Judith McNaught Historical Romances:
Let New York Times bestselling author Judith McNaught who “is in a class by herself” (USA TODAY) sweep you off your feet and into another time with her sensual, passionate, and spellbinding historical romance classics, featuring her “unique magic” (RT Book Reviews)!
Promo Code Giveaway:
For McNaught-E Cyber (11/28) we will announce the winner(s) of 14 promo codes, one promo code for each title. Enter to win today! You can enter on all blogs on the tour listed below, but you can only win once. Open Intl. Leave me a comment below and tell me you want to win! My giveaway is for 1 (one) winner for all 14 codes for the ebooks!
Miracles (in A Holiday of Love)
Now available for the first time ever as an e-novella, New York Times bestselling author Judith McNaught’s short historical romanceMiracles—which ties up ends left open in the Westmoreland Dynasty Saga—is available for the first time ever as a standalone e-novella. In Regency London, world-weary lord Nicki du Ville receives an outrageous proposal from Julianna Skeffington, who is Sheridan Bromleigh’s charge from Until You.
Read an excerpt of Miracles
THE ROAR OF MUSIC AND voices began to recede as Julianna Skeffington fled down the terraced steps of a brightly lit country house in which 600 members of Polite Society were attending a masquerade ball. Ahead of her, the formal gardens were aglow with flaring torches and swarming with costumed guests and liveried servants. Beyond the gardens, a large hedge maze loomed in the shadows, offering far better places to hide, and it was there that Julianna headed.
Pressing the hooped skirts of her Marie Antoinette costume closer to her sides, she plunged into the crowd, wending her way as swiftly as possible past knights in armor, court jesters, highwaymen, and an assortment of kings, queens, and Shakespearean characters, as well as a profusion of domestic and jungle creatures.
She saw a path open through the crowd and headed for it, then had to step aside to avoid colliding with a large leafy “tree” with red silk apples dangling from its branches. The tree bowed politely to Julianna as it paraded past her, one of its branches curved around the waist of a lady decked out as a milkmaid complete with bucket.
She did not have to slow her pace again until she neared the center of the garden, where a group of musicians was stationed between a pair of Roman fountains, providing music for dancing couples. Excusing herself, she stepped around a tall man disguised as a black tomcat who was whispering in the pink ear of a petite gray mouse. He stopped long enough to cast an appreciative eye over the low bodice of Julianna’s white ruffled gown, then he smiled boldly into her eyes and winked before returning his attention to the adorable little mouse with the absurdly long whiskers.
Staggered by the abandoned behavior she was witnessing tonight, particularly out here in the gardens, Julianna stole a quick glance over her shoulder and saw that her mother had emerged from the ballroom. She stood on the terraced steps, holding an unknown male by the arm, and slowly scanned the gardens. She was looking for Julianna. With the instincts of a bloodhound, her mother turned and looked straight in Julianna’s direction.
That familiar sight was enough to make Julianna break into a near run, until she came to the last obstacle in her route to the maze: a large group of particularly boisterous men who were standing beneath a canopy of trees, laughing uproariously at a mock jester who was trying unsuccessfully to juggle apples. Rather than walk in front of their line of vision, thus putting herself in plain view of her mother, she decided it was wiser to go around behind them.
“If you please, sirs,” she said, trying to sidle between the trees and a row of masculine backs. “I must pass.” Instead of moving quickly out of her way, which common courtesy dictated they should, two of them glanced over their shoulders at her, then they turned fully around without giving her any extra space.
“Well, well, well, what have we here?” said one of them in a very young and very inebriated voice as he braced his hand on the tree near her shoulder. He shifted his gaze to a servant, who was handing him a glass brimming with some sort of liquor, then he took it and thrust it toward her. “Some ’freshment for you, ma’am?”
At the moment Julianna was more worried about escaping her mother’s notice than being accosted by a drunken young lord who could barely stand up and whose companions would surely prevent him from behaving more abominably than he was now. She accepted the glass rather than make a scene, then she ducked under his arm, walked quickly past the others, and hurried toward her destination, the drink forgotten in her hand.
“Forget about her, Dickie,” she heard his companion say. “Half the opera dancers and the demimonde are here tonight. You can have most any female who takes your eye. That one didn’t want to play.”
Julianna remembered hearing that some of the Ton’s high sticklers disapproved of masquerades—particularly for gently bred young ladies—and after what she’d seen and heard tonight she certainly understood why. With their identities safely concealed behind costumes and masks, members of Polite Society behaved like . . . like common rabble!
INSIDE THE MAZE, JULIANNA TOOK the path to the right, darted around the first corner, which happened to turn right, then she pressed her back into the shrubbery’s prickly branches. With her free hand, she tried to flatten the layers of white lace flounces that adorned the hem of her skirts and the low bodice of her gown, but they stood out like quivering beacons in the breezy night.
Her heart racing from emotion, not exertion, she stood perfectly still and listened, separated from the garden by a single tall hedge but out of sight of the entrance. She stared blindly at the glass in her hand and felt angry futility at her inability to prevent her mother from disgracing herself or ruining Julianna’s life.
Trying to divert herself, Julianna lifted the glass to her nose and sniffed, then she shuddered a little at the strong aroma. It smelled like the stuff her papa drank. Not the Madeira he enjoyed from morning until supper, but the golden liquid he drank after supper—for medicinal purposes, to calm his nerves, he said.
Julianna’s nerves were raw. A moment later she heard her mother’s voice come from the opposite side of the leafy barrier, making her heart hammer with foreboding.
“Julianna, are you out here, dear?” her mother called.
“Lord Makepeace is with me, and he is most eager for an introduction . . .”
Julianna had the mortifying vision of a reluctant Lord Makepeace—whoever he was—being dragged mercilessly by the arm through every twist and turn, every corner and cranny, of the twisting maze and torch lit gardens by her determined mother. Unable to endure the awkwardness and embarrassment of one more introduction to some unfortunate, and undoubtedly unwilling, potential suitor whom her mother had commandeered, Julianna backed so far into the scratchy branches that they poked into the pale blond curls of the elaborate coiffure that had taken a maid hours to create.
Overhead, the moon obligingly glided behind a thick bank of clouds, plunging the maze into inky darkness, while her mother continued her shamelessly dishonest monologue—a few feet away on the other side of the hedge.
“Julianna is such a delightfully adventurous girl,” Lady Skeffington exclaimed, sounding frustrated, not proud. “It is just like her to wander into the gardens to do a bit of exploring.”
Julianna mentally translated her mother’s falsehoods into reality: Julianna is an annoying recluse who has to be dragged from her books and her scribbling. It is just like her to hide in the bushes at a time like this.
“She was so very popular this Season, I cannot think how you haven’t encountered her at some tonnish function or another. In fact, I actually had to insist she restrict her social engagements to no more than ten each week so that she could have enough rest!”
Julianna hasn’t received ten invitations to social events in the past year, let alone in a single week, but I need an excuse for why you haven’t met her before. With a little luck, you’ll believe that rapper.
Lord Makepeace wasn’t that gullible. “Really?” he murmured, in the noncommittal voice of one who is struggling between courtesy, annoyance, and disbelief. “She sounds an odd—er . . . unusual female if she doesn’t enjoy social engagements.”
“I never meant to imply such a thing!” Lady Skeffington hastened to say. “Julianna enjoys balls and soirees above all things!”
Julianna would rather have a tooth extracted.
“I truly believe the two of you would deal famously together.”
I intend to get her off our hands and well wed, my good man, and you have the prerequisites for a husband: You are male, of respectable birth, and adequate fortune.
“She is not at all the sort of pushing female one encounters too often these days.”
She won’t do a thing to show herself off to advantage.
“On the other hand, she has definite attributes that no male could miss.”
To make certain of it tonight, I insisted she wear a costume so revealing that it is better suited to a married flirt than to a girl of eighteen.
“But she is not at all fast.”
Despite the low décolletage on her gown, you must not even try to touch her without asking for her hand first.
Lord Makepeace’s desire for freedom finally overcame the dictates of civility. “I really must return to the ballroom, Lady Skeffington. I—I believe I have the next dance with Miss Topham.”
The realization that her prey was about to escape—and into the clutches of the Season’s most popular debutante—drove Julianna’s mama to retaliate by telling the greatest lie of her matchmaking life. Shamelessly inventing a nonexistent relationship between Julianna and the most eligible bachelor in England, she announced, “It’s just as well we return to the ball! I believe Nicholas DuVille himself has claimed Julianna’s next waltz!”
Lady Skeffington must have hurried after the retreating lord because their voices became more distant. “Mr. DuVille has repeatedly singled our dear Julianna out for particular attention. In fact, I have reason to believe his sole reason for coming here this evening was so that he could spend a few moments with her! No, really, sir, it is the truth, though I shouldn’t like for anyone but you to know it. . . .”
* * *
Further down the maze, the Baron of Penwarren’s ravishing young widow stood with her arms wrapped around Nicholas DuVille’s neck, her eyes laughing into his as she whispered, “Please don’t tell me Lady Skeffington actually coerced you into dancing with her daughter, Nicki. Not you, of all people. If she has, and you do it, you won’t be able to walk into a drawing room in England without sending everyone into whoops. If you hadn’t been in Italy all summer, you’d know it’s become a game of wits among the bachelors to thwart that odious creature. I’m perfectly serious,” Valerie warned as his only reaction was one of mild amusement, “that woman would resort to anything to get a rich husband for her daughter and secure her own position in Society! Absolutely anything!”
“Thank you for the warning, chérie,” Nicki said dryly. As it happens, I had a brief introduction to Lady Skeffington’s husband shortly before I left for Italy. I have not, however, set eyes on the mother or the daughter, let alone promised to dance with either of them.”
She sighed with relief. “I couldn’t imagine how you could have been that foolish. Julianna is a remarkably pretty thing, actually, but she’s not at all in your usual style. She’s very young, very virginal, and I understand she has an odd habit of hiding behind draperies —or some such.”
“She sounds delightful,” Nicki lied with a chuckle.
“She is nothing like her mama, in any case.” She paused for an eloquent little shudder to illustrate what she was about to say next. “Lady Skeffington is so eager to be a part of Society that she positively grovels. If she weren’t so encroaching and ambitious, she’d be completely pathetic.”
“At the risk of appearing hopelessly obtuse,” Nicki said, losing patience with the entire discussion, “why in hell did you invite them to your masquerade?”
“Because, darling,” Valerie said with a sigh, smoothing her fingers over his jaw with the familiarity of shared intimacies, “this past summer, little Julianna somehow became acquainted with the new Countess of Langford, as well as her sister-in-law, the Duchess of Claymore. At the beginning of the Season, the countess and the duchess made it known they desire little Julianna to be welcome amongst the Ton, then they both left for Devon with their husbands. Since no one wants to offend the Westmore lands, and since Lady Skeffington offends all of us, we all waited until the very last week of the Season to do our duty and invite them to something. Unluckily, of the dozens of invitations Lady Skeffington received for tonight, mine was the one she accepted—probably because she heard you were going to be here.”
She stopped suddenly, as if struck by a delightful possibility. “Everyone has been longing to discover how Julianna and her obnoxious mama happened to become acquainted with the countess and the duchess, and I would wager you know the answer, don’t you! Gossip has it that you were extremely well acquainted with both ladies before they were married.”
To Valerie’s astonishment, his entire expression became distant, shuttered, and his words conveyed a chilly warning. “Define what you mean by ‘extremely well acquainted,’ Valerie.”
Belatedly realizing that she had somehow blundered into dangerous territory, Valerie made a hasty strategic retreat to safer ground. “I meant only that you are known to be a close friend of both ladies.”
Nicki accepted her peace offering with a slight nod and allowed her to retreat in dignity, but he did not let the matter drop completely. “Their husbands are also close friends of mine,” he said pointedly, though that was rather an exaggeration. He was on friendly terms with Stephen and Clayton Westmoreland, but neither man was particularly ecstatic about their wife’s friendship with Nicki—a situation that both ladies had laughingly confided would undoubtedly continue “until you are safely wed, Nicki, and as besotted with your own wife as Clayton and Stephen are with us.”
“Since you aren’t yet betrothed to Miss Skeffington,” Valerie teased softly, pulling his attention back to her as she slid her fingers around his nape, “there is nothing to prevent us from leaving by the side of this maze and going to your bedchamber.”
From the moment she’d greeted him in the house, Nicki had known that suggestion was going to come, and he considered it now in noncommittal silence. There was nothing stopping him from doing that. Nothing whatsoever, except an inexplicable lack of interest in what he knew from past trysts with Valerie would be almost exactly one hour and thirty minutes of uninhibited sexual intercourse with a highly skilled and eager partner. That exercise would be preceded by a glass and a half of excellent champagne, and followed by half a glass of even better brandy. Afterward, he would pretend to be disappointed when she felt obliged to return to her own bed “to keep the servants from gossiping.” Very civilized, very considerate, very predictable.
Lately, the sheer predictability of his life—and everyone in it, including himself—was beginning to grate on him. Whether he was in bed with a woman or gambling with friends, he automatically did and said all the proper—and improper—things at the appropriate time. He associated with men and women of his own class who were all as bland and socially adept as he was.
He was beginning to feel as if he were a damned marionette, performing on a stage with other marionettes, all of whom danced to the same tune, written by the same composer.
Even when it came to illicit liaisons such as the one Valerie was suggesting, there was a prescribed ritual to be followed that varied only according to whether the lady was wed or not, and whether he was playing the role of seducer or seduced. Since Valerie was widowed and had assumed the role of seducer tonight, he knew exactly how she would react if he declined her suggestion. First she would pout—but very prettily; then she would cajole; and then she would offer enticements. He, being the “seduced,” would hesitate, then evade, and then postpone until she gave up, but he would never actually refuse. To do so would be unforgivably rude—a clumsy misstep in the intricate social dance they all performed to perfection.
Despite all that, Nicki waited before answering, half expecting his body to respond favorably to her suggestion, even though his mind was not. When that didn’t happen, he shook his head and took the first step in the dance: hesitation. “I should probably sleep first, chérie. I had a trying week, and I’ve been up for the last two days.”
“Surely you aren’t refusing me, are you, darling?” she asked. Pouting prettily.
Nicki switched smoothly to evasion. “What about your party?”
“I’d rather be with you. I haven’t seen you in months, and besides, the party will go on without me. My servants are trained to perfection.”
“Your guests are not,” Nicki pointed out, still evading since she was still cajoling.
“They’ll never know we’ve left.”
“The bedchamber you gave me is next to your mother’s.”
“She won’t hear us even if you break the bed as you did the last time we used that chamber. She’s deaf as a stone.” Nicki was about to proceed to the postponement stage, but Valerie surprised him by accelerating the procedure and going straight to enticements before he could utter his lines in this trite little play that had become his real life. Standing on tiptoe, she kissed him thoroughly, her hands sliding up and down his chest, her parted lips inviting his tongue.
Nicki automatically put his arm around her waist and complied, but it was an empty gesture born of courtesy, not reciprocity. When her hands slid lower, toward the waistband of his trousers, he dropped his arm and stepped back, suddenly revolted as well as bored with the entire damned charade. “Not tonight,” he said firmly.
Her eyes silently accused him of an unforgivable breach of the rules. Softening his voice, he took her by the shoulders, turned her around, and gave her an affectionate pat on the backside to send her on her way. “Go back to your quests, chérie.” Already reaching into his pocket for a thin cheroot, he added with polite finality, “I’ll follow you after a discreet time.”
UNAWARE THAT SHE WAS NOT alone in the cavernous maze, Julianna waited in tense silence to be absolutely certain her mother wasn’t going to return. After a moment she gave a ragged sigh and dislodged herself from her hiding place.
Since the maze seemed like the best place to hide for the next few hours, she turned left and wandered down a path that opened into a square grassy area with an ornate stone bench in the center.
Morosely, she contemplated her situation, looking for a way out of the humiliating and untenable trap she was in, but she knew there was no escape from her mother’s blind obsession with seeing Julianna wed to someone of “real consequence”—now, while the opportunity existed. Thus far all that had prevented her mother from accomplishing this goal was the fact that no “eligible” suitor “of real consequence” had declared himself during the few weeks Julianna had been in London.
Unfortunately, just before they’d left London to come here, her mother had succeeded in wringing an offer of marriage from Sir Francis Bellhaven, a repulsive, elderly, pompous knight with pallid skin, protruding hazel eyes that seemed to delve down Julianna’s bodice, and thick pale lips that never failed to remind her of a dead goldfish. The thought of being bound for an entire evening, let alone the rest of her life, to Sir Francis was unendurable. Obscene. Terrifying.
Not that she was going to have any choice in the matter. If she wanted a real choice, then hiding in here from other potential suitors her mother commandeered was the last thing she ought to be doing. She knew it, but she couldn’t make herself go back to that ball. She didn’t even want a husband. She was already eighteen years old, and she had other plans, other dreams, for her life, but they didn’t coincide with her mother’s and so they weren’t going to matter. Ever. What made it all so much more frustrating was that her mother actually believed she was acting in Julianna’s best interests and that she knew what was ultimately best for her.
The moon slid out from behind the clouds, and Julianna stared at the pale liquid in her glass. Her father said a bit of brandy never hurt anyone, that it eased all manner of ailments, improved digestion, and cured low spirits. Julianna hesitated, and then in a burst of rebellion and desperation, she decided to test the latter theory. Lifting the glass, she pinched her nostrils closed, tipped her head back, and took three large swallows. She lowered the glass, shuddering and gasping. And waited. For an explosion of bliss. Seconds passed, then one minute. Nothing. All she felt was a slight weakness in her knees and a weakening of her defenses against the tears of futility brimming in her eyes.
In deference to her shaky limbs, Julianna stepped over to the stone bench and sat down. The bench had obviously been occupied earlier that evening, because there was a half-empty glass of spirits on the end of it and several empty glasses beneath it. After a moment she took another sip of brandy and gazed into the glass, swirling the golden liquid so that it gleamed in the moonlight as she considered her plight.
How she wished her grandmother were still alive! Grandmama would have put a stop to Julianna’s mother’s mad obsession with arranging a “splendid marriage.” She’d have understood Julianna’s aversion to being forced into marriage with anyone. In all the world, her father’s dignified mother was the only person who had ever seemed to understand Julianna. Her grandmother had been her friend, her teacher, her mentor.
At her knee Julianna had learned about the world, about people; there and there alone she was encouraged to think for herself and to say whatever she thought, no matter how absurd or outrageous it might seem. In return, her grandmother had always treated her as an equal, sharing her own unique philosophies about anything and everything, from God’s purpose for creating the earth to myths about men and women.
Grandmother Skeffington did not believe marriage was the answer to a woman’s dreams, or even that males were more noble or more intelligent than females! “Consider for a moment my own husband as an example,” she said with a gruff smile one wintry afternoon just before the Christmas when Julianna was fifteen. “You did not know your grandfather, God rest his soul, but if he had a brain with which to think, I never saw the evidence of it. Like all his forebears, he couldn’t tally two figures in his head or write an intelligent sentence, and he had less sense than a suckling babe.”
“Really?” Julianna said, amazed and a little appalled by this disrespectful assessment of a deceased man who had been her grandmother’s husband and Julianna’s grandsire.
Her grandmother nodded emphatically. “The Skeffington men have all been like that—unimaginative, slothful clods, the entire lot of them.”
“But surely you aren’t saying Papa is like that,” Julianna argued out of loyalty. “He’s your only living child.”
“I would never describe your papa as a clod,” she said without hesitation. “I would describe him as a muttonhead!”
Julianna bit back a horrified giggle at such heresy, but before she could summon an appropriate defense, her grandmother continued: “The Skeffington women, on the other hand, have often displayed streaks of rare intelligence and resourcefulness. Look closely and you will discover that it is generally females who survive on their wits and determination, not males. Men are not superior to women except in brute strength.”
When Julianna looked uncertain, her grandmother added smugly, “If you will read that book I gave you last week, you will soon discover that women were not always subservient to men. Why, in ancient times, we had the power and the reverence. We were goddesses and soothsayers and healers, with the secrets of the universe in our minds and the gift of life in our bodies. We chose our mates, not the other way around. Men sought our counsel and worshiped at our feet and envied our powers. Why, we were superior to them in every way. We knew it, and so did they.”
“If we were truly the more clever and the more gifted,” Julianna said when her grandmother lifted her brows, looking for a reaction to that staggering information, “then how did we lose all that power and respect and let ourselves become subservient to men?”
“They convinced us we needed their brute strength for our protection,” she said with a mixture of resentment and disdain. “Then they ‘protected’ us right out of all our privileges and rights. They tricked us.”
Julianna found an error in that logic, and her brow furrowed in thought. “If that is so,” she said after a moment, “then they couldn’t have been quite so dull-witted as you think. They had to be very clever, did they not?”
For a split second her grandmother glowered at her, then she cackled with approving laughter. “A good point, my dear, and one that bears considering. I suggest you write that thought down so that you may examine it further. Perhaps you will write a book of your own on how males have perpetrated that fiendish deception upon females over the centuries. I only hope you will not decide to waste your mind and your talents on some ignorant fellow who wants you for that face of yours and tries to convince you that your only value is in breeding his children and looking after his wants. You could make a difference, Julianna. I know you could.”
She hesitated, as if deciding something, then said, “That brings us to another matter I have been wishing to discuss with you. This seems like as good a time as will come along.”
Grandmother Skeffington got up and walked over to the fireplace on the opposite wall of the cozy little room, her movements slowed by advancing age, her silver hair twisted into a severe coil at her neck. Bracing one hand on the evergreen boughs she’d arranged on the mantel, she bent to stir the coals. “As you know, I have already outlived a husband and one son. I have lived long, and I am fully prepared to end my days on this earth whenever my time arrives. Although I shall not always be here for you, I hope to compensate for that by leaving something behind for you . . . an inheritance that is for you to spend. It isn’t much.”
The subject of her grandmother’s death had never come up before, and the mere thought of losing her made Julianna’s chest tighten with dread.
“As I said, it isn’t much, but if you are extremely thrifty, it could allow you to live very modestly in London for quite a few years while you experience more of life and hone your writing skills.”
In her heart Julianna argued frantically that life without her grandmother was unthinkable, that she had no wish to live in London, and that their shared dream that she might actually become a noteworthy writer was only an impossible fantasy. Afraid that such an emotional outburst would offend the woman, Julianna remained seated upon the footstool in front of her grandmother’s favorite overstuffed chair, inwardly a mass of raw emotions, outwardly controlled, calmly perusing a book. “Have you nothing to say to my plans for you, child? I rather expected to see you leap with joy. Some small display of enthusiasm would be appropriate here in return for the economies I’ve practiced in order to leave you this tiny legacy.”
She was prodding, Julianna knew, trying to provoke her into either a witty rejoinder or an unemotional discussion. Julianna was very good at both after years of practice, but she was as incapable of discussing her grandmother’s death with humor as she was with impersonal calm. Moreover, she was vaguely wounded that her grandmother could talk of leaving her forever without any indication of regret.
“I must say you don’t seem very grateful.”
Julianna’s head snapped up, her violet eyes sparkling with angry tears. “I am not at all grateful, Grandmama, nor do I wish to discuss this now. It is nearly Christmas, a time for joyous—”
“Death is a fact of life,” her grandmother stated flatly. “It is pointless to cower from it.”
“But you are my whole life,” Julianna burst out because she couldn’t stop herself. “And—and I don’t like it in the least that you—you can speak to me of money as if it’s a recompense for your death.”
“You think me cold and callous?”
“Yes, I do!”
It was their first harsh argument, and Julianna hated it.
Her grandmother regarded her in serene silence before asking, “Do you know what I shall miss when I leave this earth?”
“I shall miss one thing and one thing alone.” When Julianna didn’t ask for an explanation, her grandmother provided it: “I shall miss you.”
The answer was in such opposition to her unemotional voice and bland features that Julianna stared dubiously at her.
“I shall miss your humor and your confidences and your amazing gift for seeing the logic behind both sides of any issue. I shall particularly miss reading what you’ve written each day. You have been the only bright spot in my existence.”
As she finished, she walked forward and laid her cool hand on Julianna’s cheek, brushing away the tears trickling from the corner of her eye. “We are kindred spirits, you and I. If you had been born much sooner, we would have been bosom friends.”
“We are friends,” Julianna whispered fiercely as she placed her own hand over her grandmother’s and rubbed her cheek against it. “We will be friends forever and always! When you are . . . gone, I shall still confide in you and write for you—shall write letters to you as if you had merely moved away!”
“What a diverting idea,” her grandmother teased. “And will you also post them to me?”
“Of course not, but you’ll know what I have written nonetheless.”
“What makes you think that?” she asked, genuinely puzzled.
“Because I heard you tell the vicar very bluntly that it is illogical to assume that the Almighty intends to let us lie around dozing until Judgment Day. You said that, having repeatedly warned us that we shall reap what we sow, God is more likely to insist we observe what we have sown from a much wider viewpoint.”
“I do not think it wise, my dear, for you to put more credence in my theological notions than in those of the good vicar. I shouldn’t like for you to waste your talent writing to me after I’m gone, instead of writing something for the living to read.”
“I shan’t be wasting my time,” Julianna said with a confident smile, one of their familiar debates over nonsense lifting her spirits. “If I write you letters, I have every faith you will contrive a way to read them wherever you may be.”
“Because you credit me with mystical powers?”
“No,” Julianna teased, “because you cannot resist correcting my spelling!”
“Impertinent baggage,” her grandmother huffed, but she smiled widely and her fingers spread, linking with Julianna’s for a tight, affectionate squeeze.
The following year, on the eve of Christmas, her grandmother died, holding Julianna’s hand one last time. “I’ll write to you, Grandmama.” Julianna wept as her grandmother’s eyes closed forever. “Don’t forget to watch for my letters. Don’t forget.”