He vowed to never fall in love…
Meg Anthony was never raised a lady. Instead, she grew up amongst grifters who used her unique “finding” ability for their own selfish purposes. Recently, she’s been taken under the wing of the Duke of Camden and the Order of M.U.S.E., learning not only the fine art of becoming a lady, but how to use her extraordinary talent to help others.
But Meg’s gift is a beacon to unsavory characters who would possess her.
Charged with her protection, Lord Badewyn knows—too well—that his wild, Welsh castle is no safe haven for this lovely, all-too-desirable creature. Part human, part fallen angel, he is one of the Nephilim. He is a recluse sworn never to love. As the dangers to Meg grow more threatening, he cannot help but find himself tempted beyond all reason…and tested to see if he has both a heart and a soul.
In a still scrying bowl, I saw the most tumultuous crowd, strangely attired and frantic—all of them pushing and shoving and straining toward some unattainable goal. The vision caught my imagination and I yearned to discover what drove them so. When I told my father Grigori about it, he offered to let me see for myself the meaning of the images, but only if I was willing to travel farther than I’d ever conceived. I agreed, on the condition that I could take my darling Meg with me.
And so it was that he hurled us into the future . . .
~ from the journal of Samuel Templeton, Lord Badewyn
The Lost Christmas
“I think the correct question is ‘when’ on earth are we? And the answer is sometime near the beginning of the 21st century.” I look around at the bustling people. “Yes, this is the place I saw in my vision. Grigori told me it is something called a ’mall.’”
“The way does seem to be lined with shops, rather like Pall Mall, but there’s a roof overhead,” Meg says as we attempt to join the surging masses. “What a delightful invention! One could go from mantua-maker to tobacconist without needing an umbrella.”
“I doubt you’ll find a decent modiste here.” I stare at the still figures in one of the nearby shop windows. The female wax works are dressed in male attire, the shabbiest of trousers made of a faded blue material, with many holes and patches. The shop is nearly overrun with young people wearing similarly distressed clothing. Despite the disreputable condition of the merchandise, it seems to be flying out the door. “What a pity. They still have a thriving second hand clothing market even in this century.”
“Lady Easton always gives her castoffs to her maid,” Meg says, “but she’d never suffer her to wear such deplorable rags. Everyone seems in a frenzy to buy, not only from this shop, but from all of them. What can be driving the people so?”
“Before he Sent us forward, Grigori said we’d see what had become of Christmas.”
“Christmas? How can the accumulation of things have anything to do with Christmas? Oh, I see a bit of garland strung here and there, but where is the Jule log?” Meg does a slow circle, taking it all in. “And there’s not a decent kissing bough in sight.”
I pull her close. “Don’t worry, love. You don’t need mistletoe to coax a kiss from me.”
I proceed to demonstrate, but she straight-arms me.
“Not in public, dear.”
Her lovely eyes promise things worth waiting for, so I offer my arm and we stroll down the center of the mall, being passed on both sides by the harried shoppers.
“Oh, dear. One thing hasn’t changed,” Meg says. “That young fellow with the spiky blue hair just lifted that older gentleman’s wallet. I’ll be right back.”
Before I can stop her, Meg crosses the crowded space, accidently trips and falls into Spike’s arms and then, with copious apologies, extricates herself. She casts me a triumphant grin. Before my darling was a lady, she was a world-class pickpocket. She still has the lightest of fingers. Spike never realizes she lifted his ill-gotten gains and the older gentleman never felt her return his wallet either.
She sashays back to my side with a smug grin on her pretty face. “There. Never thought I’d use those skills for good.”
“Meg, everything you do is good.”
“You only say that because you want me to do you good.” She suddenly blushes to the tips of her ears and covers her mouth with her fingertips. “Oh, dear. That did not come out as I planned.”
I laugh. “That’s one of the things I love most about you, Meg. Nothing ever comes out as you plan.”
A flash of light catches the corner of my eye. A vision is forming in the fountain in the center court. I stop to observe. Even though exercising my Sight leaves me with a skull-splitting headache, I have to. I am a Watcher and when a vision comes to me in a body of water, I must bear it. This one tears at my heart.
“Samuel, what is it?” Meg tugged at my sleeve.
I break off my gaze and press against the bridge of my nose to assuage the ache. “A lost child.”
“In this throng?” Meg’s eyes widen. I know what she’s thinking. While most people are kindly disposed toward young ones, there have always been those who would use them for their own ends. “Did you catch the child’s name?”
I cannot hear anything when I Watch, but I am able to read lips sometimes. Meg needs the lost one’s name in order to Find her. It’s how her psychic gift works. The individual’s name serves as a beacon, allowing Meg to hone in on their location.
“You can’t go Finding here,” I said.
“This is not our time. We can’t be sure your gift will work now.”
“If a child is missing, I’m willing to risk it.” She leans against a wall. “You can hold me up while my spirit goes soaring. I’ll be back before you know it. Now, as you love me, tell me the child’s name.”
“I only know the first name.”
“That’s better than nothing. Oh, Samuel, I can’t tell you how often I wished someone would find me when I was a child.” Meg’s rough upbringing by her larcenous uncle is a topic she rarely discussed. Her determined little chin begins to quiver.
I know when I am beaten. “Grace. The child’s name is Grace.”
“Grace,” she repeats. Then she slumps in my arms as her spirit flies free of her body. I hold her close, mentally counting the seconds since her last breath. Very few things hold terror for me, but when Meg goes Finding, I own myself a coward.
“Hey, man. Get a room,” the spiky haired youth calls out to me.
I ignore him. By holding Meg’s body, I make it easier for her to return to it again. I would not release her for worlds. “Come back, love. Just come back.”
The seconds crawl into minutes. Her heartbeat is so slow, I can’t be sure I haven’t imagined a light thump against my chest. I cover her mouth with mine and share my breath with her.
“Meg, where are you?”
Just as panic is about to send me roaring my fear to heaven, she gasps and her limp body straightens. I hug her tight, promising myself that next time I’ll lay down the law and make sure she doesn’t hare off without her body again.
“I know where she is.” Meg lifts her hem and sets off at a run. I follow, weaving through the crowd after her. Meg stops before a door marked ‘Authorized Personnel Only.’
The entreaty in her eyes is all the authorization I need. I push through the doorway. There, in a long, dimly-lit corridor, away from the throng of eyes, a little girl struggles, trying to free her hand from the fellow who drags her along.
“You’re not my daddy!” she screams.
While I am not given to rash action, nothing can spur me to action quicker than a child in distress. I catch up with them in a few bounds and grab the fellow’s shoulder.
“Sir, I must insist you release the child at once.”
Instead of the compliance I expect—I am a baron, after all—the man pulls a knife and brandishes it at my midsection. He leers at me, expecting to see fear.
Given my heritage, it will take far more than this puny blade to bring me down. Quick as thought, I grab the man’s forearm and take great satisfaction in hearing the bones crunch under my grip. He yowls like a beast in a trap. It’s a wonder his noise doesn’t bring the authorities down upon us, but no one arrives to intervene. When I feel he has suffered sufficiently, I release him.
He collapses and cradles his ruined arm. Then he looks up at me, recognizing me for what I am—something Other, something Not-Quite Human. He crabs backward. “Let me go, man. She’s my girl friend’s kid. I was taking Grace to see her mom. Honest.”
He is pitiable in his weakness, in his vileness. I both despise him and condemn him. And recognize bits of myself in him.
Meg kneels before the little girl so she can look her eye to eye. “Is this true, Grace? Do you know this man?”
She sniffs and nods. “Momma’s in jail ‘cuz she did drugs. Daddy says I can’t see her.”
“And a well-bred young lady should always listen to her father,” I say. However, once I return her to her father, I intend to speak a word privately with him, urging him to mercy. Perhaps the child’s mother has realized no opiate can compensate for the loss of her daughter and is willing to change. Which brings me back to the would-be abductor, who is still inching toward an exit.
I step between him and the door. The people we have met in the mall are so far removed from the meaning of the season, it is difficult to find a way to explain it to them. Even in my own time, the thought of needing redemption has fallen out of favor because it requires us to acknowledge that we are weak. We are vile. Given a choice we often pick the wrong one. But Christmas means we have a chance to choose afresh.
If anyone needs what these people call “a do-over,” it’s the man on the floor before me.
“Because it is Christmas and because the name of this precious child is Grace, I am inclined to give you a second chance,” I say. Based on his puzzled expression, I’m not sure he understands. “You are not to interfere with Grace’s custody in any way. Is that understood?”
He nods vigorously. “Just let me go. I’ll never do anything like this again. Promise.”
When I tell him he is free, he begins bleating his thanks, but I cut him off.
“Be forewarned. I am a Watcher and now that I know you, I shall See if you so much as cause this little girl to stumble. If you see my face again, you will not find me in a forgiving mood.”
Meg and I take Grace by the hands between us and return to the main part of the mall where we search for a magistrate to assist us in reuniting her with her father. In the end, we make do with someone called a “mall cop” and the desired happy outcome is achieved. Grace’s father even promises to visit the child’s mother and to learn for himself if she has changed and it is safe for Grace to see her.
Almost immediately, the whirling vortex that brought us here catches us up and takes us back to Faencaern Castle and our own time. Grigori is waiting for us, one leg lazily propped over the arm of his chair, sprawling before the fire like some Pirate King.
“Well,” he drawls. “What did I tell you? In the future, Christmas is lost, isn’t it?”
“No. It will never be lost. Not so long as there are those who are in need of the love and forgiveness Christmas stands for.”
“In that case,” Meg says, slipping her hand into the crook of my elbow. I cover it with my own. “Christmas will be around until the last star falls.”
Meet Mia Marlowe!
Award winning author Mia Marlowe writes historical romance for Kensington Publishing and Sourcebooks. Her debut title received acclaim from romance luminaries. #1 New York Times bestseller Victoria Alexander says Mia’s Touch of a Thief has “adventure and heat and everything I want in a great story!” UK’s BooksMonthly has crowned Mia Marlowe “the queen of saucy historical romance.”
Mia learned much of what she knows about storytelling from singing. A classically trained soprano, she won the District Metropolitan Opera Auditions and shared a stage with Placido Domingo. As she prepared for operatic roles, she devised back stories for her characters. Since she’s worn a real corset, and had to sing high C’s in one, she empathizes with the trials of her fictional heroines. But in Mia’s stories, they don’t die in a Parisian garret. They get to live and keep the hero!
Want to purchase Mia’s novels?
Order of the M.U.S.E.
A Rake by Any Other Name (Somerfield Park #1)
Plaid Tidings (Spirit of the Highlands #1)
Waking Up With a Rake (Royal Rakes #1 (with Connie Mason))
Maidensong (Songs of the North #1)
The How To Series (only $.99!)
Touch of a Thief (Touch of Seduction #1)
Sins of the Highlander (with Connie Mason)
A Duke For All Seasons
Lord of Fire and Ice (with Connie Mason)
Stroke of Genius
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