To Lady Amelia Wellesley, it seems utterly romantic to surprise her dashing fiance at his home in Texas so the two can marry by Christmas. But Amelia's surprise goes awry when Carson Kitteridge calls off their wedding as soon as she arrives, leaving Amelia in disgrace. . . With nowhere to turn, Amelia finds an unlikely savior in Carson's brother, Dr. Boone Kitteridge. Boone offers to marry Amelia, sparing her the shame of returning to England unwed. But Boone isn't just protecting Amelia's honor; secretly, he finds her irresistible, and the thought of indulging his desire for her is too tempting to ignore. As Boone and Amelia forge a fragile bond, something goes terribly wrong--and it will take nothing less than a Christmas miracle for Amelia to discover who she is destined to love. . . Praise for A Christmas Scandal ""Gentle humor, witty banter, and attractive characters."" --Library Journal ""Simply a pleasant way to pass an evening."" --Romantic Times Jane Goodger lives in Rhode Island with her husband and three children.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
September 30, 2010
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from A Christmas Waltz by Jane Goodger
Small Fork, Texas
As Lady Amelia Wellesley stepped from the stifling air of the train into a blast of heat such as she'd never felt before, she had a sense of deep foreboding that she had just stepped into a nightmare of her own making.
This could not be the place.
After all she had gone through, after sitting endlessly in a cramped and oven-like train car for days, after crossing the bloody Atlantic and being abandoned by her maid, this could not be Small Fork.
Amelia stood on a dusty platform in a dusty, dry world devoid of all color but for the bright bleached blue sky above her, and could not believe she had reached her destination. It was impossible. Carson had described Small Fork in detail in his slow Texas drawl, and she had the images etched in her brain.
"Well, it's the prettiest little town you ever saw," he'd said. "The main street has a church with a white steeple that stretches to the sky, pointing up to heaven. There's roses everywhere and houses with white picket fences, children playing everywhere you look. And in the center of town is a park with a whitewashed gazebo where the local band plays concerts every Saturday night. All the townspeople gather 'round, and there's dancing." Those had been his exact words.
She had not seen a blade of proper grass in three days.
"Miss. Your bags are yonder," the porter said, wiping his brow with an already damp-looking cloth. "Good day, ma'am."
Horrid day, more like it, she thought darkly. The thick feeling of regret began seeping through her and she stalwartly pushed it back where it belonged, in the pit of her stomach where it had been since the day she'd lied to her brother and told him Carson had sent for her. Their manor house by the sea seemed so very far away at the moment as she stood quite alone on the platform watching the train she'd been in since Fort Worth move slowly down the track to God knew where.
Amelia eyed her pile of luggage, knowing there would be no porter to help her carry it to wherever she should go. With that thought in mind, she looked down the unpaved street and saw only a handful of buildings, and even fewer pedestrians. The architecture was vaguely reminiscent of paintings she'd seen of Spain, but without the charm of the Mediterranean as a backdrop. There was no gazebo, and certainly no church with a steeple. The only recognizable structure was a strange looking windmill, lazily turning in the hot breeze.
A trickle of sweat ran between her breasts, then moved to soak into her already damp chemise. Carrying her pelisse, she lifted her chin and pretended she wasn't more frightened than she'd been in her entire life. It wasn't the first time in the past month that she'd had to do that, and she feared it would not be the last.
As she stepped down from the depot boardwalk and walked along the street, lifting her skirts slightly to avoid the swirling dirt, she noted a mercantile, a bank, and a larger two-story building further down, with the words "Hotel/Saloon" painted on a faded, warped sign moving lazily in the wind above the entrance. There were other buildings, but they were nondescript and could have been saloons or even homes. She eyed the town's sparse inhabitants, wondering who would be the most helpful. Sitting in a wooden chair leaning up against the wall of the hotel was an old man who appeared to be sound asleep. Other than two horses tied up outside the hotel, and a shaggy dog lying outside the mercantile, there wasn't another soul in sight.
It seemed as if the town had been plopped down in the middle of a barren field for no apparent reason. There was no river, no protective valley, nothing for miles but endless land that ended on the horizon with an odd-looking mountain range. The mercantile seemed like a good place for information and the dog appeared much friendlier than the old man outside the hotel, so she headed there. The dog, likely as hot as she was in the sweltering heat, raised its head and gave its tail a halfhearted wag before letting out a groan and falling back to sleep.
"Hello to you, too," Amelia said, smiling, feeling a certain camaraderie with the dog. She was entirely overdressed for such a temperature, and was quite certain if she were to remove her dress she would be able to wring perspiration out of it. She'd tried her best to tidy up on the train, for she wanted to look her finest when she saw Carson again.
Amelia pushed open the doors, pleasantly surprised that the interior was lit by a series of skylights in the ceiling that gave a soft glow to the place. A large man was behind the counter, busy arranging cans on a shelf, and Amelia found herself relaxing a bit at the sight of him. He seemed so ordinary, so clean, with his pristine white shirt and dark blue vest, almost a gentleman in a world of buckskin and dungarees. Indeed, the air in the store was surprisingly cool compared to the outside temperature, and Amelia smiled as she waited for the man, who must certainly have heard her, turn to her.
When he did, she was struck nearly dumb. For the second time in her life she felt a reaction, like a physical blow, at the mere sight of a man. The only other time it had happened was when she'd first laid eyes on Carson, and she wondered if she were becoming one of those women who found all men attractive.
"Excuse me, but I wonder if you could tell me if it is possible to hire someone to take me to the Kitteridge ranch."
He stared at her with eyes the color of cold slate, as if he didn't speak God's English, or as if he'd never seen a woman before. His cheeks were slightly flushed, a man who blushed easily or spent a bit too much time in the sun, and his face was clean-shaven, unlike so many men of the West she'd encountered.
"Excuse me?" he said slowly in a Texas drawl she recognized, and his eyes did a quick and completely neutral scan of her person. His voice was low and raspy, like a person who hadn't spoken yet that day.
"I need to hire someone to take me to the Kitteridge ranch," she said a bit louder, just in case the man was hard of hearing.
"The Kitteridge. Ranch."
He was becoming annoying.
"Yes. I'm here to see Carson Kitteridge, Mr. . . ." "Kitteridge. Boone Kitteridge."
Oh, goodness. That explained a great deal. Boone was Carson's older brother, and Carson had mentioned more than once that he was quite dimwitted. She smiled, completely relieved that at least something of all the things Carson had told her was true. He seemed almost startled by her smile, and actually backed up a step. Oh dear, she'd frightened the poor man.
"Boone. How wonderful to meet you. I am Lady Amelia Wellesley, Lord Hollings's younger sister." At his blank stare she felt a snag of pity for him. What a trial it must have been for Carson to care for him. "I'm Carson's fianc?e," she said, raising the volume of her voice. "From England. Surely he's mentioned me. He's told me all about you."
Boone Kitteridge wouldn't have been more surprised if this exquisite creature in front of him sprouted fairy wings and granted him three wishes. Carson's fianc?e? It was almost as impossible as finding a woman this beautiful standing in front of him. She didn't seem real.
She wore a buttercup-yellow dress that made the air around her fairly glow as if from a light within. It had lace and beads and all sorts of things that glittered beneath his store's skylights. Her hair was nearly the color of that dress, a golden halo around her face. She reminded him of a doll sitting on a shelf, perfect, and something you really shouldn't touch, never mind play with.
And for some reason, she thought she was Carson's fianc?e.
"Carson's not here," he said, full of caution. There wasn't a woman this side of the Mississippi who was dumb enough or crazy enough to agree to marry Carson. And from this girl's accent, he figured she wasn't from anywhere near here.
She smiled again, and Boone started to wonder if perhaps she wasn't all that bright. "Where can I find him? Is he, perhaps, at the ranch? I've come a very long way to see him, all the way from England, you see. He should be expecting me."
That's when it fully dawned on Boone. This girl actually thought she was engaged to Carson. For some reason she thought Carson had a ranch, and even though she was acting sure of herself, he thought he detected just the slightest bit of worry, a small quaver of uncertainty in her lovely, melodic voice. The situation, he realized darkly, was going to get a whole lot uglier for this girl, and she didn't have the slightest clue of what was about to happen to her. Or perhaps she did.
"You can stay here, miss. I'll go get him." "If you could just direct me where to go, I'm certain I can find him myself. I've become quite independent on my journey here."
"I'll get him," he repeated, because God knew he couldn't send this pretty thing where Carson was at the moment--likely between the legs of Geraldine Turner. "I doubt I'll have any customers while I'm gone. You sit tight now. And if someone does come in, you just tell them to wait."
"All right, but . . ."
He didn't even wait to hear what she was going to say, just headed out the door, grabbing his hat on the way and jamming it angrily on his head. There was no way in hell that his brother was going to marry that girl. No way in hell.
He made his way to the saloon and pushed through the door, ignoring the surprise on George's face when he came in. The only time Boone ever set foot in the saloon was when he was looking for someone else.
"George," he said politely as he could, taking off his hat and slamming it on the bar.
"Boone. What brings you in here?"
"My brother still upstairs?"
"This got something to do with that pretty young thing what just come off the train and went into your place?" George asked, full of rabid curiosity. "My brother."
"Yeah," George said, purely disappointed Boone was going to be so closed mouthed. "He's still here. Third door on the left."
Boone nodded grimly before heading up the steps to the hotel part of the building, though the word "hotel" was a rather grand word for the three shabby rooms George let out on occasion. Geraldine Turner was the town whore. The town whore because she was the only one, and practically the only woman living in the town proper. Most of the respectable women lived in the outskirts on the three ranches that surrounded Small Fork. As such, she was kept busy by most of the men in town, but she had a special fondness for Carson. What woman didn't?
Boone didn't bother knocking, but opened the door calmly and stared daggers at his brother, who was lying in bed well satisfied, his long hair a tangled mess around his head. It didn't look as if he'd shaved or bathed in a while, and Boone couldn't help thinking how insane it was that the bit of feminine perfection standing in his store could possibly want Carson. Then again, it was difficult to believe Geraldine, whose bloom had long since started to wilt, would see anything in him, either. Geraldine didn't even bother acting surprised, and certainly didn't bother covering up her phenomenally large breasts.
"Hey, Boone," she said, smiling in a way that Boone guessed was supposed to make him horny, but just served to annoy him. She was lying in bed with his brother, after all.
"What the hell you doing, Boone?" Carson asked good naturedly, putting his hands behind his head as if he had all day to loll about in bed, which was pretty much the case.
"Your fianc?e's here, you stupid son of a bitch."
Carson didn't move an inch, but his face turned a deadly pale. "My what?"
Carson sat up in bed, a look like death in his eyes. "What did she look like?" he asked, as if expecting the worst.
"Why don't you tell me?"
"No. No, no, no, no . . ."
He continued to say that word over and over, terror in his eyes, and so Boone, rather enjoying his brother's pain, proceeded to describe the fianc?e. "She's blond. Pretty. With blue eyes the color of blue sage in the spring."
Boone set his jaw hard as he watched Carson scramble to find his clothes. Meanwhile, Geraldine was laughing so hard, there were tears streaming down her face. At least she had a sense of humor.
"Who is she?" Boone demanded, and Carson stopped pulling on his last boot and slumped back onto the bed.
"She's a lady," he said.
"No. I mean she's a lady. Lady Amelia Wellesley. Her brother is a goddamn earl. Lord Hollings. What the hell is she doing here?"
Boone felt the urge to punch his brother in the face, but like all the other times he'd felt that urge, he resisted. "Apparently, she thinks you're engaged and she also believes you're expecting her."
"I was supposed to send for her," he lamented. "I told her specifically. Holy God. What the hell am I going to do, Boone?" He clutched his head as if he were trying to stop it from exploding, which likely wasn't far from the truth. He turned to Geraldine, who was still laughing beside him, and said, "Shut the hell up, Geraldine. You cackling over there ain't helpin' me one bit."
Poor Geraldine tried to sober up, but, failing that, grabbed her clothes and left the room, her giggles still audible as she ran down the hall.
"Is anyone with her?" Carson asked, his voice filled with dread.