Just one kiss under the mistletoe could change her whole life!
Lovely Miss Emma Harrison has long turned her back on the frivolities of the Marriage Mart and dedicated herself to helping her father. But this Christmas everything changes - the unforgettable Jack Stanton is back! No longer the charity boy determined to make good, he has become one of the richest men in England. Driven to succeed and used to getting anything he wants, Jack makes it clear that he wants Emma.
And as the Yuletide festivities throw Emma into his company, she can't help but wonder if she made the right choice seven years ago...
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November 30, 2007
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Excerpt from A Christmas Wedding Wager by Michelle Styles
November 1846, Newcastle Upon Tyne England
'It is no good getting your hopes up, Miss Emma, the first survey was clear, like. The Gaffer, your father would agree with me if he were here,' Mudge, the foreman pronounced with a solemn face, his words echoing off the walls of the small office.
Emma forced air into her lungs and struggled to hang on to her temper despite the overwhelming desire to scream. The last thing she needed was a lecture from Mudge why the line of bridge had to remain where it was. She could read a survey as well as any man. Better than most.
'My father agrees with me. I told you this. How many times must I repeat it?' She focused her attention on the plan of the site that hung on the wall.
'Your father ain't been himself lately. Begging your pardon, Miss. Everyone on site knows it.'
Emma forced a smile, ignored the growing pain behind her eyes. Today had started badly, and showed every sign of declining further. Her mind kept circling back to one question - how was she going to ensure the bridge would be built on time?
A few of the navvies and workmen moved through the site overlooking the Tyne in a dispirited fashion, a full three-quarters less than Saturday. The lantern tower of St Nicholas's Church had been barely visible in the heavy fog on the way in from Jesmond this morning. The works bore little resemblance to the sunlit bustling place of last Saturday when Jack Stanton had been expected.
Emma drew in her breath with a sudden whoosh. And what if Jack Stanton should appear - today? How would he react to the deserted site? She swallowed hard and refused to contemplate the horror that would unfold.
'Be reasonable like, Miss Emma.'
'I am, Mudge.' Emma tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear. 'I know the excuses by heart. But it is the Monday after payday. A Saint Monday. The men will return when their pay packet runs out and the publican's pockets are full. I grew up around railway and wagonway projects. It is always like this, always has been.'
Mudge shuffled his feet and muttered another explanation.
She rose and glanced out the narrow window, wrapping her arms about her waist. The fog had lowered further, making the brazier near the first foundation site glow orange.
'What do you want, Miss? What should I tell the men?'
To have this bridge built before my father dies. It is his life's ambition to build the first railway bridge to cross the Tyne. A simple request, but one she didn't dare voice. She had to keep the true extent of her father's illness a secret.
Emma gave a small shrug of her shoulder, and fastened the plaid shawl more securely about her.
'A good run of weather until Christmas, maybe into the New Year. That the new survey of the river bed proves true and we are able to get the piers erected in double quick time.'
'You don't want much, Miss.' Mudge scratched his head. 'Shall I add peace and prosperity for all, while I am at it?'
Emma ignored the remark. She refused to allow the foreman to intimidate her. She was no longer eighteen with only thoughts about the next pair of dancing slippers in her head. She knew how bridges were built. She had learnt.
'Oh, and I forgot - the castle. The keep and the royal apartments are to be retained if possible.'
'Only a woman would be concerned about a pile of old stones. It would be far better, if it was knocked down and the stone reused. It was what the first survey said.'
'Nevertheless it is to be retained. The first survey was wrong.'
'Ah but will it be the investors - Robert Stephenson and his new partner...that J.T. Stanton? They're right canny, they are.' Mudge crossed his arms. 'Your father ain't thinking straight if he agrees with you, if you don't mind me saying so. If it were up to me, I'd sell the company. Get out while he still can. Bridge building is a young man's game.'
Emma bit her lip. She needed Mudge and his ability with the men, if she was only to have any hope of achieving her father's dream. She was under no illusions about the attitude towards women engineers and women directing important engineering projects. But equally, she was not going to let her father's dream and with it his company vanish simply because he had become too ill to be on site every day.
'If that is all,' Emma said through gritted teeth. 'I will take your report back to my father and return tomorrow with my father's further orders.'
'As you wish, Miss, think on what I say. I never steered you wrong before. There is none that can that Albert Mudge ain't loyal.'
Emma scooped up the various papers, giving vent to anger by stuffing them into her satchel. She would prevail. The keep was important.
'Miss, give your father my good wishes. There is nowt--'
'Is anyone here? Or is this shack as deserted as the site outside?' A deep masculine voice sounded from the front counter.