A Christmas Story from Anne Herries
My latest Regency The Rake's Rebellious story has a secondary character called George Bellingham. People have been asking me if George is to have his own story. I have written this little Christmas tempter for you and, who knows, I may come up with a book based on this excerpt. I wish you all a lovely Christmas and a Happy New Year and I want to say thank you to all my readers for supporting my books.
Regency Christmas Story
George Bellingham tossed the latest Christmas greeting to arrive into the beautiful silver bowl on his desk and frowned. It was an invitation to spend the festive season with Sir Freddie and his young wife. Since Sir Freddie was his best friend, George would normally have accepted the invitation with alacrity. However, he was feeling out of sorts.
His sister and niece, who had recently become engaged, were spending Christmas at the home of her fiancé. George had been invited but had not yet agreed.
The truth of it was that he simply wasn’t in the mood for celebrating Christmas this year and he did not know why. He was a generous man and normally delighted in sending lavish gifts and trinkets to his many friends. It might, he suspected, be something to do with the fact that everyone he cared for had either married or become engaged while he remained single.
For years George had studiously avoided marriage, perhaps because he enjoyed his freedom or the ladies he preferred married other gentlemen. He had recently parted from his mistress of several years on friendly terms. Indeed, they had been little more than friends for some months.
‘You are in danger of turning into an old fuddy duddly, sir!’ George straightened an imaginary crease in his cravat, glanced at his gold pocket watch and then reached for his silver topped cane. If he were not careful he would be late for his appointment.
Leaving the house, George strode purposefully towards his club. He had recently been negotiating the purchase of a pair of horses that he believed would rival Sir Freddie’s matched blacks. He had high hopes of completing the sale today. It would not do to keep their owner waiting!
He was about to cross the square when he heard a woman’s scream. Seeking the source, he saw that a young lady was struggling as two ruffians attempted to force her into a closed carriage. George acted instinctively. Sprinting towards her, he drew the blade from his swordstick and charged at the rogues.
His sudden and bold attack took the would be abductors by surprise. They took one look at his gleaming blade and fled, the carriage setting off at a furious pace in pursuit.
George’s eyes gleamed darkly with satisfaction
‘I trust you are not hurt, miss?’
‘Thank you, no, sir. You saved me!’
George blinked as she smiled. She was he thought the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.
‘It was nothing, I assure you.’ He offered his hand. ‘I am George Bellingham at your service, miss…?’
‘Elizabeth Graham.’ She dimpled enchantingly. ‘Mama and I have just arrived in London. My father was attached to the Spanish Embassy in Madrid but he died a month ago and we had to come back to England.’
‘I am sincerely sorry for your loss, Miss Graham. I had not realised…’
Elizabeth blushed. ‘I am waiting for a new wardrobe, sir. I shall go into black as soon as my gowns are ready.’
‘You must not apologise to me.’ George looked at her thoughtfully. Her recent arrival from Spain and her mourning explained why he had not seen her in Society. ‘Would you mind telling me why those rogues were trying to abduct you?’
‘I believe they may have mistaken me for my cousin, Miss Winters, who is an heiress of some note.’
‘Miss Helen Winters?’ George saw a faint likeness, though the girls were very different in character for he knew the rather proud Miss Winters well. ‘You are related to Lord and Lady Winters?’ He was pleased as she inclined her head. ‘I am acquainted with the family. Were you on your way home?’
‘Yes, indeed. I was returning from the library…’ Elizabeth looked slightly nervous. I believe those men have gone – do you not think so?’
‘I hardly think they will attack you again today but you must take care not to walk alone in the future – and you should inform your mama and Lord Winters’ George offered his arm. ‘Perhaps you will allow me to escort you?’
‘I should feel so much safer if you were with me, sir.’
George felt an odd flutter about his heart as she took his arm. Everything suddenly seemed sharper and clearer.
He was aware of the smell of roasting chestnuts and the frosting of white on the trees and the rooftops. Even the cries of the costers had a festive ring as they offered bunches of holly and mistletoe.
‘Are you to go into the country for Christmas, Miss Graham?’
‘Oh no, my aunt will be staying in town. Do you depart for the country soon?’ Her large blue eyes met his dark gaze, her cheeks and nose pink from the cold.
‘I think I shall stay in town. In fact I am thinking of giving a party. I shall write and invite the Winters family – and both your mother and you. It will be just a small affair with no dancing so it will be perfectly proper for you to attend even in mourning – if you should care for it?’
‘I should love to come if mama agrees,’ she said her face lighting up. ‘I am acquainted with a few people in town but…I feel as if I have known you all my life.’ She blushed. ‘Perhaps that was too forward of me?’
‘Certainly not,’ George assured her. ‘I am happy to hear it, Miss Graham, for it is exactly the way I feel myself. We may have met by chance but I hope we shall become good friends.’
‘How could I not admire the man who saved me? Elizabeth asked. ‘I am certain we shall be friends.’
‘George felt an overwhelming urge to kiss her. He was however too much the gentleman to attempt it. Miss Graham was in mourning. She was a respectable young lady and an act of passion would have startled her. She must be courted in the proper manner…
George caught himself up as he realised the way his thoughts were going. However, he could not regret them for he rather thought he was in love for the first time in his life…