Acclaimed writers Patricia Rice, Mary Jo Putney, and Susan King bring together three classic historical romance novellas in this exclusive anthology of unexpected love discovered at a special time of year.
In Susan King's "The Snow Rose," love grows despite a clash of Scottish clans.
Mary Jo Putney's "The Black Beast of Belleterre" tells of a Victorian marriage of convenience where a beauty and her beast both yearn for more.
Patricia Rice's Regency, "The Kissing Bough," spins a poignant tale of a returning soldier and a love once lost and now found..."
Together these tales weave a heartwarming journey through history. Also included are introductions about how the stories came to be written and tasty recipes to add to the joys of the season.
Love blooms in winter...
Excerpt from "The Black Beast of Belleterre"
He was ugly, very ugly. He hadn't known that when he was young and had a mother who loved him in spite of his face. When people had looked at him oddly, he had assumed it was because he was the son of a lord. Since there were a few children who were willing to be friends with him, he thought no more about it.
It was only later, when his mother had died and accident had augmented his natural ugliness, that James Markland realized how different he was. People stared, or if they were polite, quickly looked away.
His own father would not look directly at him on the rare occasions when they met. The sixth Baron Falconer had been a very handsome man; James didn't blame him for despising a son who was so clearly unworthy of the an¬cient, noble name they both bore.
Nonetheless James was the heir, so Lord Falconer had handled the distasteful matter with consummate, aristocratic grace. He installed the boy at a small, remote estate, seen that competent tutors were hired, and thought no more about him.
The chief tutor, Mr. Grice, was a harsh and pious man, generous both with beatings and with lectures on the inescapable evil of human nature. On his more jovial days, Mr. Grice would tell his student how fortunate the boy was to be beastly in a way that all the world could see; most men carried their ugliness in their souls, where they could too easily forget their basic wickedness. James should feel grateful that he had been granted such a signal opportunity to be humble.
James was not grateful, but he was resigned. His life could have been worse. The servants were paid enough to tolerate the boy they served, and one of the grooms was even friendly. So James had a friend, a library, and a horse. He was content, most of the time.
When the sixth lord died--in a gentlemanly fashion, while playing whist--James had become the seventh Baron Falconer. In the twenty-one years of his life, he had spent a total of perhaps ten nights under the same roof as his late father.
He had felt very little at his father's death-not grief, not triumph, not guilt. Perhaps there had been regret, but only a little. It was hard to regret not being better acquainted with a man who had chosen to be a stranger to his only son.
As soon as his father died, James had taken two trusted servants and flown into a wider world, like the soaring bird of the family crest. Egypt, Africa, India, Australia; he had seen them all during his years of travel. He discovered that the life of an eccentric English lord suited him, and developed habits that enabled him to keep the world at a safe distance. Seeing the monks in a monastery in Cyprus had given him the idea of wearing a heavily cowled robe that would conceal him from casual curiosity. Ever after, he wore a similar robe or hood when he had to go among strangers.
Because he was young and unable to repress his shameful lusts, he had also taken advantage of his wealth and distance from home to educate himself about the sins of the flesh. For the right price, it was easy to engage deft, experienced women who would not only lie with him, but would even pretend they didn't care how he looked.
One or two, the best actresses of the lot, had been al¬most convincing when they claimed to enjoy his company, and his touch. He did not resent their lies; the world was a hard place, and if lying might earn a girl more money, one couldn't expect her to tell the truth. Nonetheless, his plea¬sure was tainted by the bitter awareness that only his wealth made him acceptable.
He returned to England at the age of twenty-six, stronger for having seen the world beyond the borders of his homeland. Strong enough to accept the limits of his life. He would never have a wife, for no gently bred girl would marry him if she had a choice, and hence he would never have a child.
Nor would he have a mistress, no matter how much his body yearned for the brief, joyous forgetting that only a woman could provide. Though he was philosophical by nature and had decided very early that he would not allow self-pity, there were limits to philosophy. The only reasons why a woman would submit to his embraces were for money or from pity. Neither reason was endurable. Though he could bear his ugliness and isolation, he could not have borne the knowledge that he was pathetic.
Rather than dwell in bitterness, he was grateful for the wealth that buffered him from the world. Unlike ugly men who were poor, Falconer was in a position to create his own world, and he did.
What made his life worth living was the fact that when he returned to England, he had fallen in love. Not with a person, of course, but with a place. Belleterre, in the lush southeastern county of Kent, was the principal Markland family estate. As a boy James had never gone there, for his father had not wished to see him. Instead, James had been raised at a small family property in the industrial Midlands. He had not minded, for it was the only home he had ever known and not without its own austere charm.
Yet when he returned from his tour of the world after his father's death and first saw Belleterre, for a brief moment he had hated his father for keeping him away from his heritage. Belleterre meant "beautiful land;' and never was a name more appropriate. The rich fields and woods, the ancient, castle-like stone manor house, were a worthy object for the love he yearned to express. It became his life's work to see that Belleterre was cared for as tenderly as a child.
Ten years had passed since he had come to Belleterre, and he had the satisfaction of seeing the land and people prosper under his stewardship. If he was lonely, it was no more than he expected. Books had been invented to salve human loneliness, and they were friends without peer, friends who never sneered or flinched or laughed behind a man's back. Books revealed their treasures to all who took the effort to seek.