Read UnexpectedChristmas Online
Authors: Jean Hart Stewart
At first glance Caro may look like
a simple school teacher, but a painful past gives her a wary edge. When a
fierce snowstorm strands her with the all too handsome Lord Sebastian Trantern,
caution is swept away by heavy winds of passion. Caro surrenders her body but
the secrets within her heart mean that nothing can ever come of their fledgling
Sebastian isn’t willing to let
three blissful days be all he will ever have of Caro. He must convince her that
they can find happiness, even if she doesn’t think it’s possible—and Christmas
might give him the perfect opportunity to do so.
erotic Regency-era historical romance
from Ellora’s Cave
late husband, whose constant encouragement and love are with me daily.
She peered out the window of the hired carriage and chewed
on the finger of one ragged glove. She’d have it in shreds soon if she didn’t
stop her fretting.
The storm was growing worse, now so violent that the snow
beat against the isinglass window. The wind buffeted the carriage and she
shivered, huddling under her inadequate cloak, wondering how the poor coachman
was faring in such an exposed position.
Snow fell relentlessly, sheets of white, daunting in its
intensity. Caro was beginning to wonder if they’d reach Bath and the school
that night. Perhaps she should have started a day earlier but she’d never imagined
such a storm. Christmas might be only three weeks away but the weather had been
deceptively mild up to now.
She should have taken December’s uncertain weather into
account. Heaven knows it hadn’t been pleasure keeping her from starting out
earlier. Her aunts’ delight at seeing her almost made her boredom worthwhile.
They were both darlings but they had no idea of the difficulties their favorite
niece struggled with and she didn’t intend to tell them. She’d listened to
their small village chatter with patience. She assured them over and over she
was lucky to have her teaching job at Miss Adam’s Academy for Select Girls, and
how she loved it.
Caro wouldn’t think of confessing that actually she hated
every minute of it but without it she truly didn’t know what she’d do.
She gave up trying to keep the window clear enough to see
anything but the pelting snow and leaned back against the barely padded squabs
of the hired coach. She hadn’t dared travel on the public coach. It would
expose her to too much familiarity with the other occupants, and also reveal
her precarious financial situation if anyone connected to the academy happened
to see her. The cost of this wretched carriage had taken her last savings.
Trying not to worry, she settled back. Surely the storm
would not continue much longer. The coach she’d engaged was drawn by rather
ugly horses but at least they looked strong.
She took one last look out the window. The cold moon,
drifting through an unfeeling sky, shone dimly through the still-heavily
falling snow. Suppressing a quiver of fright she resolved not to count her
money again. She knew well how little she had. Being forced to spend a night at
an inn would beggar her.
The coach jerked to a halt and the driver jumped down from
his perch to come speak to her. Snow coating his beard and his moustache, he
shook his head. Even his heavy eyebrows were frosted.
“Miss, we will have to stop soon. My horses can’t go much
farther, pulling against these heavy drifts. There’s an inn coming up ahead and
I’m going to pull in there.”
“Please, sir, I’m most concerned about reaching my
destination. Is there no chance of continuing?”
She hated the pleading tone in her voice, knowing all the
while it did no good. The driver shook his head.
“I’m sorry, miss, but it will be much worse if we get stuck
in a drift and freeze to death. I’m pulling in.”
His decisive statement told Caroline there was no use
arguing. She shut her eyes. Pray heaven it was not an expensive inn.
* * * * *
Her worries escalated to a different dimension at her first
sight of the inn. Small, dilapidated and almost forlorn, it looked like a place
needing rescue itself. As they drew nearer she saw the stable to the rear of
the inn was quite small, and she could hear the noise blasting from the
taproom. The patronage must be local and hadn’t minded trudging through the
heavy drifts now stacking against the sides of the buildings.
At least the bedrooms would be small and hopefully
affordable. A sudden thought paled her distressed face. What if there were no
Her driver helped her down and then turned back to his
horses. She flexed her straight, stiff shoulders and opened the door to the
A roar of boisterous voices greeted her, buffeting her back
for an instant. Trying not to look too horrified, she looked around for the
innkeeper. Evidently he was also the tender of the bar, as he pushed himself
around two loud red-faced yokels to come stand in front of her.
He was barely civil as he looked her up and down. Caro
flushed. She knew he’d find nothing impressive in her serviceable bonnet and
wrap. She must look like a servant to him. Still she was not prepared for his
“Go back from wherever you came from, girl. I don’t need
your kind coming in and exciting the bunch of louts in here. If you value your
safety, just go. I’ll not try to protect you if you come any farther.”
Dismayed, Caro stood silent. What would she do if he refused
her shelter? Go sleep in the carriage and perhaps freeze to death?
A deep voice sounded from a gentleman who’d turned at the
foot of the stairs.
“But I will protect her, landlord. She’s a friend of my
sister’s. I’d be obliged if you treat her as the lady she is.”
She could not imagine how she’d missed him, even though he’d
been in the shadows. He was so very big. Tall, with broad shoulders that his
five-caped greatcoat emphasized. It hung unbuttoned and she could see a coat of
deep red and a glimpse of a silvery vest. He was holding a beaver hat in one
hand and she guessed there were many doors he’d have trouble clearing if he
wore it. Probably quite a few even bareheaded. His hair was dark, worn on the
long side, and looked wonderfully thick and soft. Clear-cut features and
penetrating eyes, though it was too dark to see the color.
Just as she was about to disclaim any acquaintance she
realized he was trying to help. For her benefit or his? This was a member of
the aristocracy, she had no doubt, so surely she’d be of no interest to him. As
handsome and rich as he was, he had only to cock an eyebrow to have any girl he
But then she was available and probably a place like this
had few barmaids. At least not clean ones. She hesitated, unsure what to do. If
she didn’t let him help her, who would?
He suddenly moved and took her arm. Turning to the innkeeper,
he spoke in an aristocratic tone.
“Please have a room prepared immediately. I will see her
safely to it while you ready a tray for her dinner to be served in her room.”
The innkeeper was practically wringing his hands.
“My lord, we only have two bedrooms. You have one and a
young man on the way back to Oxford has the other. Even he gives up his room,
this lady’s coachman will have to keep going. The stable is full.”
The gentleman’s voice grew even icier. “She will have to
stay here until the storm lets up. You inform the coachman he must continue to
wherever he can find room. I’ll take care of the young gentleman. Where is he
“In the bar, sir. He’s just a young sprig but I think he has
some rank in the world.”
“Miss Manchester can wait in my room while I deal with the
fellow. In the meantime, set his baggage in the hall. Miss Manchester will be
in the room waiting for her meal. Do not keep her waiting overlong.”
Without another word he took her elbow in a tight grip and
guided her to the stairs and up to the next floor. A frisson shook her when he
touched her arm and she raised startled eyes to his stern profile. He made no
sign of noticing her reaction and, blushing, she went with him. If not meekly,
still with brain whirling as she considered what to do.
What choice did she have?
At least if he ravished her it would be better than one of
the drunken oafs downstairs. She had no illusions the innkeeper would lift an
eyebrow to save her. Rape would be marginally better than freezing inside the
At least she thought it would be.
She shivered from head to toe as her companion halted before
a door. She was so very tired. So many worries had worn her down. She could see
nothing but a dreary life ahead. She had no hope left and she’d not slept soundly
All she wanted to do was sleep.
Maybe she could even sleep through being ravished if he was
not too rough.
Alarmed at his unexpected companion’s pallor, Sebastian
pulled her inside the room he’d secured for himself and pushed her onto a straight
chair. Not that there was anything more comfortable in the room. Well, there
was one shabby armchair but it would swallow her, slight as she was. She was
exhausted. No way could she go on to an uncertain destination.
“Stay there. This is my room but I want to check the other
one. If it’s smaller I’ll move my things next door.”
He paused, searching her expression and recognizing the fear
she was trying to suppress, let out a mild oath and kneeled before her.
“See here, miss whatever you real name is, I’m not about to
defile you. That’s what I’m trying to save you from.”
Her pallor had quite frightened him. He pushed her head to
her knees and held her there until she started to struggle. He kept her bent
over until she suddenly kicked out at him, catching him hard on one shin.
“You little spitfire! Behave.”
He let her free, smiling a little at his aching shin. He
need not worry about her having enough spirit to see this miserable night
“Now don’t move or I’ll not be responsible for your safety.
I’m going to deal with the young gentleman who has the room next door. I
promise you, if you try to leave this room you’ll be one sorry young lady. If
those louts below don’t punish you, I will.”
He strode to the door and then turned back.
“Lock the door behind me.”
He left, although part of his senses stayed back in the
Those gorgeous eyes. Widened no doubt by fright but of an
unusual blue-purple and framed by luxurious lashes. Her eyes alone would cause
any male not in his grave to want to grab her to him. It was a glimpse of those
eyes that had induced his uncharacteristic gallantry.
A gallantry he hoped he didn’t regret. He’d see she had a
place to sleep and then tomorrow they’d each go their own way, so he need have
no qualms about repercussions.
She was merely a female in need of protection. What kind of
female he didn’t yet know, nor would he. It was a damn nuisance to be caught in
this travesty of an inn. All because he’d developed a migraine and grabbed the
first chance he’d seen to rest his pounding head. He regretted he’d insisted on
driving his curricle from London to his manor in the Cotswolds. The curricle
was not the best of carriages in a snowstorm.
Definitely not the wisest decision he’d ever made. At least
he’d sent his valet off with Trujax and Suleiman to find a better stabling for
his horses and hopefully for Bates. He’d been up all night the night before and
thought he’d take what rest his migraine would allow. He grinned at the thought
of the pretty brunette who’d kept him up, and smiled at the double meaning.
He hadn’t made good decisions lately.
Or had he? What had happened to his migraine?
* * * * *
As he’d expected, the young sprig of nobility who’d rented
the second bedroom was only too glad to make a sizeable profit on giving up his
room. Sebastian fixed his stare on him even as he handed over the amount they’d
“If I find you wagering this with these oafs, I’ll feel
obligated to rescue you. I won’t be gentle with you if it comes to that. I’d
advise you to get your things and go find a quiet spot to sleep. I’ll be most
upset do you not.”
Evidently Sebastian’s bearing and impeccable appearance
impressed the young man more than his glower, as he looked at Sebastian with
almost hero worship.
“I say. You’re a cool one, aren’t you? Whom do I have the
honor of addressing?”
Sebastian snorted with a grin that would have alerted any of
his acquaintances. Sebastian did not often reach the end of his fabled aplomb
but when he did everyone in the vicinity scattered.
“I’m Trantern, the Earl of Stanford. I do not care to know
your name. You’re an idiotic nodcock if you do anything but try to grab some
sleep and get out of this damnable excuse for an inn. Now go to the stables
where the hay will keep you halfway warm. I do not expect to see you come
The young man nodded, his eyes filled with admiration as he
watched Sebastian stride away. Lord above, he’d never seen such well-fitting
clothes. Was it Weston or had Stanford found a different tailor? Was it
significant he wore only one ring, and that one not jeweled but his signet?
Perhaps he should cut down on his own jewelry a little.
What a lucky happenstance to actually meet the renowned
lord. Tales of his amorous exploits could easily be believed when one looked at
that magnificent physique. With a happy sigh, he grabbed the blankets the lord
had handed him and made his blissful way to the stables. What a tale he’d have
to tell when he got back to Oxford.
How his mates would envy him.
Stanford, by god.
Sebastian made his weary way back to the second floor. The
little mouse was sitting exactly where he’d left her. Prepared to blast her for
not locking the door, he instead found himself looking almost fondly at her
still straight spine, although her head was against the chair back and she was
Blast it to hell, she must have been more than exhausted to
sleep in such a position. Her horrible hat had fallen from her head and lay on
the floor. Mesmerized, he stared at her golden tresses, bound tightly and
pinned into a knot at the top of her head. Dear lord above, he’d never seen
such a glorious color. There must a good deal of it, according to the size of
the bun. He’d already seen her splendid eyes.
Feeling his penis stiffen and expand, he stopped himself
from stroking that tempting hair. This was ridiculous. He didn’t even know her
name. One thing he did know, she was no lightskirt he could spend the night
with and then pay off and leave. Her face had a purity he could not mistake.