Message From The Author
Talk about a challenge.
Ever since "Yuletide Treasure" appeared in Pocket's holiday anthology A Gift of Love, I've received a deluge of letters requesting Noelle Bromleigh's story. I couldn't wait to bring back the entire Bromleigh family and have poor Eric and Brigitte contend with a very grown-up-but-still-precocious Noelle.
Fulfilling my readers' and my own expectations of Noelle's book would have been hard enough—but there was more. Noelle's hero, who slammed into my mind with the force of a locomotive, was Ashford Thornton from The Last Duke. Now I had the entire Thornton clan, as well as the Bromleighs, to do justice to.
I agonized. I worried. I spent a gazillion hours a day at my computer on THE THEFT, and most of the remaining hours mentally perfecting what I'd written. But you know what? I think my compulsiveness paid off. What's more, I think you'll agree.
Noelle hadn't gone ten steps when a little girl exploded from the trees and crashed directly into her.
"Oh, Im sorry." The child, who appeared to be about seven years old, stared up at Noelle through distressed grey eyes. "I didn't know anyone was out here except us."
Noelle squatted down and smiled. "Dont apologize. It was I who collided with you." A mischievous twinkle. "I'm quite a good runner myself."
"Would you like to join our game then? Im sure Uncle Ashe wouldn't mind."
"Uncle Ashe?" Noelle's heart skipped a beat.
"Um-hum." The child twisted tawny hair about her forefinger. "My name's Cara—after my great-grandmother. Whats yours?"
"Noelle—after Christmas. That's when I was born."
"Do you get two celebrations or one?"
Noelle's lips twitched. "Two. I insisted on that when I was a child."
"I dont blame you."
A rustle from the cluster of trees interrupted them, and Cara tugged at Noelle's skirts. "We'd better hurry or we'll get caught."
"I hear you, moppet," came an all-too-recognizable baritone, drawing nearer. "And I suggest we head back to the manor. Your mama will worry herself sick if were out here after dark."
"Uncle Ashe is right. Mama will be upset." Cara pressed a conspiratorial forefinger to her lips. "Finish the game for me-okay Noelle? Tell Uncle Ashe I'm making a dash for the manor." Her dimples flashed. "Oh, and tell him I win."
She shot off like a bullet.
"Where are you, moppet?" Ashford called, emerging from the trees.
"By now? Inside the manor," Noelle supplied, savoring the look of astonishment that crossed his face. "She said to tell you she wins."
"Noelle." He breathed her name in a way that made her bones turn to water.
"Hello, my lord. Your niece is precious. We had a lovely chat, during which she instructed me to take part in your game." Noelle had no idea what she was saying. All she knew was that she couldnt tear her eyes off Ashford. Even tousled from running about with Cara, he was magnificent.
He strode over to her, capturing both hands and bringing them to his lips. "When did you arrive?"
"A few minutes ago." She stared at his mouth as it brushed her palms, shivering at the incredible sensations caused by his lips against her skin. His effect on her was astounding—even more so than a fortnight ago. "I never got farther than the entrance way. I heard your niece playing…I was restless…I stepped out for some air…I…" She inhaled sharply. "I came out here looking for you," she confessed.
Tiny flames flared in Ashford's eyes. "Damn propriety to hell," he muttered. Abruptly, he drew Noelle against him, tipping up her chin and covering her mouth with his. "God, Ive dreamed of doing this."
Readers can e-mail me at WriteToMe@andreakane.com, or drop me a note (along with a legal-sized SASE for my latest newsletter) at P.O. Box 5104, Parsippany, NJ 07054-6104. And don't forget to visit my website at www.andreakane.com
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