Thursday, December 13, 2012

This is the second part of The Christmas King a story that began on “A Historical Christmas Eve” on Ramblings From This Chick on December 12, 2012. If you haven’t read it yet, you can see part one at 

I should mention that this story is dedicated to Danielle Gorman, the wonderful Chick herself, for without her, it wouldn’t have been written at all, or probably even thought of. Her annual Christmas Scene project, along with fellow blogger Not Another Romance Blog, is so much fun to be part of. Check out other scenes from other wonderful historical romance authors on both sites between now and Christmas. 

I’ll post more parts of the story over the next few weeks, some every few days, until we reach happy ever after (and Merry Christmas) at last. Sigh.

Be warned—there’s a song to go with this, all about Christmas at my house. Here’s the first verse, and then, the story. See you again in a few days!

A Labrador with a bad knee

Ah, Kipper, my chocolate lab, my companion, my exercise coach, my funniest, most charming friend—and one of the seven great dogs, if you’ve seen the movie Dean Spanley (a must for dog lovers). He’s the first dog I, a confirmed cat person, have ever had. I never expected to love him so much, but there it is. I am every bit as much a dog person now. Oh, Kipper has his flaws—food allergies, fear of thunder, windy nights and vacuum cleaners, and a tendency to have truly horrible gas in company—but he’s family, one of us, one of the cats, even, and we love his good points and his not so good points.

What would Christmas be without someone in the family getting sick? A few years ago, Kipper tore the ligaments in his left knee, and needed surgery. The vet told us 30% of labs eventually need surgery on the other knee, and Kipper, being a high achiever, made that top percentage. It’s the hockey ball, you see. He’ll go through hell, high water, or concrete walls to retrieve it, which is hard on the joints, but so much fun. The definition of happiness is a lab with a hockey ball, a willing human to throw it, and a long field to chase it in.

But this time, just this week, in fact, Kipper’s routine pre-surgery blood tests showed problems with his liver. It meant that he might be unable to have the operation, and I was afraid he’d never be able to run, never mind walk, again. It meant more blood work to look deeper into the liver issues. There was talk of possibly needing to do a biopsy, or an ultrasound if the tests came back with negative results. Those were twenty-four very anxious hours, waiting to hear. My biggest Christmas wish was just for Kipper to just be okay.

All is well, at least for now, I’m pleased to say. Kipper will only require medication for now. After Christmas, a traveling veterinary surgeon named Neil will visit our clinic and do surgery on Kipper’s right knee. After a few months of recovery, he’ll be chasing his ball down the trail again, the wind in his ears, the grass brushing his flanks, in total bliss.

Don’t tell him, but he’s getting a brand new hockey ball for Christmas, not to use now, but as a sign of hope and the blessing of good days to come.

If nothing else, cherish the ones you love this Christmas, because we never know what next year might bring. Hoping it brings you joy, peace, and love, along with a miracle or two.

By Lecia Cornwall


Celyn woke when Mrs. Jones waved the smelling salts under her nose, and the beams that crossed the ceiling of the library slowly came into focus. Louisa was perched on the edge of the settee beside her, rubbing the pulse-point at her wrist. Arabella was in ensconced in a chair by the fire, wrapped in a red velvet robe, regarding Celyn with her usual regal air of vague confusion. The earl was nowhere to be seen.
She’d imagined him.
She sighed with relief, and a touch of disappointment. Her tired brain had conjured him out of snow, frosty air, and overwork. He was a product of wishful thinking, and not having eaten a thing since breakfast. She rubbed a hand over her eyes.
Settling the villagers in the castle was proving to be a huge task, especially with the preparations for Christmas to be managed as well. Everyone needed a place to sleep, and she was pulling down curtains in some rooms to cover everyone properly. There were the sick and elderly to tend to, and those burned by the fire. And the children—they seemed to be everywhere, underfoot and overhead, needing constant minding. Add to all that the problem of keeping everyone fed, and surely it was enough to make anyone to see invisible earls, and to drive them the floor in a dead faint.
Still, he’d been handsome, her imagined earl, in a forbidding, aristocratic kind of way. She shut her eyes and tried to re-imagine him, but all she saw was darkness. Perhaps she could fall asleep and dream of him. She forced her eyes open. How foolish! She still had things to do and had to get up at once. She moved to sit up, and felt a firm hand on her shoulder.
“Stay where you are, if you please. I have no desire to catch you again.”
Her heart stopped beating.
He was behind her, and he must be real—she could feel the heat of his hand through her gown. Arabella was smiling at someone behind her. Louisa was gazing up at him besottedly. Mrs. Jones was regarding him with suspicion.
She turned slowly. There he was, as real as she was. “Dear God, you’re real!” she cried, and clapped her hand over her lips at the rude outburst. 
He gazed down at her as if she were daft.
She pulled away from his grip. “I’m perfectly fine now, your lordship,” she said crisply, though he began to dissolve in a shimmer of stars as she tried to stand up. She swallowed a gasp of dismay at her weakness, especially now, and remained seated.
“I doubt that. I have five sisters, and I know a hysterical female when I see one. Bring her a glass of sherry,” he ordered the room in general, his eyes never leaving hers.
Celyn blinked first. He was sparkling. Melted snow bejeweled his golden hair, making it curl against his forehead. The firelight made a kind of halo around him, and for a moment, she fervently believed he was indeed the answer to a wish, or an angel, perhaps. But no angel would look so annoyed—and pompous. Were angels pompous? Nor would an angel need shaving, and sleep, if the rings under his eyes were any indication. Panic rose in her chest. Why had he chosen now to arrive, when everything was in chaos? Why hadn’t he come last month, or next month for that matter? She clenched her fists in her lap.
“I’m not hysterical!” she squeaked, and swallowed.
She watched doubt move into his eyes—grey eyes, like the snow-filled sky—along with a touch of irritation that she had dared to dispute his pronouncement. She knew instantly that he was a man used to being obeyed.
“I’m not hysterical,” she said again, more insistently, an octave lower, but she still sounded hysterical, even to her own ears, and everyone else, apparently—Mrs. Jones loomed with the smelling salts, and Celyn waved her away. Louisa pressed a glass of sherry into her hand, filled to the very brim. Celyn set it down carefully on the table, as if drinking it would confirm his diagnosis. “That’s not necessary, your lordship,” she said, but he picked up the drink and put it back in her hand, his fingers wrapping hers around the delicate glass stem and holding them there, as if she were an incapable child. My, but his hands were warm, and strong, and very large.
“Drink it,” he commanded. “It will do you good.”
Her mouth watered, and not entirely due to the sherry. She took a sip to oblige him.
“More,” he ordered, and she took another, slightly larger swallow, and felt the sherry blaze a trail down her throat to her empty stomach.
He continued to stare at her until she took yet another gulp of the sweet liquid. Only then did he release her to manage the last sips on her own. She stared into the treacle-brown liquid.
 What must he be thinking? He’d walked into a madhouse, that’s what. It was not the calm, well-tended impression she’d planned to give him when he finally arrived. She felt her cheeks heat, her stomach tensing even as the sherry warmed her insides. She wondered if her hair had come loose from its pins, or her gown had a spot on it somewhere, or her face was smudged with dust. She resisted the urge to smooth a hand over her cheek to check.
“I am quite well, thank you, my lord,” she said, hoping he’d turn his unsettling gaze away from her. Her heart was beating fast, but surely that was due to the sherry, rather than him. “I—we—are simply surprised that you chose tonight to arrive, in a snowstorm, and after so many months.”
“I’m not surprised at all!” Louisa chirped. Celyn sent her a quelling look.
“Would you like more sherry, dear, or a dram or two of Caradoc’s wonderful whisky, perhaps?” Arabella asked. “You still look terribly pale. It’s the shock of meeting royalty for the first time. Many people faint, as I recall.”
“Tight stays,” he murmured, and Celyn wondered if she’d heard him aright.
“No, she’s overcome with love,” Louisa sighed. Celyn felt her skin flush anew. She’d rather discuss stays than love. He was staring at her again. No doubt he wanted an explanation. She set her glass aside and got to her feet before anyone could stop her. She felt the room sway, as much from the effects of the drink as from the strain of the day, now. And his disturbing presence surely had something to do with the way her stomach was fluttering. He stepped closer, holding out a steadying hand as if he expected her to topple over again. He was so close she could smell the damp wool of his coat, see the crest on the gold buttons. He had a small scar on his chin…She stepped away, and skirted the settee, putting it between them, and using it, rather than the earl, for support.
 “Mrs. Jones, his lordship will no doubt join us for supper. Please see that a place is set. Louisa, take Arabella upstairs, then ask Catrin to see that the Earl’s chambers are prepared. Light the fire, and ask Davy—”
“Davy’s out looking for firewood,” Louisa said, still gazing at the earl with moon-eyes. “And Catrin is helping to put the children to bed.”
“Children?” the earl demanded, and there was no mistaking the horror in his tone. Celyn felt her stomach knot. What if he didn’t like children? The castle was overrun with them!  
“Then go and find Phoebe to help, and Aled,” she said in a breathless rush, and sent everyone out.
 She turned to the earl when the door shut. The faint crack and pop of the fire was the only sound for a moment. She clasped her hands and began. “There was a fire, you see, in the village, just two nights past. There was nowhere else to put the tenants, so they’re here, at the castle, with their children, and of course it’s—different—than it usually is.” She was babbling. She took a deep breath and clutched the back of the settee.  He really did have the most invasive stare—as if he could see through her skin, read the thoughts in her head through her skull. “We don’t usually have—” she paused, swallowed. “We, um, weren’t expecting you.”
“Then I assume that—”
A knock on the door interrupted. “Come!” they both issued the order at the same time.
A burly man Celyn didn’t know entered, clad in snow-covered livery, with Aled hard on his heels.
“My lord, there’s problem—” he began, but Aled stepped in front of him.
“Celyn, this chap’s wanting to throw the livestock out into the snow!”
Celyn shut her eyes. Of course. There were cows in the stable, and pigs, and ponies. Dogs, too. There was no room for his lordship’s coach and horses.
“I think—” she started, but the earl stepped in front of her.
“Can the steward not deal with this, Childs? Surely it is on his orders that there are farm animals in the stable in the first place,” he said calmly, taking charge.
She watched the coachman’s eyes swing toward her, the question clear in his eyes. No doubt someone had told him she was the person who had given the orders. She swallowed.  “Aled, put his lordship’s coach in the smithy. The pigs and the lambs can go in the tack room.”
“What about the cows? Do high-bred horses get on with cows?”
“Certainly not!” Childs snapped at him. “Don’t cows belong outdoors?”
Aled looked at him as if he were daft. “Not in the dead of winter!”
Celyn racked her brain. “The old tower will do for the cows. Put down some straw and bring them inside.”
“Inside the castle?” the earl asked quietly. “With the villagers? And children?”
Celyn’s face flamed, and she licked her lips, tasting the sherry on them, and suddenly wished for more. Didn’t men drink for courage? “It is an unused part of the old castle, my lord,” she said.
He turned to the servants. “See to it,” he said, his tone quiet and commanding. The coachman bowed at once, spun on his heel and withdrew. Even Aled jumped to attention, and followed. 
Wintercross folded his arms over his chest, and stared into the fire for a moment, looking for all the world as if he were puzzling out a problem. 
“Why did the steward not deal with that matter?” he asked. “What’s his name, Colin Beauchamp, I believe?”
She clasped her hands at her waist. “It’s Celyn, she said faintly, and he scowled at the contradiction. She swallowed. “There is no steward at Collingwood at present. Well, there’s Aled, but he’s—” She paused, and lifted her chin. “It was my decision,” she said. “I’m Celyn Beauchamp.” She held out a hand to him, but he merely stared at it, and she tucked it into the folds of her skirt.
His eyes traced a path from her hairline to her hemline and back again. He indicated that she should sit with a wave of his hand, and she ignored him, stood straight-backed behind the settee.
“I trust you’re the housekeeper, then?” He sat himself, as he might in the presence of a mere servant, taking the large armchair by the fire that Caradoc had used. He steepled his hands against his chin and regarded her soberly.
She looked away. “Of a sort,” she hedged.
“A maid or a governess?” he tried again.
She shook her head.
“A companion to Lady Arabella? A relation, perhaps?” He rose to his feet again on the assumption she was a lady after all, and leaned against the mantle. The firelight emphasized the lean length of his legs, the shine on his polished boots.
Celyn bit her lip. Was there a way to explain who she was without giving away the secret Caradoc had charged her with keeping? He’d made her swear on the holy relic in the church. Of course, the church, and the relic, had burned to ash in the fire, but the secret still had to be kept.  She raised her chin. “I am—simply the person Caradoc left in charge when he died.”
“Why you?” he asked.
She gripped the folds of her skirt more tightly, felt the prickle of the wool between her fingers. “Well, there was no one else. Aled was the steward, twenty years ago, but he’s growing old. I suppose I simply took charge, since I was Caradoc’s —” she paused as his expression changed from one of haughty inquiry to smug knowing. Her breath caught in her throat. What was he thinking?
He glanced up at Caradoc’s portrait and back at her. She watched one eyebrow slowly rise. “I see,” he said, and sat down again.
She felt her cheeks burning again—her whole body—at the rude assumption written clearly in his eyes. She straightened her spine. “I was his ward.” She stumbled a little over the word, and his smug look only deepened. “I keep the books, organize the staff, and since the former housekeeper died several years ago and a suitable replacement couldn’t be found, and our steward is not a young man, I see to those duties as well.”
The smirk simmered on his face. He obviously didn’t believe a word. She clasped her hands together to keep from slapping him for his audacity. Caradoc’s leman, his mistress? Could anything be farther from the truth? 
“Shall we simply describe you as chatelaine, perhaps? Keeper of the keys? It’s an old French term,” he drawled. She felt anger mount.
“I know what it means!”
“And in addition to the local peasantry, have you seen fit to take in more ladies like Arabella and Louisa?” he asked pointedly.
“Ladies like—?” she drew a breath. “They aren’t mad, if that’s what you’re suggesting!” That was one supposition she could most certainly correct. “Lady Arabella is Caradoc’s cousin, widow of an English baron. Louisa and her sister Phoebe are her granddaughters. Caradoc took them all in when the girls’ parents died. They are young ladies, and Phoebe is of an age to be married.”
That word wiped the smirk from his handsome face. In fact, it was replaced with an expression of sheer horror. What on earth was he thinking now?
She raised her chin. “This is not a brothel, my lord, or a madhouse. It is an estate, with ordinary people who need guidance and assistance, just like any other estate, I assume. You needn’t worry. Caradoc left dowries for all thr—for both girls.”
 “And Lady Arabella?” he asked.
She hadn’t considered until that moment that it was well within his rights to turn them all out, including Arabella, despite her age and poor health. Her stomach knotted. “Arabella is too old and —infirm—to marry again. She had no kin other than ourselves, and I suppose, you, as well. This has been her home for a dozen years.  She was once at court as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Charlotte. She still lives in those days, mostly.”
“Which is meant to explain, I suppose, why she thought I was the king?” he asked.
Her heart sank a little, and she managed to nod. She held her breath, waiting for him to ask why Louisa believed a magic spell had brought him here.
He didn’t. He studied her for a moment before he glanced up at Caradoc’s portrait again. “I never met Lord Colley. He was a distant relation of my mother’s, which is why I inherited the place.”
She regarded him as he looked at the portrait. He was tall, broad shouldered, and lean, a handsome man. He held her fate—and the fate of every soul at Collingwood in his manicured hands. She tucked her own ragged fingers behind her back as he turned to her.
 “Can I hope that the earl’s apartments are at least empty of other guests, even if they are not ready for me?”
She hadn’t allowed anyone to go into that room since she’d had it prepared for his arrival months ago. It would simply require fresh sheets and a fire, and he could move right in. “Your rooms—and the entire castle—have been ready for your arrival for many months, my lord,” she said. “We simply had no idea when to expect you.” She was repeating herself. She bit her lip.
“Just not tonight,” he said, parroting what she’d said earlier, mocking her, perhaps, but he did it with a smile that made her heart flutter.
Suddenly she could smell pine, hear bells ringing. Was it really Christmas magic that had brought him here? It made her feel dizzy, almost giddy with hope, the way Christmas was supposed to. 
“Firewood,” Davy Price said, carrying an armload of fragrant pine logs into the room.
“And tea,” said Mrs. Jones, the best china ringing like bells on the tray.
“Oh,” Celyn murmured. Her heart lost its wings and plummeted back to earth. “Thank you.” She touched a hand to her collar, straightening the lace there. How silly she was being! She reminded herself that it was overwork, tiredness and worry. It had nothing to do with the earl, or the fact that he was handsome, and here, at long last. What she needed was a moment alone to gather her thoughts, organize things, comb her hair.
She drew a calming breath and turned to face Wintercross. His brows lifted imperiously as he waited for her to speak. She felt her cheeks heat and her voice threatened to dessert her. She straightened her spine and looked him straight in the chin. “If you’ll take a cup of tea, my lord, and—“ she looked at the tray— “and some of Mrs. Jones’s excellent gingerbread, I will see that your rooms are prepared for you.” She paused on the verge of asking him how long he intended to stay. This was, after all, his house, and he could stay as long as he pleased.
She dipped a curtsy and hurried out before he could stop her. Would it have been better if she’d waited to be dismissed? She hurried up the stairs. She wasn’t a servant. She was—well, nobody really. Caradoc had made her promise, insisted the secret go to the grave with him, and herself, when the time came.
What would Caradoc done if he’d known Wintercross would arrive and imagine the worst thing imaginable about her, about Caradoc himself? He’d probably laugh. He’d had a way of seeing the humor in everything, of taking whatever came and making the best of it.
Change had arrived on the doorstep, and everything she knew and loved might be taken from her, from Arabella and the girls, from Collingwood itself? In the sobering chill of the corridor, she laid a hand on her cheek, felt the heat there. She told herself it was from standing too near the fire, from not eating, from the sherry, but she knew it was not that at all.
It was him.


Edward was aware of Mrs. Jones’s eyes on him as she poured his tea. “So you’re the new earl,” she said. “One lump or two?”
“Two. And you’re the cook.”
“I am. Milk?”
“No, but I will take some gingerbread,” Edward said, and noted a slight softening of her tight lips as she placed an amber colored square of cake on a plate. She handed it to him with pride clear in her eyes.
“You’ll like that,” she said gruffly, more of a guarantee than a recommendation.
He took the plate. “Who will cook when your baby comes?” he asked. He noticed that her knuckles were burned, and he wondered if it were from her duties as cook, which did not bode well for his dinner, or from the fire Celyn had mentioned.
She brushed her hand over her belly. “Oh, I shan’t take more than a day or two, then I’ll be back. Celyn will cook for us.”
Celyn again. Did the woman do everything?
He turned to the man he assumed was Davy Price, since he came bearing firewood. He was stacking the logs by the huge medieval fireplace, and watching Edward out of the corner of his eye. “And what’s your position here?” Edward asked him.
“Me? I help Celyn, and Aled,” he said bluntly.
“Aled the steward?” Edward asked, sipping his tea, and taking a forkful of gingerbread. He resisted the urge to close his eyes and savor the moment. Warm spices and the taste of honey filled his mouth. It was the best thing he’d tasted in days, weeks, or perhaps ever. Mrs. Jones’s gingerbread was even better than the one made by his stepmother’s famous chef, who had been wooed away from the household of a French duke at great expense.
Davy Price chuckled as he placed a log on the fire. Sparks crackled and shimmied up the chimney as the snow melted. “Aled? Oh, he was Lord Collingwood’s steward some years back. Now he just helps Celyn with what he can. She was the one who suggested that the earl should make him the huntsman when the post of steward got to be too much for him, but he can’t even do that well now, though Celyn won’t let anyone tell him so. Aled has his pride, and we respect that. He just can’t see as well as he once did. Hardly shoots anything.”
Edward set the cup back in the saucer. “Should I assume Celyn does the hunting, too?” He looked around at the array of antlers that decorated the walls. There were two, no, three dozen sets of them, and imagined the lady with a bow, or perhaps the old fowling piece mounted above the door, her pretty eyes fixed on her prey, her lush lower lip caught in her teeth.
Mrs. Jones and Davy chuckled. “Celyn? No. She couldn’t hurt a fly, though I daresay if she had to, she’d take down a rhinophant with her bare hands to keep everyone fed,” Davy chuckled.
“You mean an elephant?” Edward asked.
“’Zactly so,” Davy replied matter-of-factly. “There’s pictures of it the creature in one of the books here. She used it to teach me to read. She’d face a bear or even a wolf if she had to, Celyn would.” 
Edward pondered that. He could almost imagine it. Celyn Beauchamp was fragile, fierce, and capable. Exactly what was wanted in a good steward. Well, except the fragile part. A good steward did not faint. A chatelaine might, though. Or a mistress, used to the pampered care and attention of a doting protector. He shut out the new image of Celyn, her eyes closed, her lips parted as he seduced her. Warning bell clanged in his head, but it was simply the mantle clock, chiming seven.
“How many people are here in the castle at present?” Best to confine himself to facts and figures, but that brought Celyn’s figure to mind. She was slender, her curves gentle, yet her strength was evident, especially in the eyes of the people here.
Mrs. Jones rolled her eyes up to consider. “Near to sixty souls, I imagine. Good folk, all of ‘em. If you’ll excuse me, my lord, they’ll be wanting to be fed too, and I’d best get back to the kitchen.” She hesitated a moment, and he wondered if she had something else to say, but she bobbed an awkward curtsy instead. Davy had to catch her arm and help her back up, and Mrs. Jones patted her belly as she lumbered out with Davy at her heels.
Edward sat in the quiet of Collingwood’s library. It was a rustic room, to be sure, but pleasant enough. It was exactly how he’d pictured the place. There was a large selection of books, though how good they were would require closer examination in daylight. If Arabella was to be believed, old Caradoc had kept a stock of good whisky somewhere, too.  He was considering where he might look for it when a loud thump at the window surprised him. He crossed to look outside.
Four boys were throwing snowballs at each other on the lawn, though it was dark now. He could hear their exuberant cries through the glass. They didn’t even have coats on, but they were taking joy in the freshly fallen snow. He recalled watching his half brother and cousins play in the snow at Kingscott. He, Edward, had been too old to join them, and as the heir to the dukedom, too full of the importance of his position. Watching these boys now, he felt the same bite of regret he’d felt then.
A long yellow shaft of light shot across the blue snow, and the Celyn appeared in a doorway, her slim figure wrapped in an apron that surely would have gone around even Mrs. Jones twice. She beckoned the boys inside, and they waved at her, called for her to come out, and for a moment her face lit with mischief, and she took a step forward, stooping to build a snowball of her own. As she drew her arm back tot throw it, she caught sight of him in the window. Edward watched as her eyes widened, and her smile faded. She dropped the snowball, and stepped back, and waited while the boys filed past her into the house, ruffling their hair as they passed, brushing the snow off their shoulders. As the door shut, Edward felt exactly as he had as a child, shut out of the fun, the best part of Christmas. He stood where he was and stared out at the snow for a long moment, then turned back to the fire. He’d find a book, and look for Caradoc’s whisky and enjoy his solitude.


  1. So good. I'm glad to hear Kipper will be able to have his surgery. Funny how you have a male dog named Kipper and I'm familiar with a female black dog named Kipper.

    Can't wait for more of the story. :)

    1. Kipper was born here in Calgary in 2004, the year the Calgary Flames nearly won the Stanley Cup. We actually named him for the Scottish breakfast fish, cause he was small and brown, but that year, EVERYBODY named their dog Kipper, mostly for the Flames star goalie, Mikka Kiprusoff. Ahem. I am an Ottawa Senators fan, and my husband still cheers for the Leafs (misguided of him, but true).

      Glad you're enjoying the story! More on Monday!

    2. Wow! To be honest I live in the states and know nothing of Hockey, but I can understand the obsession. I have a similar one with American Football. I think my step mom named Kipper after the Scottish breakfast fish for the same reasons. :)