Authors: Leah Sanders
Tags: #regency, #clean romance, #love triangle, #holiday romance, #sweet romance, #christmas romance, #childhood friends, #house of renwick
by Leah Sanders
Published by Astraea Press
Copyright © 2012 LEAH SANDERS
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters,
and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to
actual events and persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental.
Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are
assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used
only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these
terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of
this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically,
constitutes a copyright violation.
Copyright © 2012 LEAH SANDERS
Cover Art Designed by AM Design Studios
For my sisters:
Sarahlee, Rebekah, Liz, Amy, and Ann — for
all the times you wanted me to "kiss and tell" but I refused…
I love you guys!
The mourning call of the turtledove echoed across the
field, muffled only by the rustling of the nearby trees in the mild
summer breeze. From the far side, a lone figure, a boy no older
than one and six, carried a musket at the ready, wading through the
tall field grass with a slow, deliberate gait. His gaze scoured the
land all around him. The crack of a twig brought him swinging
around to take aim at the disturbance, but his sudden movement
startled the prey, sending it scurrying back into the cover of the
He shook his head and turned in the opposite
direction, following his original path. His bright copper hair
danced in the light gust sweeping the field as he traipsed forward
once again, musket at the ready.
A piercing scream mingled with the call of the
turtledoves, startling the hunter and the wildlife. There was an
instant rush in the trees as birds took to wing. The boy craned his
neck in the direction of the unearthly wail. It seemed to come from
beyond the line of trees.
Somewhere in the blur of thick foliage, he seemed to
catch sight of something he wasn't expecting. Patches of bright
blue interspersed among the leaves high in a tree glittered in the
Tiptoeing forward, he made his way through the field
to stand directly under the giant oak. He slung his musket over his
shoulder, crossed his arms, and gazed up into the branches at the
"Young Miss Trent, I presume?"
Her only response was a pitiful whimper. She gazed
down on him with wide brown eyes which glistened with fresh
"Are you stuck?" he asked.
After a moment of hesitation, she answered with a
loud sniffle. "Yes."
"Then I shall rescue you, fair damsel," he announced,
sweeping low into a grand bow. He removed his musket sling and game
satchel and leaned them against the base of a nearby elm. Without
further ado, he reached for the lowest branch and hoisted himself
up, crawling higher and higher until he reached her side.
"Alas, fair lady, your knight has arrived." His most
dazzling smile comforted the frightened girl. "However did you come
to be imprisoned here in this tower, Princess?"
"My foot is stuck."
"I see. This is a grave situation indeed. May I?" He
gestured to her slipper. Her mousy brown pigtails bounced when she
nodded her assent.
With a gentle twist, the boy freed her foot from its
confinement. He lifted her into his arms and started back down the
Once safe on the ground, he set the little girl on
her feet and knelt on one knee to examine her face-to-face.
"Are you well, Princess?"
She bobbed her head again and threw her arms around
"There now, Princess," he said, patting her gently on
the back. "All is well."
As if she remembered her part in the farce, she
released him and stepped back with a coy smile and a sweet curtsy.
"Thank you, Sir Knight, for rescuing me."
"At your service, my lady," he said, rising to his
feet and bowing at the waist. "'Tis my sworn duty to protect a lady
of the realm."
She giggled. Her eyes shone bright with joy in their
"Are you hungry, Princess?" He picked up his hunting
satchel and reached inside it, fishing out a shiny red apple and a
The little girl smiled wide, showing a gap where her
two front teeth used to be.
"Oh, dear. I suppose the apple is out of the question
then," the boy said with a wink. "Unless…" he paused thoughtfully,
then reached a hand into his bag once more, retrieving a small
hunting knife with triumphant flair. "Ta-da!"
She clapped and shrieked with laughter.
Her enthusiastic nod sent him straight to work
peeling and slicing the fruit into crisp slivers.
They sat under the tree together. He handed the juicy
slices to her one at a time, and she munched on them happily.
"Thank you, Sir Knight!"
"You, my dear princess, may call me Baldwyn."
"Baldwyn," she tried it out, chasing it with a short
burst of bubbly little girl laughter.
"There now. Isn't this much better than being stuck
up in that old tree?"
"Whatever were you doing up there anyway?"
"I was looking for the nest."
"The turtledoves. Papa says they make their nests out
here in the spring and fly away in the fall."
"That's true. They do like it out here in the
"I heard them crying. I thought maybe they needed
"Ah, yes. They do sound terribly sad, don't
"Yes. Like they've lost their true love."
The boy chuckled. "I suppose that's exactly how they
sound." He handed her another sliver of apple. "That sad cry is the
sound they make when they call to their mates. Turtledove pairs
don't like to be apart. So they call to each other, reminding each
other where they truly belong."
She sat silent for a moment, staring at the piece of
apple in her hand. "Sometimes I awake at night and hear that
sound." Her voice lowered to a confidential whisper. "Once I
followed it to my father's chamber door." Her big brown eyes lifted
to meet his sparkling blue gaze. "Do you think he cries like that
because Mama was his turtledove?"
The boy's eyes glistened as he blinked back at her.
"That might be," he whispered finally. They held their peace for a
moment, listening to the mournful cry of the turtledoves dodging
through the canopy of branches overhead.
Finally, the boy stood and brushed off his breeches.
He reached for his musket and satchel and slung them each over his
shoulders. He offered a hand to the child who still sat at the base
of the giant oak. When she grasped it, he helped her to her feet,
then proffered his elbow. "May I see you home, Princess?"
"I'd be delighted, Sir Knight." Her smile was cheery
and bright once more as she rested her tiny fingers on his forearm
like the perfect little medieval lady, and the two of them made
their way back across the field to the estate house, laughing and
joking as they went.
Twelve years later
Baldwyn Sinclair, the Duke of Paisley, gazed out the
window, blinking his heavy eyelids, and watched the snow-covered
landscape slip by. As rare as it was for the present time of year,
the sun was shining, casting a blinding reflection off the pristine
white ground, causing him to blink and turn away from the
The wind was quiet. It was an eerily calm winter day,
far from normal in that part of the country. The calm before the
storm was more like it.
His grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Durbin, had
summoned him back from Scotland. For what, he did not know, but one
did not ignore a request from her grace.
It was only a matter of hours now until his impending
arrival at her London home. She never retired to the country for
the winter anymore. The old woman much preferred to stay ensconced
in her townhouse, wreaking havoc on the lives of any relative
foolish enough to reside within the city limits.
Bile choked his throat in direct proportion to his
anxiety as he considered one more time what the old crone could
possibly want with him.
Baldwyn should have been safe in Scotland. After all,
his cousin, the Duke of Banbury, was well within her reach and
could surely keep her meddlesome hands occupied for several
Why hadn't he accepted that commission when he had
the chance? He could have been away on the Continent fighting
against the evils of the French rather than the evils of her
grace's machinations. Staring down the barrel of Napoleon's cannon
would have been preferable.
He closed his eyes and rested his head against the
wall of the coach. It would be wise to rest now. No doubt his
grandmother had already arranged for him to attend a winter event
that evening and would have him racing to ready for it the moment
he set foot in her front door. Taking a slow, deep breath, he
soothed his frazzled nerves and allowed himself to drift into a
fitful sleep, propped against the blue satin-lined wall.
"Your grace." The voice of his valet broke through
his haze of sleep. "We have arrived."
Baldwyn groaned with anguish as he opened first one
eye and then the other.
"Munro," he muttered in disgust, "I have told you of
my feelings on being awakened with bad news, have I not?"
"Yes, your grace," Munro offered. "However, in
matters such as these, I believe your wrath is less daunting than
that of the dowager's."
Baldwyn sighed. One couldn't argue with that
The massive stone structure rose ominously above him,
as he stepped down from the carriage and squared his shoulders in
preparation for the onslaught he knew he was about to endure.
His Hessian boots suddenly felt like they were
encased in the stone path as he endeavored to move toward the
stairs leading to the front entry. Dread weighed in the pit of his
stomach. Where was Napoleon's cannon when he needed it?
At the door, his grandmother's loyal old butler
answered Baldwyn's hesitant knock almost immediately, as if he had
been stationed there with the express purpose of tethering the duke
the second he laid eyes on him.
"Good afternoon, Perkins," Baldwyn managed to
"Your grace." Perkins bowed and held out the tray for
his hat and gloves. "Her grace awaits you in the blue salon."
"May I not refresh myself before the torture
Perkins' emotionless expression was fixed firmly in
place. "Her grace wishes to begin the moment you arrive."
Petulant little man
Baldwyn directed an ironic smirk at the smug butler.
He knew, of course, it wouldn't have any effect. Perkins would be
far more concerned with what his mistress would do to him if she
discovered her instructions had been ignored than anything the Duke
of Paisley might threaten to do.
He turned to the blue salon, and with one last deep
breath of free air, he threw the doors open and strode in with
"Guid efternuin, Grandmother! Ye ur lookin' brammer
as ever!" He knew the native brogue would infuriate her;
nevertheless, he raised his voice to a ridiculous volume as well,
knowing full well she would take it as a direct insult to the
condition of her hearing.
"Bite your tongue, boy. We are not deaf. Nor are we
in the presence of the wild Scottish savages you spend your time
with these days." Her icy steel blue glare bore into his face. Oh,
yes, he had succeeded in incurring her wrath in less time than it
would take to seduce a whore.
Inwardly, he winced but showed no sign of contrition
as he drifted to her and planted a light kiss on her pale cheek as
though he was as innocent as the driven snow.