O Night Divine -  A holiday collection of spirited Christmas tales

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A MASTERPIECE OF HOLIDAY STORYTELLING...

Enjoy this stunning holiday collection from some of your favorite Dragonblade Publishing authors in this collection of never-before published seasonal tales!

Imagine, if you will, that it is Christmas Eve.

The candles are guttered, one by one, and a hush falls over the parlor. The children have gone to bed, and a tall, gloriously decorated Christmas tree looms in the shadows of the hearth’s dying embers. A tattered copy of Charles Dickens’ masterwork, “A Christmas Carol” sits, cold and lonely, upon a table nearby.

A small gust of wind, hurling from the seam of an ill-fitting window, blows the cover open. The first chapter appears… “Marley’s Ghost”…

The clock on the wall chimes midnight.

Now, the magic happens.

From the gaily bedecked halls of Regency England to the cold and crisp air of the Scottish Highlands, and everything in between, enjoy the magic of a holiday collection that has drawn inspiration from Charles Dickens’ most beloved literary works. Where the ghosts of Christmas, the incandescent spirit of a tiny disabled boy, and the joy that is the very heart of the Christmas season come alive.

USA Today and Internationally bestselling authors bring you their version of a Dickens’-inspired holiday in O NIGHT DIVINE.

Enjoy this excerpt from my story, Her Star from the East, featuring characters who first appeared in Pursued by the Rake, Season of Scandal Book 1... 

 

 

Chapter One

 

“Get out of my sight!” Emma raged.

Alice, the maid, spun on her heel and rushed from the room.

Emma snatched up the nearest object to hand to hurl after her, then froze, staring at the vase in her hand.  Joe and Hazel had bought it in Venice during their wedding trip. She lowered her hand, defeated. As quickly as it had sprung up, her rare burst of anger receded, leaving her frustrated and ashamed.

What is the matter with me? It’s Christmas, I am home at Brightoaks, and I have recently received a very flattering offer of marriage. Why should I be so bad-tempered?

Anger was one thing. Taking it out on a servant was another, especially on one who had been her playmate when they were children. Alice had only tried to persuade her to go to bed.

Emma set the beautiful vase back down on its table and strode around the drawing room in the hope the exercise would somehow shake off this discontent. Instead, the generously proportioned walls seemed to close in on her, trapping her in a life that was good, safe, and pleasing to her family.

With a gasp, she ran to the French windows and threw the door wide open. The cold air hit her with a welcome blast, though the dark, misty night was impenetrable and should have done little to ease her sense of confinement. She drew her shawl up over her shoulders and stepped out onto the terrace. From there, the ground sloped downward in a series of lawns and gardens that were distinctive and most pleasing to the eye in daylight. Shrouded in fog and darkness, they could have been anywhere. Or at any time.

That idea rather pleased her and she moved back into the room only to pick up her mother’s abandoned shawls on the sofa and wrap them around herself, too. As she walked out onto the terrace once more, the clock chimed from the gallery. Midnight.

 

It was Christmas Eve.

Every Christmas of her life had been spent in this house. She remembered only warmth and laughter, collecting holly and other greens and berries to decorate the hall, and the dining room and whichever other rooms they had chosen. Simple times, when her father had been alive and she and her siblings had run wild… Even later, when everyone began to grow up, and they had lost their father, the warmth remained. Her eldest brother Joe had always come home for Christmas when he was in the country. Even after marriage, her sister Roberta had dragged her husband and children here for Christmas. Only John had been absent for years when he had joined the army. But even he was back in recent times, invalided out after Waterloo. And now there was Hazel, Joe’s wife whom she loved, and their wild, eighteen month old son who smiled more than any child she had ever encountered.

Standing by the balustrade, she stared into the swirling, freezing dark, watching her breath stream out into it, and realized the sky was not quite opaque after all. She could not see the moon, but there was one star managing somehow to twinkle in a hazy kind of way. She smiled, working out that it shone to the east, like the star which had drawn the wise men to Bethlehem.

I could follow the star. It might lead me to Selim.

She closed her eyes. Don’t think of him. How can I agree to marry another man if I still dream of Selim?

 

It was beyond foolish. A man from a different country, a different faith, a friend of her brother Joe who had burst into her life more than two years ago, for a mere week. His dark eyes had sparkled much more brightly that the star up there. In fact, his whole person had seemed to shine, dashing, exotic and larger than life, full of fun and laughter. Selim, her rebellious Ottoman prince…

And then he had gone, and ever since, excitement had always seemed to be lacking.

She had enjoyed two London seasons now, broken hearts as she was meant to, and rejected more suitors than her mother felt she should. And now there was Lord Davitt, and she really though it was time to grow up and accept him.

 

It was a good match. And she liked him. Four-and-twenty years old to her nineteen, amiable, respectful, and amusing. She couldn’t have considered him if he wasn’t amusing.

She gazed up at the star, barely visible at all now, and tried to imagine next Christmas. Would the same star shine down on her here, then? When she was Lady Davitt, perhaps even a mother?

She closed her eyes, Oh yes, she could see it, the same family warmth, her own little baby admired by all, herself admitted into that upper rank of married women alongside her mother, Roberta and Hazel. Davitt would stand proudly at her side, while Hazel, holding Emma’s baby would glance over her shoulder at Joe, share one of those smiling, secret looks that only they understood. Emma would turn to Davitt…

Her eyes flew open. For that was where her vision failed. She could not imagine sharing those quick, intimate glances with Davitt. Between Joe and Hazel, even before they were married, there had always been some closeness, some illusive spark. A spark that did not ignite between her and Davitt.

My life will be dull.

Again, Prince Selim swam into her mind, as he often did, the ideal that no other man lived up to. An impossible ideal, more imagination than reality.

And yet, what if Selim had offered for her hand two and a half years ago? What if Joe had consented and she was now Selim’s wife? Would they be here at Brightoaks? Or in some far, distant land, where everything was new and different—the people’s dress and customs, the palaces and bath houses, the scents of spice and eastern perfume… And most of all Selim, holding her in his arms against this exotic background, kissing her with the passion she had always sensed but never tasted.

 

“That is madness,” she whispered aloud. “I would have lost all this.” There would be no Christmas among Muslims. And her view of Selim himself was surely distorted by time, some idealized version of a man she had barely known.

 

No, her future was with Davitt, a man she did know and like, and would come to love, surely in the weeks ahead.

 

Her gaze came back into focus on the place where the solitary star had been. It seemed to have vanished along with her foolish dreams—unless that it was that flash lower in the sky? If it even was sky. She could make out nothing in the freezing darkness except her own breath and odd swirls of mist that almost seemed to glisten. And the light approaching from the east, moving closer like a shooting star or a soul falling to earth.

She smiled at the fantasy. More likely it was a lantern light, although who would be outdoors and moving so quickly across the country in such weather, she could not imagine.

She dragged her gaze away, and thought instead of Alice, to whom she had been unkind. Especially since the girl’s father was in financial trouble, and could barely feed his family, let alone pay his rent. It was Alice, not Emma, who had more right to ill-humor.

Emma sighed and turned away. She would apologize to Alice tomorrow, for one should never be mean to servants who could not answer back.

A strange clank drifted eerily out of the mist, at once echoing and muffled, like some ghostly clanking of chains in the Gothic romances she loved. It came again, causing her to spin around, every hair on her neck standing up in alarm. She shivered with sudden chills that had nothing to do with the cold.

One hand reached blindly for the door, while she peered into the darkness for the source of the noise. A figure materialized in the mist, sitting on the stone balustrade that ran around the terrace.

 

Her breath caught, for his shape was weirdly reminiscent of the man she had just been remembering. A curved scimitar hung by his side. A fearsome, Turkish weapon.

No. No, it cannot be…

All content Copyright Mary Lancaster, 2017.

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