He’s running from his past; she’s running from her future. But on a snowy winter night, they find each other and the surprising gift of love.
Sir Nicholas has given up on marriage. These days he’s content to captain his friend’s troops and avoid entanglements—until one winter night when he rescues a half-frozen woman from a snowstorm. Her irrepressible spirit and kindness to others reminds him that all ladies aren’t like his former intended, who wed his brother while Nick was on crusade. But he can’t open his heart to Lady Clare. She’s bound to another, and Nick won’t forfeit his honor. Even if she were free, he has nothing to offer but love, and this lady deserves everything.
Lady Clare’s dying grandfather has arranged her betrothal, but the arrival of the man she’s to wed sends her fleeing into a snowstorm. Injured when her horse stumbles, she’s rescued by a mysterious knight. She recovers at his run-down manor, safe at last—until her betrothed tracks her down two days before Christmas. Trapped at home with the wedding imminent, she longs for the winter knight she’s come to love.
Only a miracle can bring Clare and Nick together. But at Christmas, anything is possible.
The strange horse fidgeted in the bailey, tossing its mane and stomping the new white fall into mud. The stable lad grasped the reins and murmured to the nervous animal. After a few token twitches, it settled in to nose against the boy’s shoulder while Nicholas removed a bag from one side of the saddle. He pulled open the cord and peered inside. Tom had been right. A lady’s garments.
Nicholas swore under his breath. What feather-brained female would venture out in a storm with such few belongings? Any lady he’d ever known traveled with trunks of adornments.
No ignoring the evidence. Some lady or her attendant was likely trudging through the frigid December night after being tossed from this mount.
“Merde!” He sighed and ducked his head, then muttered another curse when kernels of icy snow melted down the back of his neck.
He had no choice. Couldn’t leave anyone to wander around in this weather. And a lady, at that. If God had any mercy, He’d see the lady’s party found her first. What would Nicholas do with her at the ramshackle manor he’d been tasked with putting to rights? You could do only two things with ladies—marry’em or mount’em. He’d sworn off the first and was too damned cold for the second.
The thought made him pause, and he winced with a flash of remorse. When had he become so cynical? These past months, he’d hardly known himself. He brushed a hand over his face and straightened.
“Take the mare to the stable, Tom, then help me get Solomon ready. I’ll see if I can find the lost rider.”
The wind had died somewhat by the time the gate disappeared behind Nicholas. How the hell was he to know what direction to search? Three roads passed by the manor, one south leading to Windom, one from the west, and one from the northeast.
Luck was with him, however. The snow, while blowing like a needle-toothed banshee earlier, hadn’t completely filled in the tracks left by the riderless horse. Faint, but Nicholas could make out the slight indentations. Northeast, then.
He and Solomon plodded along the path, stopping once to investigate a drift at the edge of the road, only to find a skiff of hardened snow covering a low bush. When he remounted, he tugged the heavy wool cloak tighter around his shoulders. The wind might have laid, but the air was turning colder. He beat his hands together. They were numbing in spite of his sturdy leather gloves.
Only a reminder of snow lingered now. No longer falling as ice pellets, flakes sauntered in dips and turns through the air, settling on surfaces with deceptive grace. The clouds had chugged on, leaving a three-quarter moon to sparkle down on the glazed landscape.
Nicholas had about decided he’d missed the lady, or there’d never been one in distress. The mare might have wandered away from a party which had moved on and were now snug and safe by a friendly blaze. Where he’d like to be.
Then Solomon side-stepped and whinnied. Nicholas pulled on the reins, reached forward, and patted the gelding’s neck. “What is it boy?” The mount tossed his head.
Scanning the landscape, Nicholas spotted a mound in the road a few paces ahead. Odd place for a drift. He swung down and approached. Not a drift. He hunched beside the motionless form. A smattering of snow blended with the cloth that covered the mound. He pulled aside a corner of—fine, white wool? The inside of the material was lined in fur. The whole was tucked around a body.
Tugging gently, Nicholas freed more of the cloth to uncover a female, huddled in upon herself. When he turned the still figure, her head fell to the side, revealing bluing lips in a face as white as the ground.
She is dead!
He lifted her into his arms and stood. What was he to do with a dead female? He glanced at her form again. Dead—lady, his mind amended. No companion or maidservant would be dressed in such a fine gown or wear a fur-lined cloak worth more than Nicholas’s first set of armor. And that had been damned fine chain mail.
He turned toward Solomon, jostling the body higher against his chest. A soft “Umh” reached his ears.
Merde. She lives!
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Award-winning author Barbara Bettis has always loved history and English. As a college freshman, she considered becoming an archaeologist until she realized there likely would be bugs and snakes involved. And math. Through careers as a newspaper reporter and editor, then a college journalism and English professor, she’s retained her fascination with history. Give her a research book and a pot of tea, and she’s happy for hours. But what really makes her smile is working on a new story. Now retired, she lives in Missouri where she edits for others and spins her own tales of heroines to die for—and heroes to live for.
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