A snippet — The Christmas Bride
Here’s a little snippet of my novella, The Christmas Bride.
Ash (Blake Ashton) is riding to Davenham Hall to meet up with his business partners. It’s dark, it’s freezing, it’s sleeting — and he never wanted to come in the first place . . .
Ash pressed on. It started snowing again, not the soft, gentle floating flakes of white that he remembered from childhood, but hard, sleety pellets of ice that stung his face. His mood worsened.
Rounding a bend on the edge of a thicket of trees he came across fallen branches strewn across the road, blocking his way. He swore and slowed his horse to a walk, narrowing his eyes against the darkness, looking for a pathway around the blockage.
“Stand and deliver!” The voice rang out. A short man in a long coat stepped forward. He was muffled to the eyes with his hat pulled low. “Throw down your valuables.” His voice was hoarse. His pistol showed in brief silhouette against the snowy background.
Ash was cross, cold, tired and in no mood to be robbed. He pulled out his own pistol.
The footpad’s pistol wavered in surprise, but he did not lower his gun. For a moment the two men simply stared at each other.
“I’ll wager I’m a better shot than you are,” Ash said. “Drop your gun or you die.”
The words were barely out of his mouth when a small figure rushed out at him from the other side of the road yelling “No! No! No!”
Something stung his cheek, Ash’s horse shied in fright, there was a loud report from the footpad’s gun, and Ash fired his own pistol in response.
Ash brought his horse back under control. The footpad was a still, dark huddle on the ground, and a small figure was bent over it. “Charley! Charley! Are you dead, Charley?”
A child? Out here in this weather? At this time of night?
“Charleeeeey!” the boy wailed. He turned to Ash, his face a pale shape in the darkness. “You’ve killed her, you’ve killed Charley.”
Her? Ash pocketed his pistol and leapt from his horse.
The boy flung himself at Ash, pummeling him in terror and fury. “Don’t you touch her! Don’t you dare! You’ve killed her, you’ve killed her!”
“Stop that, boy!” He caught the boy’s fists in his hands. “Let me look at her—you did say she was a girl, didn’t you? Your mother?”
Dear Lord, what the hell was a girl doing, playing footpad? “Let me see. You don’t know if she’s dead or not. She might have only swooned.” He released the boy.
The boy looked to be about eight or nine, skinny and distraught, and dressed in a coat too big for him. “She’s bleeding.” He held up a small bare hand and even in the gloom, Ash could see the dark stain of blood
“Let me look.” Ash thrust the boy to one side, and knelt down in the mud beside the girl’s body. He pulled the muffler aside and pressed his fingers to the side of her throat, searching for a pulse. He held his breath and concentrated.
“She’s alive. She’s breathing.” Ash breathed again. He hadn’t meant to kill anyone, let alone a girl. But his hand came away sticky with warm blood. She might die yet.