Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Comfort And Joy - Margaret Moore

A Writers Vineyard Holiday Treat

From “Comfort and Joy”
by Margaret Moore
Originally published in the anthology THE CHRISTMAS VISIT published by Harlequin Historicals

Griffin Branwynne, the disfigured earl of Cwm Rhyss, has been stranded during a snowstorm with Gwendolyn Davies, the matron of a local orphanage.

He tilted his head to study her. “You think the world would come to see me as a man, not a scarred monstrosity?”


He shifted, inching closer. “You see me as a man?”

“I see a healthy, vital man with many years before him.”

He smiled as he reached out and caressed her cheek. “Have a care, Miss Davies. I don’t think you quite know what you’re doing.”

Perhaps she didn’t, but she knew he was touching her cheek, and as he did, a host of contradicting emotions stirred within her -- hope, joy, fear, desire.

“You’re marvelous with the boys,” he said softly. “I’m sure your wards at the orphanage receive the same excellent care. I’m sure they love you for it.”

“I try to be more than a matron to the children who depend on me,” she said, barely resisting the urge to turn her head and press her lips to the warm palm of his hand.

“I can well believe that you’re much more than that,” he replied, lowering his hand. “You remind me of my favorite teacher at Harrow. He was stern, but fair.”

Stern? He thought her stern? Yet he meant those words as a compliment, and she would take them as such. “Children need rules and guidance.”

“And a motherly woman to do both, so that the rules are not seen as prison and the guidance gentle prodding, not enforced conformity.”

Again, she should be flattered, and not feel...deflated... that he thought her motherly.

“You’ll make an excellent mother. An excellent wife.”

He couldn’t have any idea how those words hurt her. They were stabs to her very heart, because he would never want her for a wife. “I’m not likely to marry and I have plenty of children to mother already.”

“But you do want to marry, do you not? What if some fine young preacher fell in love with you? Or a charming schoolmaster asked for your hand?”

“I don’t think either scenario is very likely. And there is a very serious drawback to your fanciful plans.”

“What’s that?”

“I’m neither young enough nor pretty enough to attract either. And then there is my headstrong, persistent, unfeminine nature, my lord. Those traits enabled me to get an education and stand me in good stead at St. Bridget’s, but they are hardly the qualities a man looks for in a wife. No, my lord, I shall gladly content myself with my orphaned children and entertain no such ridiculous fancies.”

“A man can come to admire and respect persistence and stubbornness, when the goal that provokes them is a worthy one. As for the traits men are supposed to want in a wife, they might be suitable if a fellow wants nothing more than a boring, agreeable creature as obedient and lively as a doll.”

He toyed with a piece of greenery on the mantel. “Or are you trying to say that you think hoping for love when the cards seem stacked against you is a foolish waste of time?”

“I’m a practical woman who has no time for silly, girlish dreams and desires.”

“Not even at Christmas?”

She hesitated for the briefest of moments before answering. “No.”

“Yet I am to have hope that people will accept me, despite my face.”

“That’s different. You still have much to offer the world.”

“I think you have much to offer to the man who can win your heart.” He held the greenery above her head, and she saw that it was mistletoe. “If your theory is correct, and I’m not as repulsive a fellow as I thought, you’ll let me kiss you.”

She flushed and glanced up at the dangling greenery. Oh, God help her! What was happening? Why this? Why now, here, with this nobleman? Why couldn’t she have had these feelings years ago, for a carpenter or a bricklayer or a foot soldier?

Her feelings for him were doomed to give her nothing but misery. They could never lead to anything lasting between them. No matter what he said, or how, or the desire and emotions he aroused in her, she must never forget that. She must and would protect her heart, as best she could. “That hardly seems fair, my lord. I could have several reasons for not wishing to kiss you.”

“Name one, other than my ugly face.”

“I hardly know you.”

He dangled the mistletoe above her. “You know me better than many a person.”

She would be blunt, because there seemed no other way. “You’re an earl and I’m the daughter of paupers.”

“I’m a man, and you’re the most interesting woman I’ve ever met. You’ve intrigued me from the moment you charged into my study like a conquering general. I’ve had my fill of timid, simpering, giggling women. You’re direct and forthright, intelligent and determined. Any man should consider himself fortunate to have your good regard.”

She turned away. “Stop saying such things, my lord.”

“I’m telling you the truth.” He stepped closer and caught her around the waist, letting the mistletoe fall. “I’m also going to kiss you.”

Cover Art Copyright (c) 2004 by Harlequin Enterprise Limited
Text Copyright (c) 2004 by Margaret Wilkins

Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A. Cover Art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved. (r) and TM are trademarks of Harlequin Enterprises Limited and/or its affliated companies, used under license.

This has been an excerpt form Comfort And Joy
Margaret Moore has written over 40 historical romance novels and novellas for Harlequin, Avon Books and HarperCollins Childrens Books. She began writing on a quaint device known as a “typewriter,” and although she now writes on a computer, emails and blogs, has yet to play a computer game.
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