek, gazing at her. She looked so much like her father, with the same red hair and green eyes.

“But then why did Papa die? You prayed for him, and he still went to heaven.” Jane turned over on her side, snuggling in closer to her.

Anne caught her breath, blinking slowly. “Wishes and prayers are not the same thing. We have little control of our destinies, Jane. I cannot tell you why.”

Anne had often asked herself the same questions, her faith deeply shaken even though she continued to attend church at the village parish with her father. Why did God take her husband in the prime of his life? Why had He seen fit to leave her alone to raise their daughter? She tried not to let the bitterness overcome her. Still, it was so difficult when she thought of every dream that she and William had come up with for their future that would never come true.

Jane propped herself up on her elbow, and Anne moved her hand from her cheek to rest at her side.

“Can I have a new papa? I wonder if Father Christmas would give me one for Christmas?” Jane’s eyes lit up.

Her question nearly toppled Anne. She turned away so that she would not see how pain-stricken she was. “I am afraid not, sweetheart,” she choked. “Father Christmas does not so much deal with matters of the heart.”

“But why? Grandfather says it is high time I had a father in my life, and I agree with him.”

Anne spun on her heels, glancing over at the nanny. She motioned for the older woman to leave, and after a quick curtsey, she did just that. When the door had closed behind her, she went back to the bed and sat down. “I know you miss Papa.”

“I didn’t really know him, Mama. I’m sorry, but I do not even remember the sound of his voice. I was so young when he died.” She sighed heavily, laying back down on the pillow. “I want to have a papa.”

Anne brushed a few stray hairs away from Jane’s face. Her bright red locks had been tied up in coils with pieces of white fabric. The ends were sticking up around her head so that she looked like a cactus, its spines sticking out every which way. Sighing heavily, she tried to find the words to explain.

But how could she get across to an eight-year-old what it was like to lose the only man she had ever loved? How could she not bear to think of anyone else ever touching her or kissing her? She had locked her heart away from the world, with Jane and her father as the exceptions. Love was not a thought in her mind at present, and she was not sure if it ever would be again.

“Your father was a good man, Jane. I loved him with every piece of my heart, and when he died, he took much of my heart with him. Someday, I pray you understand that kind of love. But I would ask that you never ask me about a new papa again. Is that clear?” She hated using this tone with Jane, but Anne knew she would not let up unless she did. She had a tenacious streak in her, just as Anne had possessed in her younger years. Her grief had stripped her of that in many ways, but her daughter could be like a bulldog with a bone when she got an idea in her head.

Jane nodded sadly. “Yes, Mama.”

She then turned away from her, facing the wall and closing her eyes. Guilt washed over Anne as she took up the candle on its stand and leaned down to kiss Jane goodnight. “I love you, my angel.”

“I love you too, Mama,” Jane whispered, and she could hear the tears in her voice. Anne caught her breath, heartbroken for her daughter. She had not meant any harm by her questions, and Anne feared that she had crushed her.

She quickly turned and left the room, handing the candle to the nanny before she fled down the hall. She made her way to her bedroom in the dark, opening the door and covering her mouth with her hand as she began to weep. Thankfully her maid had yet to arrive to lay out her nightdress.

She went over to the window seat, looking out at the moonlit landscape. When she had spent most of her tears, she leaned her head against the sill, wishing for nothing more than the pain to go away. Why was life so incredibly hard?

After a few minutes, she stood up and smoothed her black dress down. She had not heeded her father’s request as of yet. She would need to have new gowns made since she had not ordered anything besides black for the last few years. The thought of coming out of her mourning clothes felt overwhelming. She would have to travel to London to get some new things made.

She let out a frustrated sigh. Why was her father so eager to be rid of them? Didn’t he like having them here in the house? Surely he would not want to be left alone in this grand old house, now that her mother had passed away as well? She had passed away three years before and had been an integral part of Jane’s first years. Did her father really want to give up the closeness they all shared, just so she could say she was not alone anymore?

Anne eyed the little wooden box on her bedside table, as she often did. Her heart started pounding as she walked toward it. Could she muster the courage to open it at last? She stood before it for several seconds and decided to light a candle, stalling for a moment. When she had done that, she came back over, chewing on her bottom lip.

Then, before she could change her mind, she took up the box, took the lid off, and dumped the contents onto her bed. An awed silence seemed to come over her room, and she set the candle on the bedside table as she looked at the letters strewn about the coverlet. She had not opened the box since William had passed away. Each of the letters was like a precious jewel to her, love letters he had written to her before they were married. Now, each of them was precious. Before, it had been too painful to read them, for she was not sure how she would react to seeing his handwriting and reading his words once more. So many of them had been filled with promises and dreams for the future. Now, that future was forever out of her grasp.

She took up the letter on the bottom, one of the first he had written with shaking hands. She held it as if it would crumble and float away at the slightest of touch. Tears pooled in her eyes, and she quickly wiped them away as her vision blurred. She unfolded it, taking a shaky breath as she brought it close to the flame to read.

Dear Lady Anne,

    I am so glad to be back in the vicinity and thus able to ask your permission to call on you at your earliest convenience. University has been an eye-opening experience, but now I am looking forward to being amongst my own people once more. Especially you…

Anne folded the letter, remembering how he had always seemed to carry a special affection for her, even when they were children. They had grown up in Axminster together and had formed a friendship early on in the acquaintance. It had not come as a surprise to anyone when he proposed to her a few months after returning from his studies at Cambridge.

She moved on to another letter, which had been written several weeks later. Their romance had blossomed in a very short amount of time. Everything had seemed too easy, so right with him. She feared she would never find that kind of friendship and camaraderie with any other man.

My dearest Anne,

    I lay awake tonight, dreaming of the life you and I will build together. I find that counting the days until our wedding day is driving me mad. It cannot come fast enough. I have loved you for as long as I can remember, and forgive me if I sound arrogant, but somehow I always knew that you would be mine.

    You captured my heart from the very first moment I laid eyes on you….

Anne dropped the letter back on the bed as if it were a hot coal burning her hand. She turned away, wrapping her arms around her middle. Visions of her husband’s last days filled her mind, and despite her best efforts to keep them at bay, they would not relent. She sank into a chair near the hearth, which crackled softly as the coals began to give out. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she was transported to another time and place.

“It does not look good, my lady….”

The doctor’s voice echoed in her mind. She pressed her fingers to her temples, trying to keep the flashback of her husband’s last hours on earth away. But to no avail.

“Is there nothing that can be done?” Her frantic voice assailed her mind. She had known it would be a mistake to open that box.

“I’m so sorry, my lady, but there is nothing more to be done. The fever has taken a toll on his body. If I bleed him any more, it will finish him. We must pray—for God is the only one who can save him now.’“

Anne had rushed to William’s bedside. He was a shadow of his former self. After returning from a trip to the Caribbean to check on some of their holdings there, he had contracted a mysterious fever that they had later found out to be scarlatina. She had been warned to stay away, but she could not and would not leave her husband to suffer alone. She had nursed him as best she could, mopping his forehead with cool, damp cloths for hours to try and offer him some relief. But in the end, nothing she did could have saved him.

“I lo—love you,” he had panted. And somehow, she sensed that he had known the end was near. “Take care of our Jane for me. Tell her how much I love her.”

Anne could take it no more, rocking back and forth as the grief and panic overtook her. “No—” she mumbled, feeling her mind fray. She was losing a grasp on what was present and what was past. She closed her eyes and continued to rock.

He had not lasted the night, succumbing to the fever after weeks of agony. If only she had insisted that he not go to the Caribbean, he might still be alive. But she could not change what was or what might have been.

“Do not cry for me when I am gone—” William had charged her to continue living, to be happy when she remembered the time they had been together. He had not possessed a selfish bone in his body. She crumpled onto her side near the fire, her tears dripping onto the rug.

“I will never forget you, William. And I will never love another as I have loved you.”


“A Lady’s Christmas Miracle” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Ever since her husband died, Lady Anne Gladstone has locked herself out of the world, trapped in a prison of her own making. With another Christmas drawing near, her father starts pushing her to put her mourning clothes aside and give love a second chance. However, Anne feels too fragile to enter society again. This will all change though, with the fateful arrival of the estate’s mysterious and handsome gardener…

Will Anne keep the walls around her heart intact, or could destiny have other plans for a life she thought to be over?

Anthony Smith has endured a lifetime of heartache, all packed into the last year of his life. When he and his little son move to the Duke of Risinghurst’s estate, he looks forward to turning a new page. What he never expected though, is that he would meet the only woman able to fill his heart’s dark void, with feelings he thought to be gone forever. However, Anne is a woman far out of his reach and the Duke would never allow such a match…

Will the kind gardener manage to make Anne’s heart bloom with love again?

Anne and Anthony have the cards stacked against them, as they have both endured heartbreak, and they both have children to think about. To make matters worse, an unforeseeable incident will soon shake up their lives even more… Will Anne and Anthony be able to put their mistrust and trauma behind and fall in love again? Could a Christmas miracle take place and bless them with the gift of true love?

“A Lady’s Christmas Miracle” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

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