<Map of a Lady's Heart>

Map of a Lady's Heart
Originally featured in At the Christmas Wedding

Let your heart be your compass…

Practical and independent, Viola Cavendish knows how to handle trouble—and the Earl of Winterton is nothing but trouble. Not only does he arrive to see her employer, the Duke of Wessex, while the duke is away… with a rakish young nephew in tow, while Viola is responsible for chaperoning a party of young ladies… right before a blizzard strikes, leaving them snowbound in Kingstag Castle… mere days before Christmas… No, most troublesome of all is the fascinated way Winterton looks at her, as if she’s a fascinating woman and not just a secretary.

Wesley Morane, Lord Winterton, comes to Kingston Castle wanting one thing only: the atlas his father carried on his last journey. He’s not put off by a little snow, his rebellious nephew, or even the absence of the duke. What stymies Wes entirely is the beautiful Viola Cavendish, who disappoints his hopes, one by one—yet every time she smiles at him, the only map Wes craves is the one that will show him the way to her heart…

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<Map of a Lady's Heart>One year later

Wes woke early, as usual, and reached for his wife, as usual.

Unusually, she was not there.

He opened his eyes. The room was quiet and dim, the drapes still closed. The door to the dressing room stood ajar, and no light or sounds came from it, either. Viola must have risen and left some time ago.

Wes flopped back with a stretch and a yawn, and a flicker of disappointment. Tonight was Christmas Eve. Guests had invaded the house, and the only time he had her to himself was here in bed.

One outstretched hand touched paper. There was a note on her pillow, his name on the outside. Intrigued, Wes rolled up onto one elbow and opened it.

No, it was not a note. It was a riddle. His eyebrows climbed as he read Viola’s neat script. Once a wanderer, so at home by sea and saddle, Now confined to hearth and home, must hunger for adventure, To ease the pangs felt with each dawn…

He re-read the note, a smile slowly forming on his lips. No, it wasn’t a riddle.

It was a clue.

“Have a cup of tea,” urged Anne, Lady Newton.

Viola hesitated. She’d meant to grab a roll on her way through the dining room, but the whole family had risen early. The children had been allowed downstairs and the table was filled, from infant Maggie in her mother’s arms to the dowager Countess of Winterton.

After she and Wes married last Twelfth Night, nearly a year ago, they had come home to Winterbury Hall, where his very curious and amazed family awaited. Fortunately Anne, Wes’s oldest sister, had heard an earful from her son Justin, and she was waiting to sweep Viola into an embrace and thank her for dealing so well with Justin’s indiscretion.

By summer Viola had become friends with all three of Wes’s sisters, Anne, Mary, and Lucy, and found an ally in Margaret, the dowager countess. “I never thought he’d find a woman to make him stay,” she’d confided in Viola, “and I’m unutterably pleased it was you, dear.”

And now they were all at Winterbury Hall for Christmas, like a proper family. It filled Viola with happiness. The only flaw was the absence of her brother Stephen, but she could not hold it against him. Wes had helped Stephen secure a chance to study telescopes in Brussels, to Stephen’s delirious joy. Ah well. She was glad he was getting to do what he loved so dearly. He had promised to visit when he returned.

<Map of a Lady's Heart>“Yes, do sit down,” added Margaret.

“You’ve been racing about this entire week, you deserve a proper breakfast at least,” put in Lucy from the end of the table.

Viola put a hand on the empty chair. Hot tea sounded divine, but… “I still have so much to do.”

“I’ll watch out for Uncle Winterton,” offered Justin, divining what made her hesitate. Viola gave the young man a grateful smile, and he grinned back. He jumped up from his chair and loped to the door, followed by his young cousin Tom, quietly begging to be allowed to keep watch, too.

As Viola slid into the chair, the other ladies sprang into action. “Freddie, bring her some toast,” Lucy told her husband. Mr. McPherson obediently went to the sideboard while Anne poured a steaming cup of tea and Grace, her youngest daughter, passed the milk and honey.

“Thank you all.” Viola took a sip, her eyes flickering closed in pleasure. “I must hurry, though.”

“You must also eat,” said Margaret firmly. “Catherine, dear, pass the butter.”

“And the strawberry jam.” Catherine gave Viola a jaunty smile as she slid the butter and jam across the table. Viola grinned back; she and Anne’s second daughter both loved their butter and jam.

“Is all ready?”

“Nearly,” replied Viola buttering her toast. “Thanks to Freddie and Sir Thomas.”

Freddie McPherson and Sir Thomas Steventon both protested, but Viola insisted. “I could not have done it without your help—everyone’s help,” she added, looking around the table.

“It was our pleasure, my dear,” Margaret assured her.

“And the least we could do.” Mary shifted three-year-old Mary Anne from her lap to the chair beside her, and gave Viola an affectionate glance. “After you invited us all for Christmas.”

A chorus of “Thank you, Aunt Viola!” sounded around the table from the younger family members. Sir Thomas raised his coffee cup in salute, and Freddie winked at her. Both Wes’s brothers-in-law had been invaluable, but even the children had been willing conspirators, once she explained what she wanted to do.

“Uncle will be so astonished!” Jane, Anne’s eldest daughter, bounced in her chair with glee, acting more like a child than a young lady on the verge of making her debut.

<Map of a Lady's Heart>“Only if we all keep the secret,” piped up her cousin George.

Freddie ruffled his son’s hair. “Which we shall, eh, lad?”

“Of course we shall!” he answered stoutly. “It’s a great lark. All the fellows at school will be amazed that Aunt Viola pulled off such a prime prank.” George had just finished his first term at Eton.

“’Tis not a prank,” scolded Catherine. “’Tis a gift.”

And a surprise,” chirped her sister Grace. “The best kind of surprise!”

From the hall came the sound of the clock, chiming the hour. “Oh goodness, I must hurry!” Viola drained her tea cup. “Wes is such an early riser.”

“He always has been!” Margaret shook her head. “The trouble that boy got up to, rising before anyone else in the house…”

“Did he?” demanded George, interested. “Tell, tell, Granny!”

Viola smiled at the chatter as she took her last bite of toast and rose from the table. “He’s coming!” yelped Justin from his place at the door. “He’s descending the stairs!”

Viola seized her notebook and dashed for the opposite door, which young Tom sprinted to open. Silver and china clattered as everyone resumed eating, and she just heard Justin say, “Good morning, Uncle!” as the door closed behind her.

Wes had become accustomed to finding someone at breakfast—the house was full of people these days—but he also usually found Viola.

Today he found his entire family. A dozen faces looked up at him and cried, “Good morning!”

He paused warily. Not only his mother but all three sisters, both brothers-in-law, and their children. “Good morning.”

“Come in!” His mother beckoned him. “Such a lazy one you are this morning!”

Wes started. He, lazy? The clock had chimed eight as he came downstairs. “I didn’t think to see you waiting for me this morning.”

A burst of laughter greeted this. “Waiting!” cried his mother. “How silly. We were just hungry. Cook has made poached eggs, your favorite.”

<Map of a Lady's Heart>He looked at her strangely. He’d never liked poached eggs.

“There’s rashers of bacon, too,” piped up his nephew George. “Good and hot, too, not cold like at school.”

“And butter buns!” added his niece Grace.

“Buns!” crowed little Mary Anne, waving her hands so hard, the bun she held flew right across the table, where her father Sir Thomas neatly caught it.

“Excellent,” said Wes after a moment. He went to the sideboard and filled a plate, his brain working furiously. Why were they all here? So early? And where was Viola?

He took his plate to the head of the table. “Has anyone seen Viola?”

“No, not at all!”

“Viola? I’ve no idea.”

“Not this morning, Uncle.”

“Would you like some coffee?”

Wes stared in amazement at Justin, who advanced on him with the coffee pot. He glanced around the table. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing! Coffee?” Justin lifted the pot aggressively. Mary Anne let out a giggle and clapped her hands over her mouth when Mary shushed her.

“And no one has seen Viola at all today?”

“Not a glimpse,” said Margaret calmly. “Were we supposed to keep an eye on her?”

Wes frowned and stabbed at his bacon. “No. It’s just odd that she’s not here.”

“She must be extremely busy,” said Anne. “Preparing for Christmas.”

“She’s done so much,” added Mary. “You must be prepared to make allowances, when guests are in the house.”

“Such a wonderful party it is, though, Uncle,” gushed Catherine.

“She’s an angel to have us all here for Christmas, you do know that, don’t you, Wesley?” That was Lucy, bouncing baby Maggie in her arms.

“I do.” But he was less and less pleased about it. Moodily he ate as his family chattered about neighborhood gossip. If it were such a lot of work, surely Viola should have breakfast, shouldn’t she? “Was she here earlier?” he asked abruptly.

<Map of a Lady's Heart>His mother blinked at him. “Who, dear? The vicar and his wife? They’ve gone into Derbyshire to see their daughter.”

“Viola,” he said through his teeth. “Has anyone seen her this morning?”

A strangely fraught hush fell. “I believe I saw her walking in the garden,” said Justin at last, his eyes flicking from his mother to his grandmother.

“Are you certain? I’m sure I saw her heading toward the kitchens,” said Lucy.

“No, she must be with the housekeeper. She did hint there would be a splendid dinner tonight.” Anne wagged her finger at him. “Be patient, Winterton! You cannot keep her in your pocket all the time.”

I don’t want her in my pocket, Wes groused to himself. I only wanted her in my arms for a morning kiss.

He shoved back his chair. “All right. I shall see you at dinner.”

“But where are you going?” protested his mother. “We were hoping to…”

“Play charades!” cried Grace as her voice trailed off. “Please say you will, Uncle!”

Wes’s eyes flitted around the table again, suspiciously. Something was definitely up. “Perhaps later.”

“I nearly forgot,” said his mother hastily. “Viola did ask me to give you this.”

Wes all but snatched the note from her hand. With no great surprise he saw it was another riddle.

Far from the foreign bazaar, a league removed from thrills, A man must simpler pleasures apprehend, A stroll, a quiet vista, the written page, There lie adventures large and small without end…

He headed for the library.

“Is that everything?”

Mr. Jenkins, the stable master, nodded. “Aye, m’lady.”

Excellent. Viola surveyed the boxes they’d brought. Anne and Lucy were planning to come help her unpack them.

“Thank you.” She smiled and nodded at Billy and Johnny, the grooms who had finished unloading the wagon. “Go on and take the rest of the day free. No one will go out today.”

They thanked her and piled back into the wagon, rattling back up the newly widened path toward the stables. Humming softly, Viola took the broom and finished sweeping the floor. She could have sent the maids out to do this—all of it—but felt it meant a little more if she did it herself. She was still getting used to being in charge of a whole household, and she’d asked a great deal of all the servants by inviting so many guests.

<Map of a Lady's Heart>But that, she did not regret. Wes had raised his brows, but she’d seen him walking the grounds with Justin, explaining why he’d done something or other around the estate. She’d heard him laughing and jesting with his sisters, who teased him with the affection of older siblings. He’d gone shooting and riding with Freddie and Thomas, and promised trips to London to his nieces, and played bowls with the little ones. For all his wandering, he loved his family. And they were beyond delighted to have him home.

She pinned a large map of the world on the wall and put fresh candles in the sconces beside it. She paused to study it. Wes had suggested any number of places where they might go on a wedding trip, but Winterbury Hall had been neglected; they were needed here. He’d promised her it was only postponed, but now it would be months before they could go.

Her eyes lingered on Brussels. “Happy Christmas, Stephen,” she whispered, pressing a kiss to her fingertip and touching it to that spot on the map. “Next year.”

She was putting sprigs of evergreen in the windowsills when Anne and Lucy arrived. Lucy flung herself out of the gig and raced to the door. “Disaster!”

Viola jerked upright, her heart pounding. “What?”

Anne hurried up beside her. “Not disaster,” she said with a stern look at her sister. “But… not good news. Winterton has left, and no one knows where he’s gone or when he will return.”

Wes found the clue Viola had left in the library—Every journey begins and ends at home, And every traveler must know the way. The best guide one could find, Is a loyal steed in want of hay—and was on his way to the stables. He had no idea what she was up to, but he was more and more amused and intrigued by it. His curiosity had reached unbearable levels, and he’d begun wondering if—or rather, hoping—he would find her at the end, reposing in a steaming bath with her hair up and that beguiling twinkle in her eye, ready to wish him a very happy Christmas in private. It was, after all, the one year anniversary of the first time he’d made love to her…

Unfortunately Rivers, the butler, intercepted him. “Mr. Gardner has returned, my lord.”

Wes stopped. “Where?”

“The morning room, sir.”

He was already on his way, his heart leaping. He’d given up hope, but now there was a chance. He flung open the door, almost holding his breath. “Well?”

“Put into Eastbourne this morning, my lord,” replied Gardner, his face red from cold. “The weather cleared as if by divine will.”

<Map of a Lady's Heart>Wes couldn’t keep back a grin of fierce elation. Inside he was shouting with it. “Excellent news, Mr. Gardner! Via the Pevensey road?”


He changed his mind about finding Viola. He’d not thought this surprise, the gift she wanted above all else, would arrive in time. He was sure she would like the emerald parure wrapped in silver tissue hidden in his study, but this… this would please her far more. “I’ll ride out at once.”

“Will you, sir?” asked his steward in surprise. “It’s not necessary. I made all the arrangements…”

“I know, and I’ve every confidence they are excellent. I simply want to make certain there’s no delay.”

“Shall I come with you?”

Wes smiled. “If you wish, but feel free to stay and warm yourself with a cup of mulled wine. I appreciate all your efforts and cannot ask more of you.”

Gardner gave a rueful grin. “I’ve seen it this far, might as well finish it. Let me get a fresh horse.”

Wes clapped his shoulder. “I cannot believe we’ve pulled this off.”

Gardner laughed as they headed for the stables. “Nor can I! ’Tis a Christmas miracle, indeed!”

Viola had rearranged the ivy and pine boughs, trimmed the candle wicks, and straightened every pillow. The winter light was fading, and she’d sent Anne and Lucy back to the house with the gig. She was wasting time and she knew it.

Whatever had sent Wes haring off—and no one at the house seemed to have the slightest idea what it was—he hadn’t returned. The butler had sent word that Mr. Gardner, the estate steward, had ridden up in a lather, and then both of them had taken off. That suggested an emergency somewhere on the estate, which of course he must see to at once.

She told herself her disappointment was her own fault. If she’d just told Wes this morning, instead of leaving little clues to send him on a treasure hunt, he would have come right down. They could have had breakfast together before he was called away. Now she had spent most of the day waiting for him, and it was growing dark.

Ah well. It was a small disappointment, after all. Smiling wryly at herself for moping over it, she went to put out the lamps and return to the house. Tomorrow morning she would tell him, first thing.

“I say, this charming cottage has a very fetching lady in it,” said his voice behind her, warm with amusement.

Viola whirled. “Wes!”

He opened his arms and she flew to him for a long kiss. “I’ve been waiting all day for that,” he breathed, holding her close.

<Map of a Lady's Heart>She smiled up at him. “I should have stayed in bed this morning, shouldn’t I?”

“With me? Always,” he replied, making her blush and laugh. “But what are you doing here?”

‘Here’ was the small former gamekeeper’s cottage at the edge of the woods, facing the largest pond on the estate. She stepped back and spread her arms. “I know how much you wish to travel and see the world, and get away from the cares of Winterbury. I cannot offer you Sicily or St. Petersburg, but I hope this will be a peaceful retreat from the estate.”

His face had gone blank with astonishment. He looked around the cozy little cottage. Freddie and Tom had overseen the renovation, removing some of the walls that cut it into three tiny rooms and made it one large room. It was still rustic, with comfortable but simple furnishings and walls washed white, and thick warm drapes covering the windows that overlooked the pond. Bookcases framed the stone hearth, where the fire was burning low, and a pair of deep wingback chairs sat in front it, inviting a relaxed cup of tea or a glass of brandy over a good book.

And the map. It covered an entire wall, richly illustrated and detailed. Wes caught sight of it and crossed the room slowly, entranced.

“You created this for me,” he said softly, his fingers tracing the frothing wake of a sailing ship at sea. “With sea monsters,” he added with a sudden laugh, spying the gilled serpent lurking in the depths of one ocean.

“What decent map doesn’t?” She put her arms around his waist.

He kissed the top of her head. “Thank you, my love. I hope you don’t regret it when I hide from Anne and Justin here.”

Viola smiled and stepped out of his embrace. “And now I can give you your gift!”

“Now!” He laughed in surprise. “As if I haven’t got everything I want…”

She retrieved a parcel wrapped in linen and handed it to him with a shy smile. “Happy Christmas, my love.”

Lips quirked, he undid the folds, and then his mouth dropped open and he simply stared.

“Are you pleased?” she asked, a bit anxiously.

He raised stunned eyes to her. “How did you get this?”

It was the Desnos atlas he’d gone to Dorset in search of a year ago, the object that took him to Kingstag Castle and into her life. But a year ago, it had belonged to the Duke of Wessex, intended as a gift for his wife the duchess. The duke had utterly refused to sell it.

“Her Grace sent it to me,” she explained. “She read your father’s writings in the back and realized how much it must mean to you. She said she could not keep such a dear memento of someone so beloved, and sent it with cordial wishes.”

His face was very still as he paged through the atlas. “I never thought I would see it again. To tell the truth, I’d made peace with that. These days my mind is more agreeably occupied, with my deeply beloved wife.”

<Map of a Lady's Heart>She blushed. “Now you have both.”

“Viola.” He laid the atlas on the table between the armchairs. “Having my father’s journal restored to me is astonishing and marvelous beyond words. Thank you.” She beamed at him. “Now, does this cottage contain a bed?”

“A chaise longue.” She arched one brow. “Are you in need of a respite?”

“No,” he murmured, “I wish to thank you properly for the atlas.” He bore her backwards onto that chaise with a growl, until her giggles turned into breathless sighs of delight.

Some time later, Wes lay sprawled on the chaise feeling at perfect charity with the world. The cottage did feel like a private little world, simple and far removed from the responsibility of Winterbury Hall. A respite, she’d called it. Yes, that was ideal, he thought, pressing his lips to her forehead as she snuggled against him.

“If I might suggest one small improvement,” he murmured, “perhaps a larger chaise.”

Viola laughed. Her hair tumbled around her shoulders in fetching disarray, and she only wore her shift. “Perhaps.”

His fingers played with her loose hair. He loved undoing her, laces and buttons and hairpins. “I suppose now I should give you your gift.”

She kissed his jaw. “I think you just did.”

“That!” He grinned. “That was my everyday expression of love and appreciation. I’ve got something special for you.”

Viola propped her chin on his chest and smiled dreamily at him. “Never say that wasn’t special.”

He laughed. “It was extraordinary! However”—he kissed her on the mouth—“there’s something else waiting at the house. Shall we go see?”

Surprise flickered over her face, but she sat up and reached for her gown. Wes kissed his way up her back as he did the buttons, making her laugh. After banking the fire and donning hats and cloaks against the twilight chill, they closed the cottage door and headed back to the house, hand in hand.

At the Hall he handed their cloaks to the butler and urged Viola toward the large drawing room, from which came the sounds of conversation and laughter. “Let me go change,” she whispered, resisting.

“You look beautiful.”

“My hair is a dreadful tangle, Wes…”

He wiggled his eyebrows at her. “And it looks ravishing that way.”

She tried to look stern, but was smiling when he led her into the brightly lit room.

The cousins were playing charades. His mother and sisters sat on the sofas, watching and laughing at the children’s antics. Freddie and Tom stood near the punch bowl by the window, and with them—

<Map of a Lady's Heart>“Stephen!” cried Viola. “Oh, Stephen, you’re here!” She ran across the room and flung herself into the arms of her tall, lanky brother, just arrived from Brussels via Eastbourne and then Pevensey.

Wes watched fondly as his wife and her brother put their heads together, their hair the same shade of chestnut. When she turned and flew back to him, her eyes glowing and her face shining with joy, he caught her to him. “If you brought my family to me, I should bring your family to you,” he whispered in her ear. “Happy Christmas, darling.”

She took her face in his hands. “This is the happiest Christmas I’ve ever known.” And she kissed him, and he kissed her, and neither cared that everyone in the room was watching and smiling, too.