#1 New York Times bestselling author Stephanie Laurens returns to romantic Scotland
to usher in a new generation of Cynsters in an enchanting tale of mistletoe, magic, and love.
By Winter’s Light
Date of Publication: October 28, 2014
It’s December 1837, and the young adults of the Cynster clan have succeeded in having the family Christmas celebration held at snow-bound Casphairn Manor, Richard and Catriona Cynster’s home. Led by Sebastian, Marquess of Earith, and by Lucilla, future Lady of the Vale, and her twin brother, Marcus, the upcoming generation has their own plans for the holiday season.
Yet where Cynsters gather, love is never far behind—the festive occasion brings together Daniel Crosbie, tutor to Lucifer Cynster’s sons, and Claire Meadows, widow and governess to Gabriel Cynster’s daughter. Daniel and Claire have met before and the embers of an unexpected passion smolder between them, but once bitten, twice shy, Claire believes a second marriage is not in her stars. Daniel, however, is determined to press his suit. He’s seen the love the Cynsters share, and Claire is the lady with whom he dreams of sharing his life. Assisted by a bevy of Cynsters—innate matchmakers every one—Daniel strives to persuade Claire that trusting him with her hand and her heart is her right path to happiness.
Meanwhile, out riding on Christmas Eve, the young adults of the Cynster clan respond to a plea for help. Summoned to a humble dwelling in ruggedly forested mountains, Lucilla is called on to help with the difficult birth of a child, while the others rise to the challenge of helping her. With a violent storm closing in and severely limited options, the next generation of Cynsters face their first collective test—can they save this mother and child? And themselves, too?
Back at the manor, Claire is increasingly drawn to Daniel and despite her misgivings, against the backdrop of the ongoing festivities their relationship deepens. Yet she remains torn—until catastrophe strikes, and by winter’s light, she learns that love—true love—is worth any risk, any price.
A tale brimming with all the magical delights of a Scottish festive season.
Claire was very—not to say excruciatingly—aware of Daniel Crosbie’s gaze. Of his regard. Of the steady, focused way in which he looked at her.
She wished he wouldn’t—or, at least, her mind told her that was what she should wish. Her emotions—stupid giddy things—were more inclined to be flattered and interested…as she’d said, stupid and giddy. And reckless, too.
Yes, Daniel was a handsome, personable, honest, and honorable man; she wasn’t silly enough to imagine she was in any danger of receiving any indecent or illicit proposal from him.
Which was the point. With his dark brown hair, thick and straight, his lean face that so fitted his long, lean, athlete’s body, and his gentle, intelligent, brownish-hazel eyes, he was too nice, too gentlemanly, too kind—she didn’t want to hurt him by peremptorily depressing any pretensions he might harbor. That she greatly feared he was, indeed, intending to voice.
She liked him and valued the quiet friendship that had sprung up between them too much to want to see it damaged, as it would be, quite definitely, if she was forced to say him nay. If she was forced to dismiss the offer she had a dreadful premonition he was intending to make.
There was no future for her with him—or, more accurately, for him with her. For either of them together. But convincing a gentleman like him of that…
Just the thought made her head and chest hurt.
Avoiding him seemed her only real option, but they were fixed at the manor for the next ten days; she would need every bit of ingenuity and quick thinking she could command to successfully keep him at a distance for such a long time.
She didn’t like her chances, but what else could she do?
Live through one day at a time. That had been her motto during the days immediately following her husband’s death; it was all she could think of that might serve her now.
Turning to Melinda, she said, “Alathea asked me especially to keep an eye on Mrs. Phyllida’s two girls—Lydia and Amarantha—given they’re the youngest here. If I’m to take the older girls out to gather greenery, do you have anything planned for the younger lot, or should we combine the two groups?”
Melinda shook her head. “The four fourteen-year-olds are too close-knit a clique—and there’s Louisa in the lead, too. No need to give her more troops to command.”
All the tutors and governesses knew that Devil Cynster’s daughter was a handful—too clever, too persuasive, and far too adept at getting her own way.
“I was going to suggest,” Melinda continued, “that I take the three younger ones—Margaret, Lydia, and Amarantha—into the kitchen. Cook said she would be making mince pies, and they’ll enjoy helping.”
Claire nodded. “That they will. All right—I’ll take the older four.” Surrounding herself with four fourteen-year-old girls should at least keep her safe through the next day. “What sort of greenery is customarily used for the decorations here, where do we get it, and how much are we likely to need?”
* * *
Lucilla Cynster, eldest daughter of the house and future Lady of the Vale, listened while her twin brother, Marcus, seated beside her, explained the ins and outs of the local deer hunting season to her cousins Sebastian, Michael, and Christopher. The three were sitting on the other side of the table, forming a wall of broad shoulders and masculine chests that effectively blocked the rest of the room from Lucilla’s sight. Glancing down the long board beyond Marcus and Christopher, she saw her five fifteen- and sixteen-year-old male cousins—Aidan, Gregory, Justin, Nicholas, and Evan, all of whom intended to join the exploratory ride tomorrow—leaning forward, hanging on Marcus’s every word.
Sebastian, Michael, and Christopher were much more nonchalant, but as Lucilla could feel their eagerness radiating from them, she viewed their expressions of aloofness with skepticism.
Together with Louisa, they—the older six, including Prudence, who was sitting on Lucilla’s other side—had been principally responsible for convincing their elders to hold the family Christmas celebrations in the Vale. The girls had wanted to experience the magic of an assured white Christmas in the deep, undisturbed silence of the Vale, something they hadn’t known since the last family Christmas held there, when they’d been small children. All of them remembered that time with nostalgic pleasure. The boys, of course, had wanted to hunt, but although the season for does was open, the early snows had sent the deer deep into the narrow valleys in the nearby hills; it had been decided that the group should ride out tomorrow to scout around before mounting a proper hunt on the day after the Feast of St. Stephen.
Beside Lucilla, Prudence—Demon and Felicity Cynster’s oldest child and Lucilla’s closest cousin, friend, and sometimes confidante—leaned nearer and, as Marcus paused to answer a question from Aidan, said, “I’m for the ride—are you going to come?”
That Prudence would ride was the opposite of a surprise; she lived for horses and always had. Given her parents’ obsession with the animals, her fervor was perhaps understandable.
Lucilla thought about the ride, about joining the company. Her gaze drifted further down the table to Louisa—she of the lustrous black hair, pale green eyes, and infallibly engaging manners. If Lucilla remained at the house, Louisa would attach herself to Lucilla, which wasn’t a situation to be encouraged. Not because they didn’t get on—despite Lucilla’s flaming red mane, in temperament they were two peas in a pod—but because, courtesy of the Lady’s gifts, Lucilla saw in Louisa a woman who would one day wield great power.
Whenever they were together, Lucilla felt a strong urge to steer or guide Louisa—yet at the very same time, she knew she…shouldn’t. Louisa was supposed to find her own way without any help from Lucilla; the trials and tribulations Louisa would face were important, presumably in shaping her for whatever role lay in her future.
Explaining that to anyone who wasn’t Lady-touched was impossible. So…
The proposed ride would keep her away from the manor for most of the day. Lucilla nodded. “Yes, I’ll come, too.” As she always did, she consulted her connection to the Lady—her inner compass—and felt her eyes widen slightly in surprise.
She was supposed to ride out with her cousins. As to why… As usual, that wasn’t forthcoming.
* * *
Up on the dais, at the end of the long table closest to the warmth thrown out by the blaze in the fireplace nearby, Helena, Dowager Duchess of St. Ives, looked out on those gathered with an indulgent eye. She smiled, more to herself than anyone else, at the sight of her grandchildren, grandnieces, and grandnephews. “They are growing up.”
There was immense satisfaction in her tone.
Beside her, Algaria twitched her shawl over her shoulders. “Up, certainly. Older, indubitably. But wiser? I believe I’ll reserve judgment.”
The third of their number, old McArdle, quietly laughed. “They’re like youngsters anywhere—they’ll learn.”
Algaria stilled, then she murmured, “You’re right—there will be hurdles and challenges for each of them, but as to what those might be… We can only guess.”
Helena refused to let Algaria’s mysterious allusions derail her pleasure. “In truth, it is what amuses me most these days, watching them stumble and fall, then pick themselves up—watching their lives evolve.”
Algaria and McArdle looked out at the children. Although neither made any reply, eventually, both inclined their heads.
Helena allowed her smile to deepen, content that, at least on the philosophical side, she had had the last word.
* * *
“So!” Prudence thumped her curly blonde head down on the pillow she’d arranged at the foot of Lucilla’s bed. She and Lucilla were sharing the bed, top to toe, while the three youngest girls—Prudence’s sister, Margaret, and their cousins Lydia and Amarantha—had settled on pallets before the fire. “We’ll spend most of tomorrow riding with the others, and then Christmas Day will be full of all the usual eating, drinking, and being merry.” Wriggling into a more comfortable position, Prudence went on, “I can’t remember—do you do St. Stephen’s Day up here? The boxes and all?”
“We most certainly do.” Already settled beneath the covers, Lucilla angled her head to look down the bed. “But here it’s called the Feast of St. Stephen, and for good reason, so be warned. Mama will almost certainly want our help either tomorrow evening or, more likely, on the morning of Christmas Day for making up the boxes. It’s more or less the same as Uncle Sylvester and Aunt Honoria do at Somersham—gifts to all the workers and their families. Here, of course, it’s even easier, as even our shepherds live at the manor, and so everyone will be here—in the Great Hall, anyway.”
Prudence nodded. “So we have all that filling up the day after Christmas, plus the hunt on the day after that. Then what?”
“We have three days to recover and prepare, and then it’s Hogmanay—the end of this year and the beginning of the next.”
Prudence was silent for several minutes, then she squinted up the bed and caught Lucilla’s eye. “I’m looking forward to next year precisely because it’s not our coming-out year.”
Lucilla nodded in understanding. “In a way, the coming year will be our last year—the last year of our girlhoods, so to speak.”
“We should make it count,” Prudence said. Warming to her theme, she continued, “We should make sure we do everything we’ve ever wanted to do, and make sure we leave nothing undone that as girls we can do, but that as young ladies we might find more difficult.”
Lucilla chuckled. “Like driving down St. James in an open carriage?”
“Exactly! And riding hell-for-leather in the Park. Isn’t it absurd that I’ll be able to do that next year—every morning we’re in London, if I wish—but the year after, me doing the same thing will be considered indecorous and unbecoming?”
“Society does love its rules, no matter how silly.” Lucilla paused. “In fact, now I think about it, next year is going to be the perfect year for doing all those slightly risqué things. The better part of society will be so focused on the Coronation and all the events surrounding it that no one will have any attention or disapprobation left over to direct at us.”
“Very true,” Prudence said. After a moment, she went on, “I have to say I feel for those girls who will be making their come-outs next year. I heard Mama say that it’s going to be bedlam with all the events planned in the lead-up to the Coronation, and that getting noticed is going to be next to impossible unless you’re foreign royalty.”
“Hmm.” Although she’d never said so aloud, Lucilla was not looking forward to the year beyond the next, the year in which she, alongside Prudence and Antonia Rawlings, would make her formal curtsy to the fashionable world. It was going to be a dreadful bore—and entirely to no purpose. A point she suspected that her mother appreciated, but she doubted her father did, or would, no matter that he usually accepted her mother’s Lady-inspired decrees on most subjects. It would be for him that Lucilla would go to London and be presented, and promenade around the ballrooms and in the Park…all to no avail. Her future, she knew, lay here, in the Vale, just as her mother’s had before her.
She didn’t know who, or how, or when, but she did know where he—whoever he was—would find her.
Here—somewhere in the lands the Lady ruled.
Prudence turned on her side and snuggled down. “It’s a pity Antonia and her family couldn’t join us.”
Lucilla settled, too, tugging the covers over her shoulder. “Aunt Francesca wrote. Mama said that they had wanted to come, but Antonia’s grandmama is poorly and they didn’t want to leave her at this time.”
Prudence mumbled in grudging approval, “Christmas is for families.” A moment ticked past. “Perhaps they can come and visit when you come south to stay in the new year.” She yawned.
Lucilla yawned, too. “P’rhaps.” A second later, she murmured, “Good night.”
She heard the smile in Prudence’s voice as she replied, “Sweet dreams.”
You state that BY WINTER’S LIGHT is an essential volume for the Cynster novels going forward. Why is that?
One of the critical features of a long-running series is readers’ feelings of returning to places and people they know – of seeing heros and heroines they have come to know as individuals go through the challenge of finding love and marrying the right man or woman for them. Knowing at least one of these characters beforehand – understanding what has made them as they are, what their strengths are, and even more importantly what weaknesses they hide – allows greater interest, empathy, and absorption for the reader.
In the case of the Cynster Next Generation, the children of the Bar Cynster couples, readers know who they are, but have seen very little of them. And as we all know, actions speak much louder than words about the caliber of people, of who they really are beneath the outer glamor. In BY WINTER’S LIGHT, readers see Lucilla, Marcus, Sebastian, Michael, Prudence, and Christopher in action, responding to external pressures and threats, and also to each other, and separately readers also learn more about Louisa and her emerging character.
Readers have more recently seen Lucilla and Marcus act in VISCOUNT BRECKENRIDGE TO THE RESCUE, but now they are a decade older, and we – both the readers and me as author – need to see more of the adults they are shaping up to be, which are insights BY WINTER’S LIGHT affords us. Unsurprisingly, the first pair of Cynster Next Generation romances are those of Lucilla and Marcus, and as they are twins, the stories are tightly linked.
Subsequently, working off the base of their characters revealed in this book, we’ll follow Sebastian, Michael, and Louisa through their romances, and later learn about Prudence and Christopher’s romances, too.
So there’s lots more Cynster novels in the pipeline?
Indeed! Lucilla’s book, THE TEMPTING OF THOMAS CARRICK, is already written, and will be released at the end of February, 2015. It will be followed by Marcus’s story, A MATCH FOR MARCUS CYNSTER, in late May, 2015. Further Cynster novels are scheduled for release in 2017.
There’s an obvious tradition that isn’t included – that of a Christmas tree. Why is that missing?
Christmas trees – the erecting and decorating of them – while echoing the decorating of a house with fir and holly, was a German custom. In the early 1800s, the only major house in England that sported a Christmas Tree was the Duchess of Rutland’s household at Belvoir Castle, because the Duchess was German. Only much later, after the marriage of Victoria to Albert, who introduced the custom of Christmas trees to the royal household, did the custom of Christmas trees become more widely adopted in England.
Victoria married Albert in 1840, so in 1837 in Scotland, the custom of a Christmas had not yet arrived.
If there was one thing you could say to readers when they pick up BY WINTER’S LIGHT, what would it be?
Put your feet up, kick back and relax, and enjoy the holidays Cynsters-style!
#1 New York Times bestselling author Stephanie Laurens began writing romances as an escape from the dry world of professional science. Her hobby quickly became a career when her first novel was accepted for publication, and with entirely becoming alacrity, she gave up writing about facts in favor of writing fiction.
Laurens’s novels are set in the time period of the British Regency, and her settings range from Scotland to India. Laurens has published fifty works of historical romance, including 29 New York Times bestsellers. All her works are continuously available in print and digital formats in English worldwide, and have been translated into many other languages. An international bestseller, among other accolades Laurens has received the Romance Writers of America prestigious RITA Award for Best Romance Novella 2008, for The Fall of Rogue Gerrard.
Her continuing novels featuring the Cynster family are widely regarded as classics of the genre. Other series include the Bastion Club Novels and the Black Cobra Quartet. For information on upcoming releases and updates on novels yet to come, visit Stephanie’s website.