It Happened at Christmas [Secure]
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by Helen Brooks, Carol Wood
Description: Experience the love, warmth and magic Christmas brings, with this heartwarming collection from three favorite Harlequin authors.... So much stands between Lancashire mill owner Haywood Denshaw and his new housekeeper Marianne Brown. But even disparate social standing and rumors of disreputable pasts can't get in the way of their love. Only Marianne's refusal to compromise her principles can, in a captivating story by PENNY JORDAN. Wealthy farmer Luke Hudson gets more than he bargained for when he plucks a destitute young woman from the workhouse. He may have rescued Connie Summers from a life of penury and hard labor, but her spirit and warmth give him a new outlook--and a second chance at love, in an enthralling story by HELEN BROOKS. Modern-thinking doctor Harry Fleet and compassionate but old-school nurse Tilly Dainty clash at the Tap House surgery in 1920s East London. But working together to care for the sick and needy turns out to be a healing balm on both their hearts, in an emotional story by CAROL WOOD.
eBook Publisher: Harlequin/Romance,
eBookwise Release Date: October 2007
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Available eBook Formats [Secure - What's this?]: OEBFF Format (IMP) [491 KB]
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'I CAN'T take you no further, lass, seein' as I'm bound for Wicklethwaites Farm and you're wantin' Rawlesden,' the carter informed Marianne in his broad Lancashire accent, as he brought the cart to a halt at a fork in the rutted road. 'You must take this turning 'ere and follow the road all the way down to the town. You'll know it before you gets there on account of the smoke from Bellfield Mill's chimneys, and then you keeps on walking when you gets to the Bellfield Hall.'
'Why do you say that?' Marianne asked the carter uncertainly.
She needed to find work—and quickly, she acknowledged as she looked down into the too-pale face of the baby in her arms. A lone woman with no work and a baby to care for could all too easily find herself in the workhouse—as she knew already to her cost.
The rich might be celebrating the Edwardian era, and a new king on the throne, but nothing had changed for the poor.
'I says it on account of him wot owns it—aye, and t'mill an' all. There's plenty round here who says that he only come by them by foul means, and that the Master of Bellfield wouldn't think twice about ridding himself of anyone wot was daft enough to stand in his way. There's one little lass already disappeared from these parts with no one knowing where she's gone. Happen that's why he can't get no one working up at the hall for him. No one half decent, that is…'
'He doesn't sound very pleasant,' Marianne agreed as she clambered down from the cart, and then thanked the carter as he handed her the shabby bundle containing her few possessions.
'I still dunno wot would bring a pretty lass like you looking for work in these parts.'
Marianne could tell that the carter was eager to know as much about her as he could—no doubt to add to his stock-in-trade of gossip. He had already regaled her with several tales of the doings of those who lived in the town and the small farms on the moors beyond it, with a great deal of relish. Marianne suspected it was an enclosed, shut-off life here in this dark mill town, buried deep in a small valley between the towering Pennine hills.
Her large brown eyes with their fringing of thick black eyelashes shadowed slightly in her small heart-shaped face. The carter had referred to her as a 'pretty lass,' but she suspected that he was flattering her. She certainly did not feel like one, with her hair damp and no doubt curling wildly all over the place, her clothes old and shabby and her skin pinched and blue-looking from the cold. She was also far too fine-boned for the modern fashion for curvaceous women—the kind of women King Edward favoured.
'It's just as I explained to you when you were kind enough to offer me a lift,' she answered the carter politely. 'My late husband's dying wish was that I should bring his son here, to the place where he himself was born.'
'So you've got family here, then, have you?'
'I haven't.' Marianne forced herself to sound confident and relaxed. 'My late husband did have, but alas they, like him, are dead now.'
'Aye, well, it's natural enough that a man should want to think of his child following in his own footsteps. Dead now, you said?'
'Yes. He…he took a fever and died of it,' Marianne told him. It would not do to claim too close an acquaintance on her late husband's part with anything that might enable others to ask her too many questions.
'Well, I hope you manage to find yourself a decent place soon, lass. Although it won't be easy, wot with you having the babby, and you don't want to find yourself taken up by the parish and put in t'workhouse,' he warned her, echoing her own earlier thoughts.
'They don't suffer strangers easily hereabouts. Especially not when they're poor and pretty. T'master, is a hard man, and it's him wot lays down the law on account of him owning t'mill.'
Despite her best intentions Marianne shuddered—but then who would not do so at the thought of ending up in a parish workhouse?
Images, memories she wanted to banish for ever were trying to force themselves upon her. That sound she could hear inside her head was not the noise of women screaming in hunger and pain, but instead merely the howl of the winter wind, she assured herself firmly.
'You've no folk of yer own, then, lass?'
'I was orphaned young,' she answered the carter truthfully, 'and the aunt who brought me up is now dead.'
'Well, think on about what I just said,' the carter told her as he gathered up the reins and clicked his tongue to instruct the raw-boned horse between the shafts to move on. 'Keep away from Bellfield and its master if you want to keep yourself safe.'
There it was again—the unmistakable admonition that the mill and its master were dangers to be avoided. But it was too late to ask the carter any more questions, as the rain-soaked darkness of the November evening was already swallowing him up.
Picking up her bundle, Marianne pulled her cloak as closely around the baby as she could before bracing herself against the howl of the wind and setting off down the steep rutted and muddy track the carter had told her led into the town.
* * *
Marianne grimaced as mud from the uneven road came up over the sides of her heavy clogs and the sleet-laden wind whipped cruelly at her too-thin body, soaking through her cheap cloak. The carter had talked of how winter came early to this part of the world, and how it wouldn't be too long before it saw snow. She had only walked a mile or so since the carter had set her down at the fork in the road that led down off the Lancashire moors into the town below, but already she was exhausted, her teeth chattering and her hands blue with cold. What money she'd had to spare on the long journey here had gone on food and a good woollen blanket to wrap around the baby she was cradling so protectively.
Copyright © 2007 by Harlequin Books S.A.