The death of her husband has thrown Lady Maria Kersey’s future into doubt—and her heart into the arms of a man she cannot have. But Christmas with the Widows’ Club will bring choices—and surprises--that may change all her holidays to come . . .
Maria just gave birth to her first child, a beautiful daughter—but the event is shrouded in sorrow. A month earlier, Maria’s husband, Lord Kersey, was killed in a duel under compromising circumstances. Worse, Maria’s failure to provide a male heir has stripped her of any hope of an inheritance. Scorned by the ton, one of her few allies is her late husband’s steward, Hugh Granger. Hugh is everything her husband was not—warm, charming—and penniless. . . .
Hugh has fallen desperately in love with Maria, but has little to offer but comfort. As their attraction becomes impossible to resist, Maria flees to London to spend Christmas with her dearest friends, a group of widows who lost their own husbands in the Battle of Waterloo. Little does she know the holidays will reveal a twist of fate she never expected—proving that the greatest Christmas gift is the magic of true love . . .
“Ice skates!” Maria darted forward, taking one up, but being mindful of the blade. “I used to go ice skating all the time at my parents’ house. There is a river nearby that would freeze when the weather was cold enough.” She turned a gleeful face to him,“How did you know?”
“I didn’t.” Grinning like a fool at her look of pure pleasure, Hugh thanked whatever angel had whispered in his ear to take Maria skating. “I hoped you had skated before, but I would have been happy to teach you if you hadn’t.”
“Well let’s see who knows what,” she said and dropped down onto the log and began to tie the skates onto her shoes, “last one onto the ice has to pay a forfeit.”
Lord, and didn’t he know what her forfeit would be if she won the wager.
Hugh sat down to strap his skates on as well. The process wasn’t terribly difficult, just lengthy. He fumbled with the straps, his fingers stupid as he tried to hurry.
“One skate on!” Maria laughed and began on the other one.
“No fair. You have smaller fingers that work better than mine.” Cursing under his breath, Hugh buckled the first skate on and reached for the second, although he doubted he could catch up with Maria now.
“Done!” Pink cheeked she laughed again as she stood before him, showing him first one and then the other skate. “Do you need some help with your laces, my dear?”
“No, thank you.” His words came out a growl, which made Maria laugh all the harder.
“Come.” She held out her hand and helped him up when he was finished. “I cannot wait to skate again. It has been an age at least. I had to have been ten years old.”
“Well, I hope it comes back to you, but if not, I will be here to save you.” He grinned as they made their way toward the pond’s edge.
“My hero.” She clutched his arm in mock terror.
He pushed aside some frozen vegetation, creating a path to the ice. “Hold my hand.”
She gripped it tightly and followed him to the edge.
“Wait here and let me sound out the ice. It’s been so cold recently I don’t think it has thinned, but best be safe.”
Maria nodded gravely, her brows drawn inward. “Do be careful.”
He set his skates on the smooth ice and pushed off.
Each year it came back to him, as if he skated every day of his life. Cautiously, he struck out for the center of the pond, watching for slushy spots or cloudy patches of ice. That meant it wasn’t frozen hard enough. But everywhere he looked the ice was clear. No air bubbles, no cracks, just solid, clear ice. Perfect. “I think it’s good,” he called, turning toward the bank. “Come on out.” He waved to her even as he started back.
Maria set her skates on the surface and pushed off. She wobbled for a moment, her arms flailing as she fought for balance.
Hugh hurried toward her, then something seemed to change.
Suddenly, she remembered her balance and her strokes became strong and even. She threw back her head and laughed, then struck out to meet him. Grabbing his hands, she assumed the skater’s position, right hand over left, and their feet began to glide in unison.
“I see it came back to you,” he steered them down the center of the pond toward the bulrushes at the end, then turned to head back up the far side.
“It did--this is so marvelous--I did not realize how much I had missed it until I started to skate.” Maria’s excitement was infectious. He’d not thought of skating since last year, but now the thrill of the speed—almost like flying—seemed one of the most exhilarating things he’d ever done. “Take my hands like this.”
He clasped her hands, left in left and right in right, until they faced one another, then he began to spin them around, faster and faster until the world sped by at a dizzying pace.
Maria leaned her head back, laughing up to the cloudless sky, her face more beautiful than he’d ever seen it.
He slowed them down until they stood facing one another, panting. “I love you.” Hugh managed to get the words out before he sank his mouth onto hers.
The kiss was quick—they were still both gasping for breath—then a gulp of air, then he kissed her again. Longer this time, pressing against her even as he wrapped his arms around her and drew her to him. Another breath and he settled in for a lengthy kiss that he deepened, delving through her lips, into her mouth, tasting all the entrancing flavors that were uniquely her. God, he would never get enough.
Slowly, he came back to his senses and broke the kiss, albeit reluctantly. Maria nestled her head on his chest, as though it was the most natural thing in the world to do on the middle of a frozen pond.
“Do you still want me to leave?”
“You know I do not.” Existence here without her would be the worst form of torture.
“Then I won’t go,” she raised her head to look at him, love shining in her eyes, “we can get married, Hugh. I can live with you and your sister and my daughter at Wingate--if only we think about it, we can find a way to be happy.”
“My love, what do you think Lord Kersey will do when he finds out that I have married his kinswoman without so much as a by your leave? I wager I will find myself without a situation, therefore no house, no means to support any of us.” He hated to extinguish the hope in her face, but the harsh reality of their plight could not be mitigated. “Our best plan is the one we agreed to last night.”
“But I don’t want to leave you, not even for the time it takes me to go from here to there.” She struck out toward the far shore.
“Maria, come back.” He set out after her, but she swung around toward him.
“I won’t do it, Hugh. I won’t go. There must be some other way we can be together without another wretched scandal raising its head.” She looked so distraught, so forlorn, where moments before she’d been all smiles and laughter.
“Come back, my love. We can talk about it before we go back to the Hall.” It was more of a perfunctory concession. He’d thought about nothing else for the past days save how to make everything come out right. Nothing, save her leaving or Kit dying, would end their torment.
“Promise me, Hugh. Promise me we will be to—” Maria’s foot slid backward toward the bulrushes, broke through the ice and plunged her into the depths of the icy pond.
Start Reading THE WIDOW'S CHRISTMAS SURPRISE Now
The Widows' Club
Our Past Week of Fresh Picks