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Coming Home for Christmas: A Christmas in Paradise\O Christmas Tree\No Crib for a Bed Mass Market Paperback – November 15, 2011

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About the Author

I started writing Regencies because of interest in the Napoleonic Wars. I like writing about warfare at sea and ordinary people of the British Isles, rather than lords and ladies. In my spare time I like to read British crime fiction and history, particularly the U.S. Indian Wars. I currently live in Utah. I'm a former park ranger, and double Rita Award and Spur Award winner. I have five interesting children and four grands. Favorite authors include Robert Crais and Richard Woodman.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thomas Wilkie, ship's surgeon on the long-defunct Splendid, folded his father's three-year-old letter and slipped it underneath the velvet covering to his capital knives. He glanced out of the window and sighed. Although the view was splendid, he wished the fort of San Diego had been built closer to the magnificent harbor. The ocean never failed to soothe him and he could use a little soothing. How many Christmases had to pass before he saw his parents again?

Years had come and gone since he had received his father's letter. Thomas wasn't surprised that Cora had decided to marry; he only wished it hadn't been to his older brother, who would probably take every opportunity to rub it in, provided Thomas ever found his way back to Dumfries.

Odd that the matter should bother him more now than when he had received the letter. Or maybe it was not so odd, considering the chain of events that had happened in short order after his Majesty's frigate Amaryllis had handed off supplies and a mail sack to the frigate Splendid, which blundered into a typhoon a week later. Dismasted and in tatters, the Splendid had been easy pickings for a French man o' war, cruising off the coast of Alta California.

They had been towed into the beautiful harbor of San Diego de Alcalÿ, then left there as a prize with the Spanish, who had been allies of France at the time. Dumped in the dungeons of the fort, the issue of staying alive had trumped any woolgathering about Cora McClean. Others had griped and complained, but Thomas had a lively mind. The food was poor, true, but the possibilities of the place had quickly made themselves obvious to him, who knew he had a skill in demand.

The Splendid's captain and most of his officers—those who had survived the typhoon and the mauling by the French—preferred to maintain themselves as British to the core, making no effort to learn Spanish—it was beneath them—or engage in any way with their captors. This was war, after all, and war had rules dear to the heart of the English.

It wasn't so with Thomas. When he announced, in very poor Spanish, his medical skills, he became a man in demand. The garrison's only physician had died two years earlier. In the village, native healers practiced a level of quackery that would have made him laugh out loud—if the results of their medical practices hadn't left so many dead.

Although the medical well-being of Spaniards interested him not at all, Captain Walcott of the Splendid had been quick to understand his surgeon's value as a bargaining chip for better food, more bedding and such comfort as San Diego could afford his surviving crew.

Thomas was needed and he was busy, tending first to his seamen, second to the Spaniards of both fort and town, and third to the Indians in the nearby mission. Learning Spanish took his mind off any mooning about Cora McClean. He quickly discovered a facility for Spanish. It gave him some satisfaction now to dream in Spanish, as the language became second nature.

So it went. In 1810, when word came from distant Mexico City that Napoleon had invaded Spain in 1808 and they were no longer allies, the Spanish garrison had risen and killed the few French among them. This turn of events perked up the men of the Splendid for a brief moment, until it became obvious that nothing much had changed: they were still isolated on the far side of the world, with no rescue in sight.

So the matter had rested for several years. Captain Walcott had been kind enough to die of a fever that had defeated all of Thomas's efforts to keep him alive. Though they mourned him, the result was the unleashing of Lieutenant Ludlow, a man of ambition and innovation, unlike his late captain. Using Thomas's skill with Spanish, the lieutenant had coaxed a coasting vessel out of the fort's captain.

This would have been a foolish effort—no coasting vessel could cross the Pacific or survive a trip around Cape Horn—except for news of an American fort trading in furs that had recently been established north in Oregon country. The Americans were neutral. If a small ship could coast north, the Englishmen would eventually find a way home.

Thomas hitched himself into the window frame and dangled his long legs over the edge, breathing deeply of the perfume of the flowers that flourished in Alta California. Now he had become a bargaining chip again. In order to acquire the coasting vessel, tools and supplies needed to make it seaworthy, Lieutenant Ludlow had bargained him away to the Spanish.

"You'll stay here, Thomas, in return for their help," Ludlow had informed him. "I give you my word we will extricate you. Some time. Do it for King George."

I am the wrong person for your appeal, Thomas had thought at the time. I am a Scot before I am British. Georgie's your king.

But he had a greater reason for staying behind. "Mr Ludlow, I couldn't leave anyway. Two of our crew are too sick to be put to the mercy of the ocean. The pharmacist's mate will sail with you. Duty, honor, Hippocrates and his oath compel me to remain behind."

So there, he had thought sourly. Take your old tub and sail north. No sense in divulging to anyone how desperately he wanted to loose the cables himself and sail north in the hope of leaning on the goodwill of Americans. He was as homesick as the next crew member.

Thomas's reverie was interrupted by a small tap on the door. He smiled, his self-pity forgotten for a moment. It must be Laura; no one else in his man's world had such a light touch.

Laura Maria Ortiz de la Garza had the run of the presidio because her father was San Diego's royal accountant. Laura had tried to explain his full title to Thomas once, but she had given up in disgust at his poor Spanish.

That had been three years ago. His Spanish was far better now, but Laura Ortiz didn't seem to be a person to suffer fools gladly. More likely, she had been advised by her father, a man of minor nobility, that a mere surgeon wasn't worth her time or lineage. No matter—Laura Ortiz's black-colored hair, dark eyes and olive skin hadn't held a candle to Cora McClean's blue-eyed, red-haired Scottish buxomness.

He had known Laura for four years now, from her awkward, all-elbows phase to her most recent blossoming into a young woman of some dignity, with a face perhaps more earnest than beautiful. She had an almost disconcerting gaze that someone with a guilty conscience would find unnerving. Because Thomas had no designs on Laura Maria Ortiz beyond admiring the graceful way she had matured, his heart was pure.

"Well, senorita, to what do I owe this visit?" he asked in his most polite Spanish, happy to think of something besides having been abandoned on the far side of the globe.

She put her hands to her throat. "Tumores glandu-losos del cuello," she said. She enunciated loudly and distinctly, as though he were an idiot.

Aha, I know that one, Miss Smarty, he thought. "Mumps, eh? That's what we call them in English. And where is this victim of the mumps?"

She extended one finger and motioned to the door. "Follow me."

He did as she said, after taking up his worn remedy bag, thinking to himself that no British Isles lass would ever have used such an imperious gesture. The Spanish were different, especially those a little high in the instep. He wondered, as he had on numerous other occasions, if Father Hilario had told Laura that the navy surgeon was the son of a mere surgeon, who had begun his career as a barber.

It was a beautiful day in November, one of many beautiful days he had become accustomed to in Alta California. As he walked along, a few sedate paces behind Miss High and Mighty, Thomas Wilkie reminded himself that he might miss this climate, if he ever got home to Scotland.

With Laura's imperious nod and Thomas's smile to the guard, a man whose son he had saved from diphtheria, they left the presidio and walked down the hill to San Diego's pueblo, a small town of some two hundred souls. He began his usual tease with Laura, striding at her side, which was no difficulty considering his long legs. She usually tried to walk in front, as a lady would. To his surprise, she let him walk beside her.

Wonders never cease, he thought in amusement. Maybe I am more charming than I thought.

But no. She was slowing down because they had already reached their destination, a hovel that was home to a soldier and his ragtag family: a gaggle of children and a woman not many generations removed from Kumeyaay Indian. Thomas ducked inside the doorway, stood a moment to accustom his eyes to the smoky din and saw his little patient.

"Poor thing," he murmured in Spanish, as he knelt by the large-eyed girl; he saw tears gathering on her bottom lids while her hands grasped her throat. Gently he tugged away her hands and expertly touched her parotid glands. "Mumps, it is," he said in English.

"Mumps," Laura Maria repeated. "Mumps. Parodi- tis."

The poor wife of a soldior, the little girl's Kumeyaay mother hovered like all mothers. Thomas figured she must be illiterate, so he knew she would listen carefully to his simple directions involving a paste made of ginger root, which he produced from his satchel, because he knew she could not afford to buy it. Whistling softly to himself, he ground the root, added water and flour, and scraped it onto a narrow bandage, which he wrapped loosely around the girl's throat. When she whimpered, he kissed her forehead.

For no particular reason, Thomas glanced at Laura, a little surprised that she had remained in the hovel with him. The royal accountant's daughter stood with her hands clasped in front of her, her intense gaze fixed on the child, much as his had been. She seemed to be assessing what he was doing, so he explained it, much as he would have explained to ...

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harlequin (November 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0373296681
  • ISBN-13: 978-0373296682
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 0.8 x 6.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,233,632 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I'm a long-time, award-winning novelist, perhaps best known for my Regency Romances, two of which have earned Rita Awards from Romance Writers of America. I've also been writing Mormon-themed novels, as well as historical fiction for Harlequin and CamelPress in Seattle.

Coming in August will be The Double Cross, the first in a romantic suspense series about a brand inspector in the royal colony of New Mexico in 1680, and his "sudden wife." They live on a land grant on the edge of Comancheria, probably the most dangerous place in North America. They need their wits about them to survive, and more courage than most people even dream about.

Also coming in August is Safe Passage, a novel about the Mormons living in colonies in Mexico in 1912 who were forced to flee because of the Mexican Revolution. It's the tale of one man who returns to find his estranged wife, who did not get out with the other colonists.

I love to write. The whole process still fascinates me, even after some 34 novels and some non-fiction work. I'm still learning with every book.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Cilla VINE VOICE on November 15, 2011
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
I pre-orded this book several months ago because I am a Carla Kelly fan, knowing it was an anthology, but somehow missed the fact that Carla Kelly had written all the stories. So, it was was a treat to find out that I had three Carla Kelly stories to read! "Coming Home for Christmas" is an anthology about three generations of soldiers, beginning in 1812 with British naval surgeon Thomas Wilkie, who makes a marriage of convenience with Laura Ortiz who is abandoned in California due to family problems. This is my favorite story, partly because it takes place in the regency era, even though it isn't a British lord and lady story. Thomas and Laura are my favorite characters in the book. Their romance is given time to develop and that may be because their story is the longest one in the anthology. Working together to help victims in an earthquake brings this seemingly mis-matched couple to find out exactly how well-matched they are.
The next story is about Thomas and Laura's widowed daughter Lilian, who is working as a nurse in the Crimea in 1855. There are interesting glimpses into the Florence Nightengale era. The story of Laura and Major Trey Wharton was touching, and I think the only thing that would have made it better was to have it be longer because some issues were mentioned briefly but didn't have time to be fully developed. For example,I wanted to know a little more about her previous marriage, because it seems like she had mixed feelings about her deceased husband.
The final story,taking place in 1877 features Laura's son from her first marriage, Captain Wilkie Wharton.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By lovesbooks on November 17, 2011
Format: Mass Market Paperback
you will like "Coming Home for Christmas." I hate anthologies. Either the novellas are too short to be fulfilling or if they are long enough, you want them to go on, not to end. Either way, anthologies are lousy, IMO.

Of course, Carla Kelly has to be the exception. Two of her three new, unpublished before entries in "Coming Home for Christmas" are like reading a full novel; the third is complete, but a little short. Fortunately, that was okay by me. Each entry is told from the point of view of either the hero or heroine. Although each novella has at least one Christmas detail, there really isn't much about Christmas, so although these entries give you things to think about Christmas, they will not leave you with the warm fuzzies of Christmas cheer. Instead, they will teach you and intrigue you about history.

The first, "A Christmas in Paradise" is from the POV of a Scottish doctor who is fighting in the Napoleonic Wars, but gets caught in California and its changing Spanish alliances. Somehow, I never think of the Napoleonic Wars affecting the US, although we bought the Louisiana Purchase thanks to those wars, and of course, they affected the War of 1812. Enough of the history lesson. Thomas Wilkie is a surgeon, stranded in Ca., having been traded away by his commanding officer for a ship to take the rest of the crew back to British forces. Wilkie is amused by Laura Ortiz, a young snob, the daughter of a Spanish official. Unfortunately, her father has a gambling problem and is disgraced, arrested and shipped down to Mexico for trial, leaving Laura literally destitute and hated by almost everyone. Out of sympathy, Wilkie marries her and the story is about her gradual acquiring resilience, competency, and love for her husband.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By cbreader on January 8, 2012
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I'm surprised I didn't like this more. Everyone sounded the same. It was three different stories, but you could have exchanged the characters into any one of them, they all sounded so similar. the first story was my least favorite. The second made me glad I kept reading, though. the third was fine, but not great.
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By JJares on July 15, 2015
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Included in this book were 3 of Carla Kelly’s stories; they are about three generations in one family. Each story takes place in a different locale and time.

A Christmas in Paradise – This story takes place in 1812; British naval surgeon Thomas Wilkie is stranded in California, waiting to be rescued. Family problems smear Laura Ortiz’ life and she is shunned by her neighbors.

Thomas enters into a marriage of convenience with Laura because she has nowhere to turn, nowhere to live. Thomas promises her that people will forget about their anger when she acts as his nursing assistant. It doesn’t take long for Thomas and the community to realize that they are well-matched.

Because this story was long, readers learn some California history and about naval rules and regulations. I believe that I always come away from a Carla Kelly book enriched by the history she shares while telling her tale.

O Christmas Tree – This story takes up with Thomas and Laura’s widowed daughter, Lilian, who is serving in a hospital opened by Florence Nightingale. The time is the Crimean War in 1855; the scene is Anatolia.

Florence has sent an American, Major Trey Wharton (an observer), to organize and administer this particular, chaotic hospital. Story development was hampered by the few pages the author had.

Lilian wants a Christmas tree for the wounded and seriously ill soldiers in the hospital – something to remind them of home. She has to bargain for it – and therein is a wonderful tale.

No Crib for a Bed – The story of the Wilkie-Wharton family takes up in 1877; Capt. Wilkie Wharton is leaving Fort Laramie to go home for Christmas and to get married. He has not seen his fiancée in two years and he is worried about their relationship.
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