Sunday, December 23, 2012

My True Love Gave to Me…
…Twelve Drummers Drumming…
Chapter Twelve
Jeanette Ward
Pemberton Hall
Christmas 1814

            “The deuce, you say!  What have you done with the prince?” 
            Archduke Karl Ludovic, Captain of the First Arciene Life Guard of Vienna, leaned heavily on his walking cane in the gleaming ivory vestibule at Trenton House in London.  He glared at the harried butler as he waited for the poor man to divulge the whereabouts of the heir apparent of Austria, Prince Maximilian.  However, at nine and twenty, Max was beyond changing old habits and undoubtedly, slipping away to escape the constraints of his royal blood was by far his worst offense.                Karl sighed.  Max knew it was imperative he attend the Christmas ball at Pemberton Hall that evening.  With his father laying prone on his deathbed in Austria, the most eligible bachelor on the Continent was in dire need of a wife.  Austrian or not.  So where was he?  Devil take it, with his skill impersonating anyone he chose, Max could be anywhere. 
            From the steps of the London townhouse, the Archduke caught the sounds of his contingent’s horses stamping their feet in the snow to stay warm.  The annoying sound of twelve drummers drumming a military cadence thrummed in his head.
            “Damnation, can you drummers desist that infernal racket long enough to let a man think?” he growled over his shoulder.   As he made his way to his horse, snow crunching beneath his Hessians, it occurred to him where he might possibly find his reckless cousin.
            He grinned.  If he was rightthis time there would be bloody hell to pay when he found him!


            “Where are you Christmas?”
            Max glanced about the ballroom, his eyes searching for reminders of home.  It was late on Christmas Day and he missed the festivities surrounding the feast of St. Nicholas, and the smell of baked carp.  Last eve he and Karl had quietly wished each other Froliche Weihnachten, but it had been a poor substitute for a noisy home filled with family.   
He tried to enjoy the lighthearted atmosphere in the beautifully festooned ballroom where single-minded men and coy women were gathering to play bon ton games.  He knew he should have been among them.  His mother would probably succumb to a fit of pique when she heard of this latest escapade.  England and France were at war.  It was a time to know who one’s friends and enemies were, not for pursuing one’s own selfish agenda.  By the time he returned home, his father would have no more need for his deathbed, and his mother would insist he choose a bride and settle into a life of wedded bliss for the good of the country. 
“A king needs a queen, Maximilian.  You simply must stop stalling.”  His mother’s parting words echoed in his memory.
The day he ascended the throne would mark the end of playing his beloved violin for anyone other than himself.  Wives.  Thrones.  War.  These things would make up the better part of his life soon. 
But not today. 
A thin smile tugged at his lips.  His last night of freedom would be worth the small fortune it had cost to bribe the Duke’s violinist to allow Max to take his place.  Anxious to begin, Max tucked his borrowed instrument beneath his chin and lightly balanced the bow across the strings.  For tonight, he could be himself.  Just a man.  Just a musician. 
When the music began, as always, the call of the notes he loved so well drew Max into that magic place where he could escape the rigidity of his life, if only for a moment.  
Over the next hour as he played and watched beautiful women float by in the arms of their escorts, his thoughts drifted to Edwina Swann.   Was she here?  Was she with another, or would she be alone? 
He had seen the spirited young beauty a fortnight before as he had stopped by Almack’s to greet his uncle, Lord Strathburton.  Edwina had been leaving with her twin and their mother.  The twins were identical in nearly all ways with their beautiful, heart-shaped faces and dark auburn hair. But Edwina had caught his eye immediately, setting him aback.  He was not prone to impetuousness, and certainly not where women were concerned.  However, he couldn’t forget the wistful sadness he had glimpsed in her beneath the feigned lightheartedness as she passed close by, laughing gaily and chattering with her sister. 
A haunting melancholy lived in Edwina’s stunning evergreen eyes, and the sight had torn straight through his heart.  In that one moment he had seen into her soul and knew…surrounded by the bustle of court and the chaos of the ton, like him she felt utterly alone.  But she played her part well. 
His hadn’t been able to stop thinking about her, his gut telling him she could possibly be the one woman capable of not only understanding his needs, but she would possess the fortitude to stand by his side.  He looked forward to learning her secrets someday.  But not tonight.  Tonight he would say goodbye to a part of his world he would mourn as much as he would mourn the passing of his father.  Tonight, the music in Maximilan Francis Leopoldo Corvinus, Duke of Montrovia’s life would fade into memory like Christmases come and gone, and he would turn his face to the future, giving up the dreams of his youth. 
            He joined the quartet as they played waltzes and lively quadrilles, one after the other, savoring each moment.  As he was putting the finishing flourishes on a particularly spirited crescendo, Max’s blood hummed with excitement until an unwanted voice intruded.
            “There you are, you bloody bastard!”
            Damnation!  He nearly missed a note at the sound of his cousin’s voice. 
            Max allowed a decidedly wicked grin to slide into place.  Playing as he spoke, he whispered, “I was beginning to lose faith in your tracking abilities, Karl.  Losing your touch?”
            Karl stepped into view and fixed him with a look that could have forced the quills off a Christmas tree.  “You’re an idiot, man.  You do realize that, do you not?  Sitting in the corner, fiddling like a commoner.”
            Max shot an apologetic look towards his partners, his bow flying across the strings of his instrument as if talking while he played were something he did quite regularly.  “I do apologize for my cousin’s poor manners, gentlemen.” 
            To his cousin he took a more commanding tone, “Karl, you have one minute to turn around and leave me in peace.  I scarce have a moment to myself these days and confess I am quite enjoying myself.”
            Karl’s expression mirrored the frustration in his voice.  “I’m not leaving you!  I just found you!  Sire! 
            This time the look Max flashed his fellow musicians conveyed worry.  Karl knew he didn’t want to be discovered.  Not until he was damn well ready.  But the men were listening avidly even as they played.  Three sets of raised brows told him they had taken the bait Karl had purposefully flung into the water.  “Obviously this man is quite foxed, gentlemen,” Max laughed, handling the situation as he had a hundred others just like it in the past.  “However, for any man who disregards our conversation from this point forward, there will be ten pounds waiting at the end of the evening.  Agreed?”
            Not fools, to a man, they nodded.  Max turned his attention back to his cousin, calmly managing to perform and carry on a conversation simultaneously. 
            “Well played, Karl. Quite daring to try to publically compromise my masquerade  But I swear as your lord and king, I will marry you to Lady Margaurete the moment we step foot on Austrian soil.  You do not want to test me, cousin.”
            Karl visibly blanched, but didn’t back away.  “But how will you explain that the musician seen this evening will in truth be the king of Austria before spring arrives?”
            “Look around man.  No one notices the musicians.  And I would take it as a personal favor if you would join your peers and leave me be.”
            The song ended and the quartet signaled the need for a brief break. 
            Max pulled Karl aside.  Perhaps if he gave the blasted man a quest he would leave.  “If you want to be helpful, cousin, locate the Lady Edwina Swann.”
            Karl’s face lit up.  “You are enamored then?  Your mother will be beyond relieved!”
            “Yes, yes.  I can see the two of you planning the wedding as we speak, though I have yet to say a word to the girl.  Do as you wish, but do not come back until you’ve found the lovely Lady Swann.”

            “Can you believe how wonderfully it all worked out, Edie?” Georgie asked breathlessly.  “David and I are to be married!  I owe it all to you…you quite saved me from a terrible life as Lord Tetterly’s wife.”
            Edwina Swann squeezed her sister’s hand, her heart swelling with happiness for Georgie, whose every breath continued the fairy tale began earlier that evening when she and Lord Barrington had discovered Christmas love.
            “Your David is indeed handsome, and an accomplished dancer, Georgie,” Edie agreed.  “I am quite sure you will be deliriously happy.  I cannot wait to dance at your wedding!”
            “But first, I promised that you would dance with the most handsome man at the ball this evening.  I cannot help but think my David is by far the most handsome, but I shall find a suitable partner for you who will sweep you off your feet!  I want you to be happy too, dear sister.  You deserve no less.”
            “Have you seen the violinist?  I must confess, I have never laid eyes a more beautiful man in my life.” Edwina’s eyes strayed toward the corner.
            “The violinist?  Edwina Swann, have you lost your senses?”  Lady Swann rebuked her sharply, moving closer to her daughters.  “Do you not realize that Prince Maximilian of Austria will be here soon?  Every eligible young lady here has been waiting for his arrival if they aren’t already on the arm suitors like your sisters.  What have I done wrong with you, child?  Mind you keep your eyes open for the prince and stop wasting your time mooning about over the paid help.  Handsome or not, the prince is who you need to be looking for.”
            As she wandered back to the nest of dowager duchesses, she muttered under her breath, “A musician.  Hmppf.  The Swanns would never survive such a scandal.”
            “Oh, Edie.  Pick another.  Please?” Georgie implored.  But Edie couldn’t hear her.  She was mesmerized.  In the corner the musician closed his eyes and lovingly cradled his instrument against his cheek, drawing from it the most hauntingly beautiful version of the Viennese Waltz a girl had ever heard. 
            “No.  I want him,” Edie replied simply.  He did not resemble any musician she had ever seen and her eyes had been drawn to him the moment she arrived..  She drank in the sight of his fine, straight, aristocratic nose and sharp, grey, wolfs eyes which promised their owner could seduce a woman from her chemise before she knew to what she had agreed.  Unruly locks of hair as dark as sin kissed his forehead in a tantalizing manner that left her dreaming of running her fingers through the sultry softness. 
            She turned to her sister. “You promised.  Can you help me? ”
            Georgie looked panic-stricken.  Her thoughts tumbled out as words. “But how, Edie? How can I arrange for you to dance with the violinist? That’s no small feat considering he is the one providing the music.” She inhaled several times, her expression still concerned. “And what if you get caught? Think of the scandal!”
            “Don’t look so terrified, sister.  It can be after the ball ends.  I’ll feign sickness and retire to my room.  You can simply bring the violinist there, and I shall have my dance.”
            “And mayhap steal a kiss or two?” Georgie grinned, and Edie could see that her sense of mischief had returned.
            “Or three…he does have such very kissable lips, does he not?”
            “Perhaps your plan might succeed after all.”
            “Ladies, I believe I have the next dance with the beautiful Lady Edwina?”  Mr. Granby appeared at Edie’s elbow and took her hand in his, pressing a feather light kiss across her knuckles. 
            “Of course,” Edie said, moving to join the rest of the dancers circling the floor.  Over his shoulder, she caught Georgie’s gaze and mouthed, “Hurry!”
             “Take your filthy hands off me, you horrid cad!”
            Edie struggled in Nicholas Granby’s embrace as he trailed his hands up her sides, dangerously close to her breasts.  Instead he pulled her closer, smashing his lips against hers until she was forced to bite down hard.
            “Well, well.  You’re quite the nasty little chit, aren’t you?” he spat, releasing her lips but maintaining his cruel grip on her wrist.   “It will be an added pleasure to break you.  Too bad you didn’t let me chase your sister like I planned.  I’m not picky though…one Swann is as good as another for my purposes.”
            “Your purposes?” Edie gasped.  “You’re mad!  I’m going back inside, and if you touch me again, I shall scream!”
            “Good.  Scream all you like.  The sooner people find I’ve despoiled you, the sooner we can announce our engagement.” 
Desperate, Edie turned sharply, tugging to free herself.  The man was evil!  He meant to ruin her, force her into marriage.  And it would work too, damn his black soul.  Her father would have no recourse but to allow Granby to claim her.  She couldn’t scream, yet she had to do something—but what?
            “Let.  Her.  Go.”
            The chilling words came from behind, and a shiver ran up her spine at the deadly intent behind each menacing syllable. 
            “Go back to your place in the band, you wastrel, and stop interfering with your betters,” Nicholas sneered, his eyes riveted the direction he had dragged Edie only moments before.  “What I do with this chit is of no concern to you.” 
            Granby yanked Edie behind him, affording her the opportunity to see who spoke in her defense. 
            Her violinist stood a few feet away, his predatory eyes narrowed.  The unmistakable warning in them sent prickles skittering across her skin. 
            “As you wish,” the musician replied, turning to leave.  Edie’s heart sank.  But in the blink of an eye, he spun, wrapping an arm around Granby’s neck, choking the breath from him.  When her assailant’s grip went slack, Edie staggered back, rubbing her bruised wrist. 
            She couldn’t speak.  Couldn’t breathe.  She could only watch as the musician waited until Granby had nearly passed out before he released him.
            “I believe I just made her my concern, you bastard.  Now get out before I do more than slightly wind you.”
            His words were deadly calm, and Granby’s eyes widened in fear. The would-be social climber scrambled away, his hands clawing at his throat as he struggled for air.  Edie stood frozen, as Granby glanced her direction one last time.  Beneath the onslaught she shivered, until at last her attacker decided against whatever thought had flitted through his feeble mind.  Within moments he disappeared into the snowy garden shadows.
            Edie tried to release her breath, to calm her racing heart, but it thundered in her chest at the realization of what had occurred.  Her violinist had saved her!
            “Are you alright, sweetness?  Did he harm you?”
            The gentleness in his tone soothed Edie’s ragged nerves and she realized, in truth, she was no longer scared even though she did not even know her hero’s name.  She shook her head, the best she could manage with her teeth chattering from the frigid air.  Mr. Granby had dragged her outside against her will, not bothering to secure a wrap to keep her warm.
            “Here.  Allow me…”  He didn’t wait for an answer, slipping off his coat and draping it across her shoulders.  Before she could say a word, he scooped her into his arms, coat and all, and carried her through the front door and out of the cold.  She stared up at him, captivated by the square cut of his jaw and oh-so-naughty slant of his lips.  Gone were thoughts of Granby’s rough treatment.  In that moment she had eyes for only one man.  She snuggled closer into the safety of the violinist’s strong arms, content to stay there forever.
            “Egads, what are you about there, sir!  Explain yourself and take your hands off my daughter this instant!”
            Edie groaned upon hearing her father’s voice and peeked up at her rescuer, whispering, “This won’t be pleasant, my gallant knight.  Please trust me to handle my father.”  She sighed before voicing her next request. “Please put me down?”
            He flashed a wicked grin that transformed his face from that of formidable defender to irresistible rogue, and whispered, “And if I chose not to?  Will you squirm and wiggle away?  Mayhap you’d like to stay a bit longer?”
            A crowd gathered, pouring into the grand foyer from the ballroom.  Edie glimpsed Georgie and their mother, faces aghast, as they stood near the three French hens.  Of all the damned rotten luck!  Was a single glorious moment of happiness too much to ask?  One little moment with a man more handsome than the angels above.  Surely she could pretend he was her beau just long enough for a secret Christmas dance before she was shackled to someone she would most likely abhor for the rest of her days? 
            “What the devil...did you not hear me, you lout!  Release my daughter!  Who the blazes do you think you are, carrying her about like that?” 
            From the corner of his eye, Max saw a man desperately shouldering his way through the crush towards them.
            “My prince!” Karl cried, distracting Edie’s father and the rest of the assemblage, allowing Max to hold the beauty in his arms a few precious seconds longer.  “We’ve found you at last!”
            “Prince?” Edie breathed, her stunned bewilderment capturing Max’s heart in a way he never dreamed possible.  You’re Prince Maximilian?”  
            Max tightened his hold imperceptibly, letting her know she was still safe.  Could she trust him a moment longer?
            “So you have, Karl,” he agreed, reluctantly setting Edie on her feet.  His hand stayed possessively at her waist, and he noticed she did not move to dislodge it, rather settling more firmly against his side as if it were the most natural thing in the world to do so.  Her mother looked ready to swoon.  And the dowager, paragon of virtue and manners, stood to the side, her mouth gaping like a fish monger’s wife. 
            “But…you’re the violinist,” the older woman said, her voice stilted and confused.  “You can’t possibly be the prince.”
            “I assure you, madame, I am Prince Maximilian Corvinus, and this, is my cousin, Archduke Karl Ludovic.”
            “But…why would you pretent to be the violinist?  I…I don’t understand.” The dowager shuddered.
            Max laughed.  “Have you never done something simply for the pure joy of it?”
            “Your highness…” Karl warned.
            “I must highly recommend it, if you have not,’ Max went on, ignoring his cousin.  “For instance, can one possibly derive anything but joy kissing such a delectable creature as this?”  He tipped Edwina’s chin up with a finger. 
            Gazing with wonder into her trusting eyes, he swooped down to claim a kiss from her bow-shaped mouth, softly at first as their lips met, but when she placed her hands on his chest and leaned into him he deepened the kiss, drinking his fill of the gift she offered as if they were the only two people alive.  And in that moment, for him, they were.  He drew back and sought her gaze again, needing to know if the same emotions he felt coursed through her veins. In her sparkling evergreen eyes, he found his answer. 
 “I believe I’ve just dragged you into a bit of a scandal, my love,” he said, pressing another kiss to her temple.  “I fear I shall be beholden to ask your father for your hand, if only to save your reputation.”
“Saved by a handsome prince twice in the same night.  Could any girl be any luckier?” Edwina laughed, happiness filling her eyes.
Those around them cheered and Max swept Edwina close again.  He wanted never to take his eyes off his beautiful little swan.   This time his smile reached deep within. Had he ever felt such joy?  In Edwina Swann’s eyes he had found not only Christmas, but his home.  With her by his side, no matter where they were, neither of them would ever know a lonely Christmas again. 
As the music of love filled the lonely corners of his heart, Max vowed he would spend the rest of his life ensuring his beautiful wife was as happy as he was in that moment.

Join us again tomorrow for the conclusion of My True Love Gave to Me


  1. Oh, Jeannette! What a perfect end to our 12 days of Christmas! Well done and welcome back to the writing world. We've missed your talent!!!

  2. Nice way to wrap things up ... well done!


  3. Bravo, Jeanette. A fabulous ending to 12 great tales. We truly are an extremely talented group. And -- it was so much fun!!!

    Merry Christmas everyone. And a blessed and happy new year.

    Be sure to stop by for the conclusion.

  4. I love your writing style, and I love this story! Fantastic job, Jeanette!