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Authors: Deborah Hale

Tags: #Romance, #England, #Love Story, #Regency Romance, #Historical Romance

Snowbound With The Baronet

BOOK: Snowbound With The Baronet
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Snowbound With The Baronet
Deborah Hale
Deborah Hale (2014)
Rating:
****
Tags:
Romance, England, Love Story, Regency Romance, Historical Romance

Sir Brandon Calvert has spent the past four years trying to forget the beautiful debutante who broke his heart by rejecting his marriage proposal. Just when he thinks he has finally succeeded, a fateful snowstorm strands him in the company of Lady Cassandra Whitney.
Now Brandon must confront the past and the dangerous attraction her nearness threatens to revive!

The last person Lady Cassandra expected to encounter on a snowy road to Bath is the one man she has never succeeded in banishing from her heart. Her reasons for refusing Sir Brandon's proposal four years ago are not what he believes. But how can she tell the rigorously truthful baronet that she deceived him? And how can she reveal the truth without exposing shameful family secrets? Even if she could bring herself to confess, Cassandra fears it is too late. Sir Brandon has made a new life for himself -
a life that does not include the woman who humiliated him and drove him to war.

Under difficult circumstances, Brandon is intrigued to discover that Cassandra Whitney has matured from a headstrong debutante into a capable, caring woman. He fears she could make him fall in love with her all over again if he is not careful to keep his distance.
But how can he do that in a tiny farmhouse, when their kind hosts insist on playing Cupid at every opportunity?

In the depths of a Regency winter, warm affections are quickly rekindled. But can the flame of true love burn bright enough to light the way for two lost hearts to find one another again, before the snow melts and they must go their separate ways?
Or will Lady Cassandra get a second chance to say yes?

Snowbound with the Baronet
Deborah Hale

Copyright © 2014 by Deborah Hale

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or retransmitted without the written permission of the author.

This is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Cover design by The Killion Group

Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Epilogue

Reader Letter

About the Author

Also Available

To Wally and Irma, who seized their second chance at love.

Chapter One

Wiltshire, England ~ January 1814


Y
OU DON

T NEED
to do this, Cassie.” Lady Viola Whitney clasped her sister’s hand as if she intended to prevent her going by physical force.

That would have been impossible, of course. At five-and-twenty, Viola was the elder by more than a year, but Cassandra had long ago surpassed her in height and strength of will.

“Please reconsider.” Viola eased her grip in favor of a heartfelt appeal, which had a far better chance of succeeding. “How will we manage without you?”

“Admirably, I’m certain.” Cassandra strove to ignore the pang her sister’s words provoked. “It is high time you all had an opportunity to make decisions without me to always take the lead. If that proves too difficult, you can consult Letty or Lord Highworth.”

Bundled up against the cold of early January, the Whitney sisters stood outside the village inn. A little way off, their two younger sisters, their stepmother and her friend Mrs. Davis were watching for the arrival of the stagecoach.

“Don’t be flippant,” Viola snapped in an uncharacteristic flash of temper. “Have you given any thought to what your absence will mean for us? How am I to bear the full responsibility for Miranda and Evie on my own, to say nothing of how lonesome I shall be without you? I shall be distracted with worry about you, dancing attendance on that vexatious old gorgon. I fear she will drive you mad within a fortnight!”

“How melodramatic! That isn’t like you, Vi.” Cassandra forced a laugh and that she hoped would reassure her sister. “I admit Aunt Augusta can be rather...
querulous
at times but she only bullies people who let her. I refuse to put up with any such nonsense. As for my thinking about the rest of you, my motives are not entirely selfish. You know Aunt Augusta has promised that if I come to live as her companion she will give Evie a Season in London. The rest of us had our chance. It is only fair that she does too, poor dear.”

Cassandra cast an affectionate glance toward their youngest sister who retained enough of a girlish appearance that she should not attract too much unfavorable attention making her debut at the advanced age of nineteen. She would miss Evie’s high spirits, Miranda’s artistic fancies and Letty’s motherly gentleness. Most of all she would miss Viola’s sweet temper and good sense. But she must not think of that or she might start to blubber. Then Vi would never let her go.

“Don’t forget,” she added as much to remind herself as her sister, “there is Mrs. Davis to think of, as well. Housekeeper to a viscountess will be an excellent situation for her.”

That was the other part of the bargain Cassandra had struck with their great-aunt in an exchange of letters that autumn. Now that her plans were all coming to fruition at last, Cassandra found herself torn between anticipation and dread. Those made her shiver quite as much as the gust of damp, icy wind that swirled her cloak and tugged at her skirts.

“The stage coach!” Evie squealed. “I see it coming.”

Viola’s fair complexion grew paler in contrast to the frost-nipped apples of her cheeks. Though she lowered her voice, it took on a tone of increasing desperation. “A woman capable as Mrs. Davis could surely find another position if you were to change your mind. And Evie is not pining for a Season. Ours brought no great joy to the rest of us, in case you have forgotten.”

“Forgotten?” Cassandra drew herself up. “No indeed. I remember all too well, but it would be different for Evie... with Father gone.”

Their late father had managed to spoil the first tender romances of his three eldest daughters. Vi might not resent him for it, but Cassandra lacked her sister’s forbearance.

Viola opened her mouth to protest but Cassandra set hers in a resolute line. “There is no turning back now, dearest. I
must
do this, not just for Evie and Mrs. Davis but for myself. You know how much I dislike being beholden to anyone, even as kind a friend as Lord Highworth. With Aunt Augusta I shall feel I am earning my keep and contributing to the support of my family. Without that sense of independence, I could not go on.”

“You are too proud.” The beginning of a tear glittered in Viola’s wide grey eyes. “I believe it is the reigning passion of your heart, even more than love. You cannot blame Father for that.”

Cassandra recoiled from her sister’s words. Was Vi implying that her pride was as much at fault as their father’s machinations for destroying her chance of happiness with Sir Brandon Calvert?

“Indeed I
can
blame Father,” she retorted. “And I do. I inherited my pride from him as surely as my dark hair and my brown eyes. Perhaps that is why we never got on—because I am too much like him while you are entirely like Mother.”

She had no memories of their mother, but the miniature that was one of their most treasured possessions bore a striking likeness to Vi. How different might their lives have been if Mother had lived to bear a son?

Cassandra turned her mind from that thought. Miranda spent far too much time yearning for a past beyond recapture and a rosy future that was only a wishful dream.
She
prided herself on dealing with the world as she found it and making what she could of it. She was trying to do that now, if only Vi would let her.

“It is too late to argue,” Cassandra caught her sister in a fierce embrace. “If we do not stop, I shan’t have time to bid the others a proper farewell. I promise to write you long, boring letters from Noughtly Hall and we shall see each other next year when you bring Evie to London. If I feel myself going mad, I promise I shall leave at once and return home straight away.”

“See that you do.” Viola drew back, catching her quivering lower lip between her teeth. “And try not to make your letters too boring, or we shall never believe you wrote them.”

“We have a bargain.” Cassandra spun away from her elder sister, before Vi glimpsed any shadow of doubt in her eyes.

She turned toward the younger two, who seemed more excited than grieved at her going. “Don’t give Vi and Letty any trouble now or I shall come straight home from Noughtly and put you both in line.”

Miranda and Evelina paid no heed to their sister’s brusque tone but each gave her an affectionate squeeze and vowed to be on their best behavior.

Then it was Letty’s turn. “Take care of yourself my dear. It is good of you to do this for Evie and Mrs. Davis, but I would expect no less of you.”

Her stepmother’s admiring tone made Cassandra squirm. This undertaking was not some noble sacrifice, as Letty seemed to think, but an escape from the dependence she could no longer bear.

By now the stagecoach had arrived and Cassandra’s final minutes in Charnwood were lost in a rush to secure their luggage. She and Mrs. Davis climbed inside to discover they had the whole box to themselves. As the vehicle pulled away, she waved and called to her family with an air of confident excitement that was not altogether feigned.

Only when they were out of sight did she allow her nagging misgivings to subdue her spirits.

“Oh look,” chirped Mrs. Davis, pointing out the carriage window. “It is starting to snow. How pretty it will make the countryside look.”

Cassandra gave an absent nod. This part of England did not often get much snow. The winter landscape was usually a study in shades of dull brown. A soft blanket of pure white would make for a pleasant change. “I hope it will not impede our journey.”

She doubted it would. Any snow that did fall on the Chalk Counties of southern England usually melted away almost as fast as it came. But December had been unusually cold and the bare ground was frozen stiff.

Two hours later the snow was falling very hard, making it impossible to see much beyond the edge of the road. The accumulation of snow Cassandra glimpsed there made her suspect it had been falling here longer than back in Charnwood. The poor coach horses must be finding it hard going for their speed was growing slower and slower. When the coach climbed a gentle rise, Cassandra wondered if she and Mrs. Davis would be obliged to get out and push. Descending the far slope proved a different problem as the rear of the coach skidded from side to side.

Mrs. Davis gave a little squeal of fright then cast Cassandra an apologetic glance. Clearly the poor woman did not want to alarm her.

“I wonder how much farther it is to Noughtly Hall?” She rubbed her gloved hand to clear a circle on the fogged window.

Cassandra gave an exaggerated shrug. “Not above twenty miles I expect, but at the rate we are going Heaven only knows when we shall reach there.”

This would be a little adventure she could relate to her sisters in her first letter home. She hoped Viola and Letty would not be too worried about her on account of the snow.

Before she could think of any reassuring words to offer Mrs. Davis, Cassandra heard the coach driver bellow at the horses to stop. She feared that might not be the best idea. If the poor creatures lost what little momentum they had, who could say whether they would be able to get started again.

“It is another carriage.” Mrs. Davis peered out into the whirling whiteness. “I believe it has gotten stuck in the snow.”

As Cassandra leaned forward to see if she could make out anything, she heard someone having a loud exchange with the coachman. No doubt they were requesting assistance. Their carriage listed to one side, as if a wheel might have broken. The other vehicle was smaller than the stagecoach with the elegant shape of a private travelling equipage. Clearly it must belong to a family of considerable fortune. Bad roads were egalitarian—treating an earl’s barouche and a farmer’s pony cart all the same.

“I wonder how long those poor people have been stranded here,” Mrs. Davis mused.

“I believe we are about to find out.” Cassandra drew back from the window and scrambled over to sit beside her travelling companion. She had spied a snow-covered gentleman leading a heavily cloaked lady toward the stagecoach.

BOOK: Snowbound With The Baronet
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