Authors: Kay Hooper; Lisa Kleypas
Tags: #Romance, #Anthologies
|Gifts of Love|
|Kay Hooper; Lisa Kleypas|
In this glorious season of light and joy, the phenomenal Kay Hooper and the incomparable Lisa Kleypas offer readers a pair of precious jewels-;timeless love stories that sparkle like diamonds.
In Kay Hooper's
, a matchmaking grandmother and three Christmas ghosts arrange a sensuous reunion for a headstrong noblewoman and her seductive former fiancÃ©. And in
, Lisa Kleypas has a beautiful, aristocratic Bostonian discover the true meaning of giving when she falls tenderly and passionately in love with a troubled stranger: her husband.
Open these golden
Gifts of Love
and surrender your heart-;for 'tis the season for romance!
KAY HOOPER LISA KLEYPAS
Gifts of Love
True love is like ghosts,
which everybody talks about
and few have seen.
n the huge, drafty, and chilly drawing room was an intense and profound silence; the sort of silence, Antonia reflected bitterly, that her grandmother had perfected over fifty years of methodical practice. Like the icy blue eyes gazing out of the aged but still handsome face, the silence indicated extreme offense.
“I beg your pardon, Grandmother,” Antonia said stiffly, her own blue eyes still as fierce as when she had spoken the offending words, but her face schooled into a mask of regret and apology. “Wingate Castle is your home, not mine; I had no right to question your choice of guests.”
“Question?” The Countess of Ware’s voice was measured. “I should rather have termed it an attack, Antonia.”
Even more stiffly, Antonia said, “I was taken off guard, and spoke without thinking, Grandmother. Again, I beg your pardon.”
Thawing ever so slightly, Lady Ware inclined her head regally. “I observe Sophia has at least seen to it your manners are not wholly wanting.”
Antonia flushed, sensing a faint sarcasm. “If I lack anything with regard to social graces, it isn’t Mama’s fault, Grandmother, and I won’t have you abusing her.”
This direct statement, though it could properly be termed rude, brought a spark of approval to Lady Ware’s eyes. In a milder tone, she said, “Very well, Antonia, there’s no need to mount a second attack against me on behalf of your mother. I have always thought Sophia a silly goose, but neither you nor anyone else can claim I do not appreciate her true worth; she has a kind heart and a generous disposition, and well I know it.”
Regarding her granddaughter sternly, Lady Ware continued, “However, that is neither here nor there. I should like to know, Antonia, why you object so violently to Lyonshall’s presence here. It has, after all, been nearly two years since your engagement ended, and I daresay you have encountered one another countless times in London since that shameful episode.”
Antonia gritted her teeth. In the eyes of her grandmother—and, indeed, in the eyes of society—Antonia’s jilting of the Duke of Lyonshall had most certainly been a shameful, and inexplicable, action. Even her mother had no idea what had gone wrong; Lady Sophia had suffered most dreadfully from the ensuing gossip, and had nearly swooned when, some months later, she had been forced to greet the duke in public.
As for herself, Antonia had encountered him at a number of the
parties; she had even danced with him at Almack’s at the beginning of the present Season. It was, after all, vital to maintain an appearance of cool politeness. Nothing so offended the sensibilities as a private disagreement paraded before the gawking eyes of the public; Antonia might have committed a social solecism, but she was not lost to all sense of propriety.
“I have encountered the duke,” she replied in measured tones, “and I expect to encounter him again since we are often invited to the same parties. But you must see, Grandmother, that for him to be invited to my family’s home for the Christmas holidays will give rise to just the sort of gossip I have been at some pains to silence. Furthermore, I don’t understand why you would put me in such a position. Nor do I understand why you have chosen to house both the duke and myself in the South wing—alone.”
Lady Ware offered her a frosty smile. “Since it has been recently renovated after being closed off for fifty years, the South wing is the most comfortable section of the castle, Antonia, with apartments far grander than any of the rest—even my own rooms. Are you complaining of your accommodations?”
For the first time, Antonia had the uneasy suspicion that her grandmother—famed as much for her sly machinations as for her blighting social graces—had an ulterior motive when she had arranged this little house party. But it was absurd! What could she possibly hope to accomplish?
Ignoring the question put to her, Antonia said, “Grandmother, I trust you understand that the mere idea of—of in any way reconciling with Lyonshall is profoundly distasteful to me. If you have
idea in your head—”
Lady Ware let out a sound which, in anyone less dignified, would have been termed a snort. “Don’t be absurd, Antonia. Do you suppose I would for one moment believe that Lyonshall could bring himself to offer for you a second time after your disgraceful conduct? No man of pride and breeding could even consider such a thing.”
Antonia had flushed vividly, then gone rather pale at the crushing remarks, and her lips were pressed tightly together as she met that eagle-eyed stare. “Very well, then. This is your home, and it is for you to decide where your guests shall sleep. However, Grandmother, at the risk of offending you yet again, I must request that my coach be brought around; I am returning to London immediately.”
Lady Ware’s expression was one of faint surprise. “You cannot have looked out a window in the past hour, child. It began to sleet and snow some time since; you would hardly set out for London in such weather. In fact, I can only hope Lyonshall has not been constrained to put up at some inferior inn on his journey here.”
Angry and—if the truth were told—intensely uncomfortable at the thought of spending several days in the company of her former betrothed, Antonia could only hope he
been compelled by inclement weather to delay—indefinitely—his arrival at the castle. But she doubted that was so. Lyonshall not only owned the finest horseflesh in England, he was also famous for his disregard of any obstacle in his path; if he intended to reach the castle, he would do so.
Balked in her determination to avoid the situation, Antonia could only curtsy and stalk from the room, head high.
Lady Ware, left alone in the huge room and comfortable in her chair before a blazing fire, chuckled softly. She had managed to divert her granddaughter’s thoughts from the—really quite improper—allocation of rooms, and that had been her primary intent. Sophia would no doubt protest the arrangement, in her fluttery way, but Lady Ware had every confidence of being able to handle
And since the “house party” consisted of only the duke, Antonia and her mother, and the countess herself, there would be no one to carry tales of what went on here back to London.
Lady Ware congratulated herself. Providing Lyonshall reached the castle, her plan should come off rather well, she thought. The weather would serve to explain why her house party was no larger; since the castle, located in the northern Welsh mountains, had seen icy weather each Christmas for decades, Lady Ware had been able to factor that into her careful scheme. She had been doubtful only of her ability to get Lyonshall here; his own country seat was his customary retreat for the holidays, and he was notoriously disinclined to respond favorably to a summons from one who, though lesser in rank, commanded considerable social power.
At her best when slyness was called for, Lady Ware had been maneuvering for months to find a way of getting the duke here. After studying the situation—and the man—she had finally hit upon an outrageous solution.
Smiling to herself as she sat in her chair, the countess reflected that a lesson in the tragedy of mistakes would do both the duke and Antonia good. In fact, if she knew Antonia—and she did, far more completely than that young lady could guess—the lesson would have a profound effect.
The stage was set. Now if only the actors who had sustained their roles for so many years would lend their support on this very important anniversary, the play could begin.
Since her father had been a younger son of the Earl of Ware, Antonia had not grown up in Wingate Castle, and she had never put much stock in the tales of its being haunted. Still, as she strode briskly along the second-floor hallway of the South wing, she admitted silently that if there was a more likely habitation for spirits of the departed, she had never seen it.
The original castle dated before the Norman conquest, though it had naturally been renovated and even rebuilt numerous times over the centuries. Along the way, its appearance and purpose had changed from fort to residence, though the Wingate family had lived and died here from the beginning.
If ghosts walked for the reasons common to folklore—tragic, untimely deaths, for instance—numerous Wingates could be said to meet the accepted criteria. The family history held more than its share of strife, illness, and violence, as well as the usual lesser troubles all families are heir to. There were records of at least half a dozen murders, two suicides, and a score of brutal accidents—all taking place either within the castle walls or on the estate grounds.
Antonia was only vaguely familiar with most of her family’s long and colorful history, and had always considered Wingate Castle a moldy old relic. But one couldn’t help being aware of centuries of existence, she thought, when one was surrounded by thick stone walls, velvet hangings, and long corridors lined with immense doorways.
The restoration of the South wing had returned this part of the castle to the glory of a century before, but Lady Ware had refused to modernize in any way except for the installation of steam heat. The corridor presently echoing with the sounds of Antonia’s footsteps was merely chilly rather than freezing, and her bedchamber, while not exactly snug, was at least tolerably comfortable.
Antonia passed a bedchamber two doors from her own and across the hall, and noted that two of the maids were still working to ready it for the expected arrival of the duke. It had been that sight earlier, and an explanation by the maids regarding the identity of the expected guest, which had driven her to confront her grandmother. The remainder now brought a frown to her face, and the expression earned her a stern rebuke from her maid as she entered her own chambers.
“What if your face should freeze like that, milady? It’s likely enough in here!”
Antonia laughed. Plimpton had been her maid since she had left the schoolroom, and despite the older woman’s frequent blunt reprimands, Antonia never took offense; she often thought that even her own mother did not know her as well as Plimpton did.
“Oh, it isn’t that cold in here,” she said, watching as Plimpton continued to unpack her trunks. “And you can hang the silk gowns in the back of the wardrobe, for I certainly won’t wear them; it
too cold for low-cut evening gowns.”
Plimpton glanced at her mistress, shrewd eyes direct. “Lady Ware requires her guests to dress in the evenings.”
Antonia lifted her chin. “I have the two velvet gowns, and the merino—”
“High-necked and dowdy, milady, and well you know it! Even Lady Ware isn’t such a stickler as all that. It’s the duke you want to hide yourself from, not the countess
Antonia went to her dressing table and busied herself with the already exquisite arrangement of her fiery hair, stubbornly avoiding her maid’s eyes in the mirror. “You’re talking nonsense, and you know it. I’ve met Lyonshall countless times in company, and fully expect to continue doing so in future.”
Plimpton was silent for a few moments as she went on unpacking Antonia’s trunks, but it soon became obvious that she had no intention of allowing the subject to drop. With casual innocence, she said, “There must be a full dozen bedchambers on this floor, and only two of them occupied. And this wing so far from the rest of the household. Odd, how Lady Ware put you and the duke so far from the others. Alone.”
Antonia was conscious of another pang of uncertainty, but pushed it resolutely aside. As her grandmother had so accurately stated, only a fool would entertain even the faintest hope that Lyonshall could be brought up to scratch a second time when the lady in question had jilted him so shamefully—and Dorothea Wingate was no fool.
Antonia responded with composure, “Lyonshall will have his valet, and I will have you; therefore, we are not alone—”
“My room, milady, is in the East wing. Another room is prepared in that wing for His Grace’s valet.”
Antonia was shaken by the information, but tried not to show it. She also refrained from saying instantly that she would have a cot brought into the dressing room so that her maid could sleep there. She refused to appear foolishly nervous or overly concerned with her reputation. There would have been talk in London at such an improper arrangement—but this was not London. And no one in the city was likely to hear news of what went on in this isolated part of Wales.
Her voice, therefore, was a masterpiece of unconcern. “As for choosing to house the two of us in this wing, Grandmother merely wished to show off the renovations, that’s all.”
“Then why is Her Ladyship’s chamber situated in the North wing?”
When Plimpton used the title, “Her Ladyship” always referred to Antonia’s mother, Lady Sophia Wingate.
“Because Grandmother wanted someone near her own rooms,” Antonia replied.
Plimpton sniffed. “I daresay.
I daresay Lady Ware never gave a thought to how cold your morning coffee and bathwater will be after it’s been hauled up three flights of stairs and along two corridors to reach you. You are not accustomed to such vexatious service and neither, I daresay, is the duke.”
It did sound a bit daunting, Antonia thought. “We shall have to make the best of it,” she said finally. “It’s only for a few days, after all.”
“A few days, is it? I was speaking to Mr. Tuffet just after we arrived, milady, and he’s served here in the castle for nigh on to forty years; he says when winter sets on as it has today, travel is unthinkable for weeks.”
The very possibility of being shut up in the castle—no matter how large it was—with the duke for weeks on end sent a shudder of nervous dread through Antonia. It was at least bearable to encounter him socially at brief intervals, when she was able to maintain her coolly pleasant mask without strain; she doubted her ability to sustain the pretense over a period of days, much less weeks. She doubted it very much.