Of all my characters, Troy and Lillian from THE LILY BRAND probably deserve the most a little bit of holiday cheer--and now, in "Christmas at Bair Hall: A Holiday Epilogue to THE LILY BRAND", they get it. Enjoy!
And as Troy rode on under the mighty oak trees up the drive, he remembered the old woman who had reminded him of a fairy godmother from a children's tale. Even now Mistress Nanette's benevolent presence appeared to linger among the hall at times. It seemed to him he could almost hear her voice amidst the rustling of the branches overhead: For no evil shall come to a house that is guarded by a rowan tree...
And for the past eight years her prediction had been proven true. Bair Hall had prospered. It had been transformed into a home filled with life and laughter, and each time he now came up the drive his heart lifted with joy.
You would have been proud of her, he silently told the long-dead woman. So very, very proud.
He left the tree-lined walk behind, and Bair Hall rose in front of him, warm and welcoming. Alerted by the sounds of hooves on gravel, a stableboy came running to take care of the horse.
Smoothly, Troy slid out of the saddle. Yet when his feet hit the ground, a twinge in his leg reminded him of the old wound--a sure sign he had driven himself too hard today. He made a rueful grimace. Brueberry--and the long-suffering stable-hands--had needed the long outing. In fact, now that he had been given the opportunity to trot around and about all afternoon, the stallion appeared practically docile.
Troy threw the reins to the stableboy. "I say he's deserved some oats today." With a nod, he strode to the entrance of the hall and up the front stairs, where Hill had already thrown the door wide open.
"Good afternoon, my lord. I hope you had a pleasant ride."
"Very pleasant, thank you." Troy took off his fur hat, divested himself of his gloves and coat and gave them to the butler. "I trust my wife is--" He broke off to stare at the mighty brown bear that adorned the entrance hall. According to family legend, it had been killed by the first Earl of Ravenhurst on his first hunt in the area. The earl had named the house he had eventually erected here after the beast he had shot on that day.
"What the deuce has happened to the Bear?"
His face carefully blank, Hill said, "I believe it has been ..." He paused. One of his eyelids twitched. "...adorned, my lord."
Troy narrowed his eyes. "Is that a petticoat?" He stepped nearer to the long-suffering bear.
"I believe it is."
"And--" Troy’s brows shot up. "The countess's pearls? Those rascals! And--good lord, what is that?"
Both men leaned slightly forward to eye the Bear’s new headdress. Eventually, the butler cleared his throat. "A lacy veil, my lord."
"There are holes in it!"
Oh yes. It must have come from...from the attic, my lord."
"The attic?" Troy glanced at his butler, but Hill looked blander than ever.
"I believe there was a treasure hunt today."
"In the attic?" A horrible thought occurred to Troy. "Did they find the elephant foot?"
"Indeed they did, my lord." Hill blinked. "And they were much taken by it." He made a pause as if to let these terrible news sink in. "But it proved too heavy for them."
A sigh of relief escaped Troy. "Thank heavens!" he muttered. Fortunately, his ancestor had only been fond of big, brawny animals and had eschewed the daintier fauna. Who knew what would have been dragged down from the attic otherwise!
"The countess?" he finally asked, his voice sounding somewhat weak even to his own ears.
"Was not interested in the elephant foot," Hill said, his gaze still glued to the unfortunate bear.
Troy looked at his butler more closely. The events of the day appeared to have left the old man shaken. After all, Hill had always regarded the Bear of Bair Hall as his personal responsibility. To see it thus adorned must be downright painful. But as they all knew from experience, the immediate reversal of such beautification and decoration projects would only end in tears and mayhem.
"I take it that she is in the drawing room?" Troy asked, his voice gentle.
Hill started and threw him a flustered look. "Oh yes, yes, the countess is..." His gaze strayed to the Bear once more. "... is..."
"Taking her tea." With a sigh, Hill turned his attention back on Troy. "My lord."
The whole epilogue can be found on Sandra's website. Happy reading! And a happy new year to all of you!