It’s 1818 and Byron is in Venice. When Lady Charlotte Tyree’s feckless brother attempts to mimic his idol and swim the Grand Canal, putrid fever lays him flat and strands her there. Venice, Christmas, a handsome Italian doctor… her life is about to take an interesting turn.
Lady Charlotte is accustomed to waiting. She waited for a Season that never came. For a husband and children that never materialized. But she held onto one last dream—to see the splendor of Rome before returning to England and life as the spinster sister of an earl. But now her feckless brother has her waiting again, stranding her with him in Venice when he falls ill, only halfway to the city of her dreams. And worse still, Christmas is coming.
As a physician, Salvatore Caresini well knows the danger of putrid fever. He lost his young wife to it, leaving him alone to care for their children. He isn’t about to let the lovely English lady risk nursing her brother. For her protection, he invites her into his own home. Who knew she’d so quickly fit in, becoming his mother’s helper and protector of his sons? As Lady Charlotte sits vigil for her brother, Salvatore finds himself falling for the courageous woman. But how can he ask her to give up her dream of Rome for a Venetian physician and his ramshackle household? But Christmas is coming, that season of miracles, and with it, perhaps, lessons for two lonely people: that love is the best medicine and sometimes the sweetest things in life are worth the wait.
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Lottie lay across the carpet, unmoving. Desire warred with concern. Fear won at first.
On second look, she was not unconscious, but sleeping peacefully in front of the pyramidal shelves set up to house the presepe, the nativity crib. He knelt down to take a close look at her. Her breathing looked even; her color looked healthy. She had simply come to rest in front of the presepe and fallen asleep. Her hands clutched one of the little figures, the San Guiseppe, or Saint Joseph in Lottie’s English, he judged from the brown color of the robe.
In the midst of fever and fear, someone had managed to add figure after figure to the shelves. The revelation stunned him. Lottie. It had to be Lottie. At least she must have been leading the children to do it day after day.
She must have been unpacking another. He looked at the ones already in place, from the kings on the bottom, upward. Some, like two of the kings, were precious antiques, handed down from his great-grandfather. Others, like the sheep, were dear additions of his childhood. Most precious of all, he thought, was the lumpy camel Toto and Carlo had made this year. He picked it up and hefted it, then put it back in place. Would it survive their roughhousing? He prayed it would. He would have to store it away when the inevitable adolescent embarrassment over their childish projects threatened to destroy it. He would bring it out when they had children of their own. He smiled at the thought.
A woolen shawl lay draped over a chair. He picked it up and spread it over Lottie’s legs, but not without allowing himself a naughty look at the lovely toes peeking out from her skirt. She had removed her shoes, and the graceful line of her ankle and arched foot enchanted him. He was looking around for a blanket when a sound at the door drew his attention. He looked over into the furious eyes of the Earl of Ambler, who seemed ready to do violence.
“Let her sleep,” Ambler mouthed through a fierce frown. Salvo nodded.
The two men stepped out into the hall. Before Salvo barely could pull the door behind him, before Ambler gave him a shove.
“I should call you out, Caresini. You’ve used my sister ill.”
“What?” Rage filled Salvo. Who is this irresponsible boy to judge my behavior? He stepped forward and glowered down at the earl.
“You are no one to judge. Your behavior put her at risk, you damned fool,” he spat.
Belatedly aware of Salvo’s great height and broad build, Ambler took a step backward, but thought better of it and planted his feet. “It isn’t right, using her like a servant,” he sputtered.
“We agree on that much,” Salvo said, letting his fists relax. He gave the boy credit for backbone.