Fiction Fest: Final free excerpt from ‘Carla Kelly’s Christmas Collection’

Carla Kelly Christmas Collection 2x3Carla Kelly’s at it again, this time she’s penned four short Christmas stories set in Regency London and compiled them into one book, “Carla Kelly’s Christmas Collection,” which was released on Oct. 8, 2013.

Can’t get enough of Kelly’s novels? Sit tight, her next one, “In Love and War: A Collection of Love Stories,” will drop on Nov. 12, 2013. You can pre-order it right now on Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com, and BooksAndThings.com.

“Carla Kelly’s Christmas Collection” is available in book stores and from online retailers.

EXCERPT from “Make a Joyful Noise”

Carla Kelly: Peter Chard, landowner, widower, marquis and former brigade commander, is on the hunt for singers for the annual Christmas competition between three local parishes. Competition is cut throat, and he is determined that St. Philemon’s Church will win this year, but hook or crook. How to find singers? He has noticed a woman walking in the fields, and sees her in church on Sunday.

He rode toward his own fields, the sun warm on his back and welcome in October. Soon it would be cold and the snow would come. As Sepoy carried him up the gradual slope to his hayfield, he noticed the woman walking through the field. He smiled, wondering for the umpteenth time who she was. He had noticed her first in August’s heat, when she walked with only a bonnet dangling down her back. All he could tell about her was that she was slender but not tall, and possessed dark hair. Since September, she had been cloaked as well as bonneted. He had mentioned her once to Mama over dinner, but Louisa Chard – she who knew all shire news – only shrugged. “Perhaps she is a relation of the Wetherbys, and you know I do not visit them,” was her pointed comment.

*****

He sat back, concentrating as always on the service because he cared what Mr. Woodhull said, and he felt a genuine need to express himself in prayer. I am so blessed, he thought simply; it follows that I should be grateful, even if gratitude is not stylish.

They rose for a hymn. As usual, he prepared to flinch at the unfortunate lack of musical ability among his tenants and fellow parishioners. That he did not, he owed entirely to the woman standing in front of him.

He had never heard a more beautiful voice, full-throated and rich, with a vibrate that was just enough without overpowering the simple hymn they sang.

“Oh, Papa.”

He glanced down at Will, who appeared to be caught in the same musical web. He put his arm around his son and they enjoyed the pleasure of a beautiful voice together.

He was hard put to direct his attention to the rest of the service. When he and Will returned to the pew after taking the sacrament, he tried to see who she was, but she had returned to the pew before him and knelt with her head down, as he should be doing. Instead, he knelt behind her again and watched her. Only a moment’s concentration assured him that she was the woman who walked the hills. The cloak was shabby up close.

From what he could tell, she was small but sturdy. She was the happy possessor of a wealth of black hair, long and managed into a tidy mass at the back of her neck. He could see nothing remarkable about her – no ribands, no jewelry –  until a baby in the pew behind him burst into sudden wails and she turned around involuntarily. She was beautiful. Her eyes were wide and dark, her features perfectly proportioned, and her lips of a tender shape. To Chard’s honest delight, she smiled at either him or Will before she turned back around.

When the Mass ended, he wanted to speak to her, but he found herself hard put to think of a proper introduction. To his knowledge, she was not a tenant, so there was no connection. From the look of her cloak, clean but well worn, she was not of his social circle. While he puzzled on what to do and nodded and smiled to various friends, she escaped and his ordeal was over.