The Earl's Christmas Delivery

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Authors: Susan Gee Heino
ahead. "Look! Beyond those trees. I can just make out the spire of a church."
    " Newchild-on-Bourne is right over the next rise," one of the shepherds said. "That's Bethlehem Church you see there."
    Myserleigh could think of no more welcome sight. So they'd made it, and just in the nick of time. The light was fading fast and thick clouds closed in all around. He leaned back to call to the young men.
    "Is Jasper still with us?"
    "I'm here, sir," the young man replied, his voice weaker than ever. "And I can't tell you how pleased I am to see home. That's our little village for sure."
    One of his companions had even more welcome information to add.
    "And our Nana lives just across the way from the church. She keeps the inn there— The Fettered Ghost . She'll have hot meals and lots of room for us all around her warm fire."
    Although the inn's name didn't hold much promise, the thought of a hot meal and room at the fire sounded like heaven.

Chapter 5
    There was no room at the inn. Myserleigh could scarcely believe that such a tiny, insignificant little village could be as filled with visitors as it was, but apparently distant family members had returned for the holiday and some local couple anticipated an upcoming wedding that had brought an influx of guests. Whatever the reason, the result was that the common room of The Fettered Ghost was crowded to overflowing, food was at a premium, and rooms were full beyond capacity.
    The shepherds were not worried for they were planning to wait out the storm out in the stables with their recovering lambs. Apparently a night in the stable was not as unappealing to them as it would at first seem. Myserleigh's other passengers were content to sleep in whatever corner or cupboard their Nana offered to provide them. This left Myserleigh to be only concerned for Miss Meriwether.
    She was traveling alone, after all, and if a bed was located for her it would most certainly be in a roomful of strangers. Myserleigh could not be at all comfortable with that. Nor did he like the idea of her passing the night here in the common room, getting what sleep she could find on a bench or one of the straight wooden chairs. No, after the horrible day she had spent she certainly had earned a safe, restful night.
    Nana turned out to be a sturdy woman with mounds of wiry gray hair and a smile that made all her guests feel welcome, even though she could provide them very little at this point. Her name was Mrs. Hark and Myserleigh was more than happy to finally have some way to refer to her other than calling her Nana. She ran The Fettered Ghost with her husband, a large, boisterous fellow named Harold. He was happily serving his guests what resources he had while his wife disappeared into the back to tend Jasper's injuries.
    Miss Meriwether warmed herself near the fire and struggled to keep her eyes open as they waited to hear word on their young companion's condition. Myserleigh stayed very close to her, watching the various groups of travelers and visitors who populated the room, keeping his eyes open for anyone of unsavory character that might pose some risk. It was beyond foolish for the young woman to have set off on such a journey without a companion. She was just lucky she had ended up with him. If he'd sent some anonymous delivery person as he'd initially planned on, there was no telling where she'd be now.
    "Excuse me, sir," a voice at his elbow interrupted.
    He turned to find one of the shepherds approaching him.
    "Are the lambs safe for the night?" Myserleigh asked. "Do you expect them to recover?"
    "Indeed, sir. Thank ye for asking. But I thought that... well, it's about the little miss's pony out there."
    Now Miss Meriwether perked up. "Holly? What has happened? Is she unwell?"
    The shepherd twisted his still-damp hat in his hands and seemed uncomfortable. Myserleigh did not look forward to whatever bad news the man clearly had come to deliver. He could have kicked himself. Damn, but he must have

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