The Surprise

The Surprise

Christmas time should be joyous for Kit Aldean, the new Earl of Northernly, and his wife, Emily. They will have a new child arriving for the new year. But to their surprise, they first get a Yuletide visitor — the previous Earl’s wife, who had vanished years ago. She presents them with a child who may be the real heir. Fortunately, their next visitors are Cousin Sarah and her husband, William. They’ve solved mysteries before, but can they manage this one in time?

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Excerpt

The Surprise (Soliciting a Lady 4)
Treva Harte
All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2022 Treva Harte

“What an eventful year it’s been,” Emily said, looking up from her recently received letter.

“It’s quite a change to no longer have a Regent but a King, even if it’s been almost a year now,” her husband agreed, blandly, still reading the London newspapers that had also arrived. Emily knew they were dreadfully out-of-date, but they were the closest thing they had to society news — or any news outside their own estate and neighboring lands. “And even if it’s the same fellow.”

“You’re being provoking! You know I meant our upcoming baby. And while I’m terribly sorry to hear Sarah’s news, I am selfishly ecstatic that means she will be visiting with us.” Emily looked down at her own increasing girth. “I hope my condition doesn’t upset her.”

Kit looked up and reached out a hand to her. “Are you feeling truly worried?”

“A little. And very much with child,” Emily admitted. “I could use Sarah’s presence since I’m beginning to worry about everything, and I’m not very close to delivering. I can’t imagine how awkward and big I’ll be as I get near to the date.”

“You’re quite beautiful, you know.” Kit smiled a little. “Always will be.”

“Oh.” Emily blinked. “Are you sure an old married man should say such things to his wife?”

“I believe in telling the truth as much as possible,” Kit answered. Then he returned to the papers as if he’d said nothing that lovely at all.

Well. Emily looked out the window and decided as long as one didn’t have to go out and brave the cold, it looked bright and inviting. It wasn’t nearly as bad as it had been last year. Of course, that didn’t matter. She was confined to the house for the next few months.

It wasn’t all bad. After all, she’d had the perfect excuse to not attend to her mother this winter after Mother took another bad turn. That had quite put her sister Frederica out — she could no longer demand her spinster sister be there to nurse Mother. In fact, since Emily was increasing and Frederica’s youngest was about to enter school, she couldn’t even say her children were demanding her attention. Now it was Emily’s turn to be a devoted parent and Frederica’s to be a devoted daughter.

Emily didn’t envy Frederica her new caretaking duties or moving Mother into her home, but Emily wasn’t going to take up caring for her mother again any time soon. If that made her ungrateful, so be it. Their mother had never been the easiest woman to deal with even when she was in health.

Deliberately Emily pushed all unhappy memories away and sniffed the air instead as if imagining the near future. “I love the greenery that goes up for Christmastime. I can’t wait for it to smell like the holidays.”

“I prefer the fat Yule log that will be keeping us warm at Christmas,” Kit said. “Although I suppose the greens are nice enough.”

“Wait until next year and we have a small child to poke about and get excited,” Emily said. “Perhaps we can invite Sarah and William and have their family here that year as well. Imagine the noise and anticipation.”

“I don’t know that I can. Or want to,” Kit told her and then smiled. “You’re looking forward to it.”

After no festive family gatherings in her memory, why wouldn’t she? Emily knew the same was true for Kit. There was his sister Charlotte, married to her farmer, but she was busy with her own family and had little time for visits.

“Not this year, but soon,” Emily said. “We’ll have a proper Christmas meal. With everything… Christmas pudding and goose and mistletoe –”

“I hope the mistletoe isn’t part of the menu.”

“You know what I mean. Right now the thought of goose turns my stomach but I always loved it before. I still want the pudding and I won’t begrudge you the goose this year. By next year, I am sure I will devour my share.”

“My dear, if you’re ill from the sight of it, we can dispense with goose.” Kit stretched out his hand to touch hers. “I would rather brave the cook’s wrath than your illness.”

“That’s almost sweet,” Emily told him. “But don’t make me say you are the goose for worrying so. I can manage.”

“My lady. My lord.” Denning, their new butler, spoke up at the door’s threshold. “You have a visitor. Visitors.”

Emily frowned. Which one of their neighbors was lunatic enough to come out in such cold to socialize?

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