A Rogue in Winter — A Rogues to Riches Holiday Novella
Part of the Rogues to Riches series
Vicar Pietr Sorenson is preparing to endure–enjoy, rather–another solitary, frigid holiday season at the edge of the Yorkshire moors, when Miss Joy Danforth‘s coach lurches to a halt across the village green. Joy and her brother have nowhere to wait out the impending bout of nasty weather, while the vicarage is even emptier than usual.
The lady is on her way to charm a titled nitwit into offering her marriage, lest her family face financial ruin. Pietr has accepted a prestigious post closer to civilization, though he hasn’t quite found a way to tell his congregation he’s leaving early in the New Year. Will Pietr and Joy steal some holiday comfort beneath the mistletoe, or find the love of a lifetime on a bleak mid-winter night?
Enjoy An Excerpt
“I ought not to abandon you at such a busy time, Vicar.” Mrs. Baker bustled toward the front door at a speed that belied genuine remorse. “The holidays see you run ragged, but my Eunice has all those children and another one due any day. Tell me I’m forgiven?”
Pietr Sorensen was good at telling people they were forgiven—as any vicar should be—and the peace and quiet Mrs. Baker’s annual absence provided was in truth a much treasured holiday gift.
“You are not only forgiven,” he said, mustering his kindly-vicar smile, “you are wished Godspeed, and my love to your family.” He kissed Mrs. Baker’s cheek in deference to the mistletoe she’d hung in the vicarage’s foyer, picked up her valise, and escorted her to the waiting coach.
“I’ve never traveled in such style,” she said as a footman lashed her valise to the boot. “My grandchildren will think the queen as arrived.”
“They will be more excited to know it’s their dear granny, bearing gingerbread, newly knitted socks, and fine old tales of Christmases past.”
Though the Rothmere family traveling coach did qualify as a luxury barge on wheels. Pietr had asked to borrow it on Mrs. Baker’s behalf, because she was getting on, the Rothmere family had no travel planned for the next month, and the public stage was a penance not to be borne in winter’s darkest weeks.
And if some small part of him wanted to know for a certainty that Mrs. B was well and truly off to York for a few weeks… well, no matter.
A man climbed down from the box while the horses stomped in the snow. He was slim, dark-haired, tallish, and attired in the height of winter fashion.
“Mr. Wentworth.” Pietr bowed rather than extend a hand. He barely knew Ned Wentworth, and would not presume any sort of familiarity with a member of a ducal household. “Good day.”
“Vicar. Mrs. Baker.” Mr. Wentworth bowed over the lady’s hand, which resulted in woman old enough to be Pietr’s granny simpering. “I hitched a ride into the village rather than trudge both directions in this snow. I thought winter in London was a tribulation, but Yorkshire….”
“Worse than Scotland, some people say,” Mrs. Baker remarked. “The Vikings were right at home here. I must be off, for the light doesn’t last this time of year.”
She dipped a hasty curtsey and Mr. Wentworth handed her into the coach. The coachman saluted with his whip, and the vehicle jingled and clattered down the snowy street.
“I was tempted to nip into York,” Mr. Wentworth said. “To go someplace where buildings come in a proper batch, not isolated in a sea of snow. I never thought I’d miss the stink of London’s coal smoke or the crowded walkways, but I do. The silence alone this far from civilization is enough to drive a man daft.”
The Bible listed commandments, while a vicar developed a list of ailments of the human heart. Homesickness figured somewhere near the top.
“Come in for a cup of tea, Mr. Wentworth. Give the shops an hour to get their parlor stoves roaring. Mrs. Baker has left me to make shift, but she always fills the larder with holiday treats before she goes.”
Wentworth looked skeptical. “I truly do have errands to run, Vicar. I suspect Her Grace of Walden wanted me out from underfoot while the decorating got under way at Lynley Vale. His Grace is trying to help, and Lord Stephen is making suggestions, while the footmen have all developed bad hearing. I was one dunderheaded male too many.”
That was a falsehood, and right now, watching the Wentworth ducal coach trot out of the village, Pietr was inclined to name it as such.
“You are not a Wentworth by blood, so you banished yourself from what you regarded as a family undertaking. Forget the tea, let’s have a tot to ward off the chill. Frequent doses of wassail are how we get through our winters here.”
“Wassail, toddies, a nip from the flask. Everybody thinks Yorkshiremen are tough. We’re more determined than tough, and we’ve learned to make our peace with the elements. Inside with you, Mr. Wentworth, and we will see what Mrs. Baker has left in the way of sweets.”
“Jane said I shouldn’t underestimate you.”
Jane being Her Grace of Walden, a formidable woman who made duchessing look much easier than it was. But then, Jane was married to Quinton, Duke of Walden, and compared to being that fellow’s wife, wearing a tiara was doubtless a Sunday stroll.
“You need not estimate me at all,” Pietr said, leading the way up the vicarage’s steps. “I’m a humble country parson living a placid existence in the bucolic splendor of rural nowhere.” He’d meant that observation as a jest, but it had come out sounding a bit… petulant?
“Pour me a bracer,” Mr. Wentworth said, “and you can be my new best friend. I really am not accustomed to this cold.”
“Has anybody given you the sermon for southerners yet?” Pietr asked, taking his guest’s hat, coat, and gloves. “If leaving home, always dress as if you’ll be outside all day, for you might be. Layers of wool are best, and that means two pairs of stockings, if possible, three if you can manage it. Forget vanity. Winter will kill you if you give it a chance. If you are caught out in bad weather, try to keep moving at a slow, steady pace provided you can see where you are going. If you sit for a moment to rest, next thing you will close your eyes, and St. Peter will be offering you a pair of wings.”
Mr. Wentworth glanced around the vicarage, which Mrs. Baker kept spotless. The place was less than hundred years old—thus it was the new vicarage—and detached from the church, unlike the prior manse, which was now used for Sunday school, meetings, and fellowship meals.
Like every other durable structure in Yorkshire, the vicarage was a stone edifice. The interior was lightened by whitewashed plaster walls, mullioned windows, and polished oak floors covered with sturdy braided rugs. Darkness in the form of exposed beams, wainscoting, and fieldstone hearths did battle with light, and on a gloomy winter morning, light wasn’t much in evidence.
“Strensal says we’re in for more snow,” Mr. Wentworth observed, following Pietr into his study. “I have never seen snow like you have up here. Acres of snow, waist deep, and the sky looks like nothing so much as more snow preparing to further bury a landscape we won’t see again until July.”
“The first winter is something of an adventure,” Pietr said, going to the decanters on the sideboard. “Brandy?”
“If you will join me.”
Pietr poured two generous servings and passed one to his guest. “The second winter, you realize about half-way through that it’s not an adventure, it’s a tribulation. The third winter you endure on the strength of grim resignation, and the fourth winter, you resolve to move south come spring.”
Wentworth sipped his drink. “How long have you been here?”
“More than four winters is simply referred to as too long, to one not born in these surrounds, but the other seasons are glorious. Would you care for a hand of cribbage? Chess, perhaps?”
Men could not simply sit and talk with one another. Learning that had taken Pietr several years. Women, perhaps because their work was so unrelenting, had the knack of purely spending time in one another’s company. Men were more difficult to put at ease.
“It’s damned snowing again.” Mr. Wentworth’s tone was indignant as he took his drink to the window. “Pardon my language, but it snowed yesterday and the day before.”
“I would not want to be the bearer of bad news,”—vicars were frequently exactly that—“but it’s likely to snow again tomorrow and the next day.” Pietr considered his drink, though really, consuming spirits this early in the day, and so shortly after Mrs. Baker’s departure, was ill-advised. “To an early spring.”
Mr. Wentworth drank to that. “I dread the hike back to Lynley Vale, and I consider myself as stout-hearted as the next man.”
“You consort with Wentworths. You are more stout-hearted than most. What brings you to the village?”
Mr. Wentworth, whose daily business put him at the throbbing heart of international commerce, and whose nearest associations were one step short of royalty, made a face as if he’d been served cold porridge.
“Ah.” Pietr joined Wentworth at the window, and indeed, fat, white snowflakes were drifting down from a pewter sky. Nothing to be alarmed about—yet. Mrs. Baker would reach York safely, though if the coachman were wise, he’d spend the night in town before asking the team to make the return journey.
“What am I supposed to give people who can buy entire counties of they so desire?” Mr. Wentworth asked.
Pietr handed out the same advice he gave to yeomen and gentry alike. “For the ladies, something small, unique, and pretty. For the gents, something comfortable and comforting. Avoid the useful and the necessary, which should be provided outside the context of holiday tokens. If you can make your gifts with your own hands, so much the better.”
“I make deals,” Mr. Wentworth said. “I make business transactions. I make coldly rational decisions.”
This was the recitation of a man who’d never been in love. Of course, Christmas would baffle him.
“We have a talented woodcarver in the person of Dody Wiles who can usually be found holding forth in the inn’s snug on winter afternoon. For a price, he will make you birds, kittens, flowers… He can fashion them into coasters, or use a heavy wood such as mahogany to make a paperweight. His pipes are works of art, though he does need time to finish his creations.”
“A wood carver?”
“He was a drover who nearly lost a foot to frostbite. He needed a sedentary occupation, and the herds’ loss is our gain. What on earth is that fellow thinking?”
A coach and four was rocketing along the far side of the village green, matched blacks in the traces.
“Fancy carriage,” Mr. Wentworth muttered. “Fine horse flesh. What is a conveyance like that doing in a place like this?”
The vehicle rocked to a stop outside the coaching inn. A man climbed out. Youngish based on the way he moved, dark-haired. He wore neither hat nor scarf nor gloves, though his great coat sported three capes.
He no sooner put his booted foot to the snowy ground than he went careening onto his face into the nearest drift.
“Is this what passes for entertainment in a Yorkshire village?” Mr. Wentworth asked.
A lady climbed out of the coach. Her age impossible to tell because she did wear a bonnet and scarf. She was spry, though, and she alit without benefit of a male hand to hold. She marched to her fallen comrade and stood over him, hands on hips.
He remained in the snow, face down, unmoving.
“This is not entertainment,” Pietr said, setting his drink aside. “This is a problem, and one I must deal with. The lady’s coachy appears to be a madman and her escort three sheets to the wind. You are free to tarry here, Mr. Wentworth, but I must pour oil on troubled waters and speak peace unto the heathen.”
“You can’t leave it to the innkeeper?”
“The hostlers aren’t changing out the team, and our humble inn is full to the gills with holiday travelers. Yesterday’s clouds promise that at some point today, the snow will mean business and that woman will be stranded on the Dales with a drunk for an escort and an imbecile at the reins. Nobody will intervene now because she’s not their problem, but I am a vicar and thus have a license to meddle.”
Mr. Wentworth finished his drink and set the glass on the sideboard. “I have a propensity for meddling myself. Walden pays me to meddle, in fact. I didn’t know there was a profession for it.”
“Neither did I. You figure that part out after it’s too late.” Pietr did not bother with a hat, though he did tarry long enough to whip a scarf about his neck and pull on fleece-lined gloves. He stalked directly across the green, snow crunching beneath his boots, Mr. Wentworth tromping along at his side.
By the time they reached the coach, so had the innkeeper, his wife, two aldermen, the blacksmith, Mrs. Peabody, and any number of guests from the inn.
“Mr. Sorenson, it’s as well you’ve troubled yourself to join us.” Mrs. Peabody managed to convey that Pietr had dawdled half the day way. As head of the pastoral committee, she took seriously her duty to ensure that her vicar walked humbly with his God. “Somebody is sorely in need of last rites.”
“Looks to me,” Mr. Wentworth said, “as if somebody needs a bit of hair of the dog.”
Mrs. Peabody drew in a breath, like a seventy-four gunner unfurling her sails. “Sir, I don’t know who you are, or why you feel—”
“Excuse me,” Pietr said, bending over the prostrate man. “This fellow needs help. Mr. Wentworth if you’d assist me to get him to his feet.” Many a Yorkshire wayfarer had frozen to death, sleeping off the effects of drink in the cozy embrace of a fluffy snow drift.
Pietr took one of the fellow’s arms, Wentworth got the other, and they eased the man to his feet. He was flushed, and bore the scent of spirits.
“Take your hands off my brother.” The traveling companion’s voice cracked like river ice giving way under a winter sun. What she lacked in stature she made up for in ire.
Jolly delightful. The situation needed only jugglers, a dancing bear, and a learned pig. Alas, Pietr would have to manage as best he could without those reinforcements.
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End of Excerpt
A Rogue in Winter — A Rogues to Riches Holiday Novella is available in the following formats:
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November 2, 2021
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A Rogue in Winter — A Rogues to Riches Holiday Novella is part of the Rogues to Riches series. The full series reading order is as follows:
A Rogue in Winter — A Rogues to Riches Holiday Novella • Book 1: My One and Only Duke • Book 2: When a Duchess Says I Do • Book 3: Forever and a Duke • Book 4: A Duke by Any Other Name • Book 5: The Truth About Dukes • Book 6: How to Catch a Duke • Book 7: Never a Duke •