Sunshine for Christmas
Searching for sunshine…
Lonely and depressed by far too much rain, Lord Randolph Lennox decides on impulse to take the first ship leaving London for the sunny Mediterranean. Chance brings him to Naples—where it's also raining. But the rain clears and as he discovers the city, a pleasant young English governess rescues him from an altercation with a flirtatious girl and her protective family.
Miss Elizabeth Walker is between jobs and taking a holiday in Naples when she meets the quiet, handsome Englishman. When he proposes that she act as his guide for the next few days, she accepts because they enjoy each other's company. Elizabeth matter-of-factly recognizes that of course she'll fall quietly in love with him and nothing will come of it, but she'll have some lovely memories to cherish in her old age.
…and finding a second chance at love…
As they come to know each other better, Randolph starts thinking thoughts of forever, but that seems impossible—until fate takes an alarming hand.
Author's Note: The hero of Sunshine for Christmas was a secondary character in my RITA winning novel, The Rake. A foolish youthful mistake had cost him the woman he loved. But doesn't everyone deserve a second chance?
Sunshine for Christmas, which featured Lord Randolph Lennox, who made an appearance in the novel The Rake, has edged out (Putney's Christmas) Cuckoo as my new favorite (novella) by her. It was a thoroughly satisfying story.
Putney's writing is clear as crystal and smooth as silk.
It was raining again. It had rained yesterday and the day before that. His hands clasped behind his back, Lord Randolph Lennox gazed out the window of his bedroom at the slick gray streets of Mayfair. “Burns, do you know how many days it has been raining?”
“No, my lord,” his valet replied, glancing up from the wardrobe where he was stacking precisely folded neck cloths.
“Thirty-four days. Rather biblical, don’t you think? Perhaps it's time to order an ark.”
“While the autumn has been a wet one,” Burns said austerely, “it has not rained continuously day and night. Therefore, if I recall the scriptural precedent correctly, an ark should not be required.”
Between amusement and depression, Lord Randolph considered the question of arks. Somewhere on Bond Street, among the tailors and bootmakers and jewelers, was there a shop that would supply an ark suitable for a gentleman? But that would never do, for arks were meant for pairs, and Randolph was alone. Had been alone for thirty-four years, save for one brief spell, and undoubtedly he would be alone for the rest of his life.
With disgust, Randolph realized that he was in danger of drowning in self-pity. Damn the rain. He was a healthy, wealthy man in the prime of his life, with friends and family and a variety of interests, and he had no right to complain of his lot. He knew that he should be grateful for the rain that kept “this scepter’d isle, this demi-paradise” green, but the thought did nothing to mitigate the bleakness outdoors, or in his soul.
He would have enjoyed snow, which was clean and pure and forgiving, but snow seldom fell in southern England. Farther north, in Scotland or Northumbria, soft white flakes might be floating silent from the sky. In London, the weather was merely miserable.
In a few weeks it would be Christmas, doubtless a drab, wet one, and Randolph was not sure which thought was more depressing: the rain or the holiday. As a boy growing up on the great estate of Dunbar, he had loved Christmas, had ached with excitement from the celebrations and the sense of magic in the air.
Randolph and his older brother, Edward, more formally known as Lord Westkirk, would burrow into the Dunbar kitchens with the glee of all small boys. There they stole currants and burned their fingers on hot pastries until chased out by the cook, who had a fondness for children except when a holiday feast was threatened.
Dunbar had been a happy house then. Indeed, it still was. Randolph’s parents, the Marquess and Marchioness of Kinross, enjoyed robust good health and liked nothing better than having their family about them. Edward and his wife and three children would be at Dunbar for Christmas, as would numerous other Lennoxes. The great house would be drenched with love and laughter and happiness. It was expected that Randolph would be there as cherished son and brother, uncle and cousin.
He couldn’t bear the thought.
It was only mid-afternoon, but the light was already failing because of the rain. Randolph studied his reflection in the darkening window glass with detachment. Above average height, dark gold hair, slate-blue eyes, regular features. During their courtship, his wife had said that he looked like a Greek god. It had been a sad disappointment to her when he had proved merely human, and not an especially dashing specimen at that.
He did not have to spend Christmas at Dunbar. There were other houses, other friends, more distant relations, who would welcome him for the holidays, but he no more wished to go to any of them than to his father’s house. He did not want to be an outsider at the feast of other people’s happiness. Neither did he want the good-hearted matchmakers of his acquaintance trying to find him another wife.
What did he want? Sunshine and anonymity. Bright skies, warm air, a place where no one knew or cared who he was.
An absurd idea. He could not just pack up and run off on impulse.
Why not indeed? First with surprise, then excitement, Randolph realized that there was nothing to stop him from leaving England. Winter was a quiet time at his estate, and his presence was not required. Now that the long wars were done, the Continent awaited, beckoning staid Englishmen to sample its decadent charms. If he answered that siren call, his family would regret his absence, but he would not be missed, not really. His presence was essential to no one’s happiness.
Quickly, before the impulse could dissipate, he turned from the window. “Burns, commence packing. Tomorrow we shall take ship to the Mediterranean.”