Lady Rosalind Chatham's arranged marriage cannot withstand the wonder of a Christmas wish glistening with true love and happy ever after.

Title: Once Upon a Christmas Castle

Author: Virginia Barlow

Publication Date: November 6, 2023

Pages: 276

Genre: Holiday Romance

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Lady Rosalind Chatham journeys with her family to Weston Castle to wed an ancient earl on Christmas day. Yearning for true love, she falls for the duke, her stepfather’s cousin, while preparing her nuptials. Lady Rosalind entrances the Duke of Weston. Concerned for her future with the tempestuous earl, he can’t afford to get involved. The fines and scandal will be too great for a man of his wealth and power. When the truth comes to light, and he almost loses her forever, he finds he cannot afford to give less than his whole heart.

What Critics Are Saying:

“Loved this holiday romance between Lady Rosalind (Ruby) and the charismatic Duke of Weston. Facing a forced marriage to a loathsome noble, Rosalind uncovers lies and betrayal which almost cost her the life of the man she loves.

With plot twists, devious characters, attempted abduction, and touches of humor– thanks to a little boy and his unpredictable pet frog– this Christmas novel is a delightful holiday read!”

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Book Excerpt  

Chapter One

Yorkshire, England

Late November 1813

Lady Rosalind Chatham’s first view of Weston Castle
took her breath away.

Gazing out the little window of her stepfather’s
luxurious carriage as they turned a corner on the
winding road, the trees of the dense forest fell
away to reveal a magical, ethereal structure rising
high above them.

Standing tall against the dark foliage of the
forest, the heavy stone castle sparkled in the
afternoon light.

Rosalind blinked up at the elegant towers and
spires caressing an azure blue sky holding communion
with fluffy white clouds and sighed with

The relatives spoke of the beauty of Weston Castle,
but their lavish praise in no way prepared her for
this glorious reality.

Allowing her gaze to roam the enchanting scene
before her, she wondered how the gate to her private
hell could resemble the entrance to heaven. Such a
thing should not be allowed, for it played with her
mind and heart in a most unpleasant fashion. Shaking
her head at the irony of the situation, she turned
her attention back to the lavish grounds surrounding

The cobblestone road they traveled on meandered
through acres of manicured gardens strewn with
glistening diamond-studded droplets of frost to an
impressive outer wall made of stone and curved

Guards dressed in blue, gold, and black stood at
attention beside the arched entrance welcoming her
stepfather and mother in the forward carriage before
waving the rest of the entourage through. Their warm
breath hung suspended in the frosty air as they
acknowledged their


Rosalind’s heart skipped a beat as their carriage
wheeled past the guards. She had never been so happy
and so distraught for a journey to end.

Her ancient, newly acquired fiancé, the Earl of
Gloucester, would arrive within a fortnight for the
wedding, planned for Christmas Day. Feeling as
though she received a lump of coal in her stocking,
a shiver of revulsion skated down her spine when his
wrinkled face and snowy white hair popped into her
head. Bushy white eyebrows dipped low over dull
brown eyes accompanied by thin lips and nose. An
inch shorter in stature then she, with a rounded
belly and hunched shoulders, he hobbled when he
walked because of swelling in his left foot.

When she left this glorious abode, she would do so
as his wife. Anxiety twisted a knot in her stomach
as she shoved the thought aside.

Two London seasons, a handful of half-hearted
suitors, and a less-than-favorable reputation later,
she received one proposal, his, a
fifty-four-year-old widower anxious to make her his
brood mare.

She often wondered where the term “love of my life”
originated from. Did one have more than one? She
concluded one must after taking her mother into
consideration. Mama claimed Rosalind’s father held
the title until his untimely death, and following
her marriage to Lord Timothy Weston, now claimed her
stepfather to be her one true love. Thus, reason
dictated each person must have at last two, perhaps
more. And if there were so many about, why had she
not run into at least one of hers?

“Is this Cousin Lucius’ castle?”

Her five-year-old half-brother’s question jerked
her back to the present as he squinted his nose at
the drawbridge. “If I knew we were this close, I
would have waited to stop.”

The heavy wooden beams groaned under the weight of
the carriage.

One of the many reasons her stepfather and mother
traveled in their own carriage with Rosalind and
Thomas in another had to do with her brother’s
frequent stops to relieve his bladder and constant
chatter. When her

brother grew bored, he invented reasons to stretch
his legs. She would join him if not for the fact she
must behave as a lady.

Shaking her head, she replied, “Next time, be

He gave her an eye roll and studied the scenery
with interest. “Do you think Cousin Lucius has a

Gazing at his angelic face, she smiled. The child’s
big blue eyes stole her heart the second he appeared
in this world as a tiny babe, and she held him in
her arms for the first time. She alone possessed the
fortitude to

deal with his precocious behavior.

“Papa says he does.” Although Lord Timothy did not
father her, she called him Papa since she had no
recollection of her real father.

“If I had patience, I would not have found Admiral
Georgeous Frederick Alexander Junior the Third.” A
wiggly, croaking object appeared from the inner
pocket of his jacket, clutched tight in a chubby

Rosalind’s eyebrow rose. “Who? What is this? You
caught a frog?”

He nodded with a wide grin and set the amphibian
down on his best linen trousers.

She frowned in alarm. “He will ruin your breeches
and make Mama upset. Put him back in your pocket
until I decide what must be done.”

Their carriage rumbled across cobblestones once
more and drew to a stop. She shot a quick glance out
the window, noting the parents disembarking.
Somehow, she must deal with the frog before his
presence became known or risk her mother’s

Frowning out the window, she eyed red carpeted
stairs leading upward to a tall, dark-haired figure
wearing a royal blue jacket with gold braids on

shoulders and black breeches standing cold and
aloof at the top. A regal white and gray dog sat at
attention beside the duke, eyeing the

The gentleman must be Cousin Lucius, the Duke of
Weston. His face remained expressionless, and his
manner impeccable as the parents approached. Then
with a slight nod of his head, his grace welcomed
them to Weston. The dog lay still like a statue, and
the only movement arose from the breeze ruffling his
thick fur.

The parents spoke with the duke for a moment, and
then her mother dipped an elegant bow low enough to
impress royalty while her stepfather shook hands
with the impressive figure before them.

Masculine, powerful, wealthy, and distant Lucius
Alexander Phillip Weston became the fifth Duke of
Weston five years prior upon the death of his

grandfather. As head of the Weston family, the duke
invited one relative per holiday season to stay at
his castle.

This season, their turn arrived with an extravagant
and very expensive, gilded invitation signed by the
duke’s own hand. Fortuitous considering her recent
engagement? Perhaps. Rosalind suspected the duke
invited them out of sheer despair at the thought of
opening another of her mother’s hundred-and-one
letters begging for the honor.

Mama obsessed over impressing Rosalind’s fiancé and
exaggerated their financial situation to the point a
wedding in the castle was necessary to keep the earl
from guessing the true nature of their circumstance.

mother believed if the earl had knowledge of their
lack of funds, he would withdraw his proposal, and
she would be pitied by the local nobility for
failing to obtain an advantageous marriage for her
only daughter.

Frantic to maintain the façade and her social
position in their little village, she sent a new
letter every day, entreating her husband’s distant
cousin to allow them the privilege of the upcoming

The present returned with a bump when the parents
turned and motioned toward their carriage. What if
the dog smelled the frog? Panic flared as she gazed
from her brother to his wiggling, jumping companion
still sitting in his lap and returned to the
forbidding scene on the stairs. The amphibian must

“Mama and Papa want to make a good impression on
his grace. You must leave the admiral in the
carriage so we do not disappoint them.”

“But he is part of the family now. Why can he not
meet Cousin Lucius?” The boy held his pet up to her
nose as he asked his question.

“Your friend might shock the parents since he is so
new to our household. Put him on the carriage seat,
and we will return for him later.” She jumped when
the carriage door opened, and a footman set the step
stool on

the ground, holding his hand out to offer her

“But I want him to come!” The boy’s voice grew in
volume, and his lower lip stuck out, threatening a
fullblown mutiny.

If Thomas did not calm down, Mama would scorch her
ears later. “Fine.” Thinking quick, she stuffed the
frog into the left pocket of her gown where she
could monitor the situation and hopefully hide the
scent from the great beast beside the duke. “He
shall ride with me.

Now behave.”

The child’s rebellion disappeared like a foul scent
in the breeze, followed by another wide grin as they
stepped from the carriage. “You should call the duke
cousin, too. I am sure he will not mind.”

Mama frowned. “Who, Thomas? Who will not mind?”
Casting a quick worried glance in Rosalind’s
direction, she took two steps toward them.

“Everything is fine, Mama. Thomas expressed his
opinion. Nothing more.” She kept her hand against
her pocket to hide the wiggling bulge and prayed no
one would notice.

Her mother visibly relaxed and held her hand out to
the boy. “Come.” Catching her brother by the hand,
she turned to their host. “Your grace, I would like
to introduce you to our son, Thomas Hutchinson

Rosalind stopped a foot behind and waited her turn,
her gaze on the dog

To his credit, the child executed a perfect bow in
response to the duke’s deep voice bidding him
welcome to the castle.

“And this?” The deep voice drew her gaze to his,
and her knees clacked together as their host’s gaze
lingered on her hair and face before perusing the
rest of her.

Stepping forward, she swallowed and waited for the
parents to make the introduction.

The duke stood six feet tall if an inch, possessed
dark wind-swept hair, piercing blue eyes, a broad
forehead, straight nose, and a dimple in his chin.
His jacket emphasized the breadth of his shoulders
and the

narrowness of his waist. His muscled thighs
strained against the fabric of his breeches, and his
boots gleamed in the sunlight. No man of this
caliber had stood this close to her before, and
Rosalind snapped her gaping

mouth closed, dropping her gaze before her
expression gave her fascination away.

“Lady Rosalind Chatham, daughter of my wife’s late
husband, the Earl of Chatham.” Papa stood beside
her, gripping her elbow.

She dipped a deep curtsy, and the frog jumped in
alarm, straining against the fabric of her

The dog let out a low growl, and cold sweat broke
out on her forehead.

The duke’s cool, impassive gaze dropped to the
pocket of her gown while he snapped his fingers at
the animal beside him. “Silence, Ulysses.”

The white beast did not make another sound but kept
his gaze fixed on her pocket.

Clasping her hand against the opening to keep the
amphibian from escaping, she rose to her feet and
pinched the edges of the fabric together with her
left hand, hoping she adopted a believable level of
disinterest in the dancing fabric at her hip.
Casting a worried glance at the dog, she smiled,
ignoring the panic in her chest.

Mama would never forgive her if something went
amiss, and this situation contained enough potential
to effect ancestors yet unborn. She inched backward,
praying the breeze blew her scent away from the
massive dog, not toward him.

“Do not be shy, Rosalind.” Mama nudged her forward,
and with her attention on the dog, she tripped on a

“Ah, the bride.” The duke’s gaze traveled over her
a second time, and a smile touched his mouth.
“Welcome to my home, Lady Rosalind.” He bowed from
the waist and took her right hand in his, kissing
her gloved


The dog leaned forward, staring at her

“I call her Ruby. She is my sister.” Thomas stepped
to her side to establish ownership, tugging on her
left hand, the one holding her pocket closed, and
glared up at the duke.

To her extreme consternation. she lost her grip on
the edges of the fabric, and Admiral Georgeous
Frederick Alexander Junior the Third made his debut
into the family by jumping out onto the duke’s

windswept hair!

Everyone reacted at once.

The dog barked and leaped at the duke, jumping
around his master for a better vantage point.

Anxious to contain the situation, Rosalind made a
dive for the frog while Mama screamed for help.
Thomas yelled and dove in to retrieve his pet at the
same time she did. They hit heads, falling to the
ground in a heap. She

groaned in frustration.

Papa burst out laughing, offering no assistance
whatsoever, to Mama’s verbal dismay.

While the duke snapped his finger at the dog,
captured the amphibian with one hand, and surveyed
the group before him as if this were a common

“Heel, Ulysses.”

The dog whined and dropped to his belly, keeping
his gaze on the frog.

The liveried butler, two steps behind, hurried to
the duke’s side to relieve him of the green wiggling
creature while Papa continued to chuckle, wiping
tears of mirth from his eyes.

“You owe me twenty gold coins, Amelia. We have not
been here a full ten minutes, and already we have an

Her mother sputtered apologies as she fluttered
around the duke, trying to help but unwilling to
touch the loathsome creature he held. She gave the
dog a wide berth.

“Cease this fuss.” The duke’s quiet voice stopped
everyone mid-stride. He held his free hand down to
assist Rosalind to her feet before studying her and

Silence filled the cobblestone area around them as
the duke gazed from one to the other. “To whom does
this creature belong?” Blue eyes narrowed on her
face as he waited for her answer.

Her heart beat loud in her ears, and a band
tightened around her chest as she considered
possible repercussions. His grace might send them
home in

shame. And if he did, Mama would send her to a
convent to hide her embarrassment from the world. No
one wanted the social disgrace of having a spinster
for a daughter, least of all her mother. Marrying
the earl was her one chance for acceptance and

Anxiety turned to nausea and rose in her throat as
her future loomed before her sending fear skittering
down her spine. The punishment would be far worse
for Thomas. A convent, she could escape from, but a
boarding school for him would crush his spirit, and
without her, he would be unmanageable.

Swallowing, she lifted her chin to meet the duke’s
piercing gaze and take responsibility. “He

She squeezed her brother’s hand, stopping short
when Thomas stepped forward.

“He is mine. Ruby kept him safe in her pocket so he
would not embarrass Mama.” The child stood with his
head thrown back, his gaze unwavering as he faced
their host.

“I see.” The duke held the frog out and glanced
down at the boy. “And did you plan to carry him into
my home?”

Thomas nodded. “We must because we named him, and
he is part of the family now. He cannot stay in the
carriage. He will get lonely.”

Mama groaned as if she could hold back no

“For God’s sake, Thomas, frogs do not belong in
castles nor in carriages. Really, Rosalind, I should
think you would discourage him rather than abet him
in his nonsense. His grace will no doubt want us to
return home now, and I warned you of the
repercussions if he did.

How can this happen when I worked so hard to get us
here?” Flushing with embarrassment, Mama dipped down
in a swooning curtsy, addressing their host. “Your
grace, I do apologize for all this.” Waving her hand
toward her two children and the frog still wiggling
in the duke’s fingers. “What can we do to make this
up to you?”

“May I have him back?” The boy held his arms up to
retrieve his pet, not at all repentant.

The dog whined as if unable to bear the tension of
the frog being so close and having to obey his
master and stay.

Rosalind held her breath and waited as the duke
studied the boy’s face, her mother’s fawning curtsy,
and Papa’s jovial laughter. Thinking he meant to be
stern with them all, he surprised her by dropping to
his haunches, becoming eye level with the

“You may have him on one condition. While you are
here at the castle, you must ask before you invite
any more creatures into my home whether they are
part of the family or not. I like to know who
occupies my castle. Do

I have your word?”

Thomas did not hesitate. “Yes, your grace. Thank
you, Cousin Lucius.”

Their host handed the frog back to the boy and rose
to his feet. Holding out his hand to help Mama to
hers, he offered her his arm. “If I may voice my
opinion, do not be too harsh with them, my lady. The
boy meant no

harm. Frogs do possess a certain charm for lads of
his age. As for Lady Rosalind, she meant to defend
the boy. A kind heart is an admiral trait in a young

Mama gaped and then snapped her mouth closed as she
allowed him to lead her up the stairs to the heavy
entrance door while monitoring the large dog keeping
pace on the duke’s other side. “I pray you feel as

toward us by the time we leave, your grace.”

Papa fell in behind them, clasping his hands behind
his back as he strolled along, still chuckling. “I
agree, Lucius. Both with you and my wife. I remember
a time or two we were sent to our chambers for such

“Quite right.”

The three approached the open door to the castle
and disappeared inside.

Rosalind followed, bemused by the way their host
dealt with her younger half-brother. “Come along,
Thomas.” She took his hand and hurried after the
parents, trying not to envision the talk she knew
her mother planned for later. The duke may be
appeased, but Mama would not be until she had her

About the Author

Virginia Barlow has always loved reading romance novels. She used to sneak into her mom’s room as a young girl and read them while her mother was gone. As she grew older, her reading tastes expanded to sci-fi, dystopian, paranormal, and fantasy.

 She considered becoming an author in her late twenties but as a busy mother with toddlers, she didn’t have the time or the energy. Later, in her fifties, she decided to give it a try and has enjoyed every moment of it since. She recently signed her fourteenth contract and is over the moon with excitement. Writing is truly her happy place.

Her husband of forty-one years is her greatest support as are all her children. Most of them are grown and carving out lives for themselves. But they are the beat of her heart and with every grandchild, the rhythm gets stronger. She enjoys every moment of her life and plans to live them to the fullest.

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