Christmas Heart - Unmarriageable, Book 6.5
Light, fun Regency romance from Mary Lancaster.
Welcome to the Hart Inn, a lucky house where love always seems to blossom, whatever the obstacles...
No room at the Hart Inn...
After her first ever serious quarrel with her husband, Charlotte, the young Duchess of Alvan, flees to her parents’ home for Christmas, taking her baby son and her dog. However, when the road is blocked by snow, she has to seek refuge at the Hart - and all the rooms are full.
In the end, she has to share an old stable with a highly suspicious neighbor, a thief and a depressed rake.
But there are plenty of unexpected gifts that night and love is the greatest of them all.
This is a short novella first published in the multi-author anthology, Stars are Brightly Shining.
Read an excerpt below
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Charlotte, the Duchess of Alvan, was in a foul mood.
Everything had gone wrong. Two days ago, she had quarreled seriously with her husband for the first time ever, and she was still angry with him. Now, she was cold, tired, and hungry, the baby was crying, and she had just discovered that the road to her family’s home at Audley Park was impassable. Snow fell like a curtain, shrouding the country in velvety white, but Charlotte was blind to its beauty. She wanted to cry.
“Only road open is to the Hart Inn,” the coachman told her after striding about the snow for some time.
“Then we’ll have to go there for the night or freeze to death here,” Charlotte said, wishing she had never begun the expedition. The dream of a warm, convivial Christmas Eve dinner with her chaotic family and an evening spent by their hearth with laughter and music, had died. Now, all she could hope for was a lonely room at the inn, enough warmth for the baby, and some food to keep body and soul together.
“We’ll feel better after dinner,” she said aloud.
Goldie, her maid, sniffed. She probably had a cold, although, of course, she wished to be back at Mooreton Hall with her friends, flirting with Alvan’s valet.
Spring, Charlotte’s small terrier, looked up from his place on her feet and thumped his tail on the floor once. He was unnaturally quiet and that didn’t bode well either.
The drive to the inn seemed to take forever. Obviously, it was only right, for the horses had to be taken care of, but Charlotte wanted nothing more than an end to this disappointing, miserable day with a long sleep before she faced the fact that it was going to be a desolate Christmas.
Serves you right, an inner voice told her. You should never have run off like that.
No, I shouldn’t. But how was I to know he wouldn’t even follow me?
At last they drew up outside the familiar inn. The Hart was full of memories for Charlotte—this was where she had first met Alex, and where they had been married less than two years ago.
The steps were lowered for her, and she climbed down into the soft, slippery snow. Spring, suddenly perking up and remembering how much he liked snow, tumbled out of the carriage in front of Goldie and bounced like a ball through the deep drifts, wheefling with joy.
Arthur, the tiny Marquis of Yateford, stopped crying, probably with shock at the freezing wind on his face. Or he may have seen Spring flying through the air and straight into John Coachman’s arms. Charlotte hugged Arthur closer against the cold and scuttled up to the front door of the inn.
It was rare that the innkeeper himself did not rush to meet her, but the reason was clear enough. The whole house seemed to be jumping with voices and laughter and fiddle music. A jolly Christmas Eve for some.
Villin, the innkeeper, stuck his jovial head out of the taproom as she entered. Clearly, he’d been about to yell something to his staff elsewhere in the inn, but at sight of her, his jaw dropped and his eyes widened, and not with the welcome she was used to. He looked, frankly, appalled.
“Your grace!” he gasped, hurrying toward her. “What a dreadful night to be travelling! We were not expecting you.”
“No, I was not planning be here,” Charlotte assured him.
“But is the duke not with you?” he asked, peering beyond her.
“No,” Charlotte said flatly. “And the road to Audley Park is quite blocked by snow. I’m afraid I must beg a bed from you for the night. And a cradle, if possible, for the little one.”
Villin’s gaze took in Arthur with something less than delight. “Bless your grace, we only have the one cradle, and it’s taken by a family with twins! But more to the point, all my bedchambers are taken, too, and most double or even triple occupied.” He tried a rueful grin. “As you say, all the other roads are closed.”
“Well, you always said you were a lucky house,” Charlotte managed.
Villin scratched his head. “There are two maiden ladies and a farmer’s wife in the best chamber. I’m sure they’d be happy to accommodate your grace, even move into other chambers if I can—”
“Oh, no,” Charlotte said in alarm. The last thing she wanted was to spread rumors that the Duchess of Alvan was travelling alone at Christmas without her husband or any servants to speak of. In no time, rumors of estrangement from the duke would have spread all over the country. “Don’t pray put anyone out.”
“They would be honored to be put out by the Duchess of Alvan,” Villin assured her.
“I, however, would not be. Is there nowhere I can stay in relative privacy? All I require is a couch of some sort and a roof over our heads.”
Villin scratched his head again. “There’s the old stable,” he said doubtfully.