Tuesday, December 27, 2011

And the winner is ...

Once again, many thanks to all of you who read our Christmas rolling story. Six of you identified the names of the carols hidden in each post. I drew the names from a hat and the winner is: Courtney!

Congratulations, Courtney. Please email me at - wendysoliman@rocketmail.com and we will arrange for the bundle of books to be sent to you.

A very Happy and Prosperous New Year to all our readers.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Romancing a Christmas Past

Many thanks to all of you who followed our Christmas story. I think I speak for us all when I say that it was great fun to do and we really appreciate your support.

The name of the winner of the bundle of books will be posted here sometime between Christmas and the New Year. In the meantime, on behalf of all the authors involved with this blog, I'd like to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a healthy, happy and peaceful new year.

Best wishes, Wendy

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Romancing A Christmas Past--Part 9

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Eight
Heat, desire, lust and something more, much more tamed Amelia’s struggles. Her limbs turned to jelly when Lord Ambry pulled her so close she could feel the hard, warm beat of his heart. Her own heart pounded against her ribs as though seeking a way to join with his. 

As his lips warmed, softened, and claimed her so completely, she moaned. Or was it him? Amelia didn’t know. Didn’t care. Lifting her hands to the back of his neck, to the soft silken strands, she tangled her fingers in his hair and held on as the kiss deepened between them, bursting into full bloom like a wall of jasmine, sending its heady scent and taste outward to lure and trap. Common sense along with reason fled. When his hands stroked upward, his palms flat and heated against her back, Amelia tipped her own head back, inviting him to sample the taste of her skin.

Lord Ambry couldn’t get enough. He trailed kisses along her jaw and down the smooth column of her throat. His hunger so great, he feared he would never get enough of the deceiving wench. Her taste, her scent and the feel of her against him felt –right. As though she was meant for him, and him only.

The thought that there could be more between them than lies and deceit was enough to make him pull away from the woman with her soft breathy cries of desire. She’d tricked him. Humiliated him in front of his peers. He’d only been trying to protect her and look where that had gotten him! 

Holding Amelia out from him, feeling her tremors, recognising her desire for him, Lord Ambry hardened his heart against her. "Wed you I must. But you will never mean anything to me." He spun on his heel and left Amelia leaning weakly against a wall. As he strode down the passage and out into the snow-covered gardens, he felt bereft, as though he’d left something of himself behind.

Amelia ran after Lord Ambry. She couldn’t go through with the plan to ruin him. It mattered not that he’d seduced Lady Smallwood and left her with child or that Thomas would stop loving her for she’d only just realised that she’d fallen and fallen hard for Lord Ambry.

What she felt for Thomas paled in comparison to the desire and the need to be held by Lord Ambry. Guilt gave her the flutters. She stopped at the closed door leading out into the night and pressed her clenched hands into her stomach. Amelia was very much afraid that Lord Ambry had stormed off with her heart.  She reached out and opened the door. 

A hand on her shoulder stopped her from going outside.  Behind her, Thomas spoke.

"Nice show. Luring him in just as planned. Just don’t get too caught up in our little game." He reached out and grabbed her arm and held tight.

Amelia felt torn. She yearned to go after Lord Ambry and explain. She tugged her arm free and grimaced with her back toward Thomas. "Watch yourself, Thomas." She stared out into the frozen night, wondering where Lord Ambry had gone and wishing she could go after him.

She hugged herself. The chill she felt came not just from the air seeping into the passage. It came from knowing that there was no way for her to explain how he’d fallen into her trap in a far better way than the one she and Thomas had devised. The man had simply, and most graciously ensnared himself into their plan of revenge by a simple kind act and an innocent slip on the ice.

"You did it, Amelia," Thomas whispered from behind, his voice a low rasp in the quiet darkness. "Mother will be pleased."

Amelia turned toward Thomas. "Oh Thomas. This isn’t right. I cannot marry him. Amelia once again felt the warmth of Lord Ambry's embrace, the hard feel of his body against hers and the strong beat of his heart that had somehow bound itself to her own heart.

Thomas grabbed her by both arms. His touch felt cold. Icy. And his features were twisted with anger. "It is too late, Amelia. We finish what we started. You will insist that the wedding take place at my mother’s village. "You finish this. He must pay for what he did to my mother."

Amelia stared out into the cold, frozen night. "How does tricking him into marriage make what he did to your mother right? What’s in it for her? It was so long ago. They were both young. And as Lady Smallwood, she is respectable. Everyone believes her husband died at war, leaving her a widow expecting their first child. There is no point to this." Amelia knew she couldn’t go through with their plan to force the Lord to marry her. Somehow, she had to convince everyone that what they’d witnessed had been an accident.

Thomas paced, his hands behind his military-straight back. When he turned, his features were twisted into hate. "You will marry him as planned. My mother was left with nothing but shame. Her own family turned against her. Besides, Lord Ambry is not an Honourable man. He must pay."

In his wild youth the young rake had taken advantage of Lady Smallworld, known back then as Lady Olivia Havenscourt when she’d fallen and injured her ankle. When she’d learnt that she was with child, she’d written to Ambry, begged him to return and do right by her. But Lord Ambry had refused. Instead, he’d set her up in a small estate with enough money to keep them from becoming impoverished but he’d refused to give her the one thing in the world that mattered: legitimacy.

Amelia felt a sudden chill that had nothing to do with the night air as the full extent of this plot unfolded. "Oh Thomas. You can’t. She can’t." She lifted her hands to her face in horror.

Thomas took one step closer to Amelia and grabbed her by the wrists and yanked her close. "The man stole my mother’s rightful life. And mine. It is the way it must be. A life for a life."

"No. I won’t. I won’t." Frightened, unaware of the true nature of the deception she’d agreed to, Amelia twisted free and ran out into the night and back into the arms of Lord Ambry.

Ambry was furious. He’d decided to make it clear to Amelia that they would leave in the morning and had been standing in the shadows beside the cracked door and had heard the devious plot. He patted the pocket inside his coat, felt the crumple of paper.  The very man he'd spent nearly a year searching for stood before him.  He shifted his gaze from one to the other.

"So, this is what you planned." He glared down at the woman. Tears ran unchecked down her pale cheeks.

"I didn’t know," she said, trying to pull away.

He held tight, his gaze shifting to the man she called Thomas. In the faint pool of candlelight, he saw for the first time the unmistakable family resemblance. "So, you’re the bastard son of my brother." He spoke softly, his voice dangerously low.

Thomas recoiled as though struck then jutted out his chin. "Spare the lies, Lord Richard Ambry. You cannot deny the truth any longer. You will die by the hand of your bastard son." Thomas pulled a blade from his boot. "I’ll tell everyone I caught you forcing yourself on Amelia."

"My dear nephew. I have never had to force myself on any woman. Put that knife away before you get hurt."  When Thomas lunged, Lord Ambry stepped neatly aside, reached out and twisted Thomas’s wrist until the blade fell to the floor. He stepped on it to keep it from posing any further threat.

"What is going on here?" Lord Dernflook asked as he joined them with Lady Louisa at his side. He lifted a brow and stared pointedly at the knife.

Ambry motioned to the room at the end of the hall.  "I suggest we all take a seat and I will explain."

Thomas spun around.  "I refuse to listen to your lies."

Lord Dernflook blocked his path.   "You will listen."  He led the way into a small, dark study.  There has been quite enough drama and excitement tonight. 

Amelia sat beside Louisa, ashamed of her own role in the events that would have led to murder.  She watched as Dernflook shoved Thomas into a chair then moved to stand behind him as though to be sure Thomas didn’t try to leave. She turned her attention to Lord Ambry who had taken a folded piece of paper from his breast pocket.

"I received this missive a year ago from my brother before he died," he began.

"That’s convenient," Thomas sneered.

Dernflook rapped Thomas smartly on the shoulder with his fancy walking stick.

Ambry ignored the comment. "In it, he details the birth of a son. One our family knew nothing about." He stared hard at Thomas. "I knew your mother only by her maiden name and no one could tell me where to find her. I had heard of a woman, Lady Smallwood who might know where to find her. I came here to learn her whereabouts so that I could locate you and your mother.

Amelia leaned forward. "But sir, you are Lord Richard Ambry, are you not?"

Ambry paced to the fireplace and leaned his elbow on the mantle. "I, Miss Slockholme, am Lord Richard Harry Ambry. My brother, named after our father, is Lord Richard William Ambry."

"Why are you searching for us?" Thomas asked, his voice tight with suspicion and doubt.

Ambry strode over and towered over Thomas. "To inform you of your inheritance. As my brother’s son, you inherit what was his. Including his name if you so desire."

The room fell silent. Amelia could not believe her own ears. To think Thomas had planned to kill the man he’d believed to be his father but was not. And to learn that his father, the father who’d refused to acknowledge him had finally, in death given Thomas and his mother what they’d bitterly yearned for all these years. Why, it was—astonishing!

"Why now? Why didn’t you–he return and marry my mother when she begged him to come."

Ambry pinched his nose and sighed. "Forgive me, ladies, for being blunt, but by then, my brother had decided he preferred men for his sleeping partners. He did not want to expose you or your mother to his–ways"

Thomas sank back in the chair. "You’re serious. You are my uncle. Not my father."

Ambry sighed, then smiled. "William was barely 18 when he came upon your mother. I believe I was a bit young to have fathered a child at thirteen." He stepped back. "We will discuss the details come morning." He handed Thomas a card. "This is our solicitor in London. We leave come morning."

Ambry then walked over to Amelia. "I believe we still have a wedding to plan."

"Oh but–"

"No buts. Unlike my brother I will not be accused of ruining a young lady’s reputation." He pulled her up.  "Besides, if you think I could not have kept my feet when you pretended to slip, then you are truly innocent, Lady Slockholme."

"Amelia gasped. "You do not mind?"

Richard Ambry let out a bark of laughter. "No, my dear. I do not mind."


Three Months Later

"Are you happy, my Lady?"

Amelia sighed and leaned into her husband . "Absolutely, my Lord. Very happy." She smiled up at Richard. "I cannot believe how happy I am." She cocked her head when she heard the sound of a carriage making its way to the stable. "Do you hear what I hear?"

"Ah, our guests have arrived." Richard put his arm around his wife’s shoulders. "Lord Dernflook tells me you received a letter from Thomas. How is my nephew adjusting?

Amelia grinned. "Well, he’s not plotting your demise any longer. Managing your brother’s estate is keeping him busy."

Arm in arm, the couple entered their home and made their way to the parlour where Lord Dernflook and his wife, Louisa waited. The house was as grand as any Amelia had ever seen or stepped foot inside. And it was hers. "I can’t believe you told me you’d lost your fortune!"

"And here I thought you were a rich heiress."

They laughed. Fate, on a cold winter night, had brought them together in the most devious way possible.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Romancing a Christmas Past - Part 8

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six

Louisa dashed down the corridor, the merry music from the ballroom hurting her head. Confusion swamped her, as well as a healthy dose of irritation. She didn’t know who to trust, who to believe.

Could it be true? Could Ambry really enjoy dallying with—

“Oh!” A hard, warm body collided with hers and she would’ve fallen to the ground if not for the strong, firm hands that gripped her about her upper arms. She lifted her gaze, her lips parting to offer her gratitude when she froze.

Lord Dernflook studied her, his warm brown gaze full of concern and something else. Something she’d never seen before. Warmth suffused her and she parted her lips but no sound came out.


“Why in such a hurry, my lady?”

“I—I’ve just received the most distressing news,” she blurted, then clamped her hand over her mouth. Oh, dear. Not that she could ever confess what that dreadful Comte told her.


Would Dernflook even believe her? He was good friends with Ambry. They’d been close for years, since they were children. If anyone knew what sort of man Ambry was about, it would be Dernflook.

“There, there.” He released his hold on her and turned so that he stood by her side, offering his arm. “Perhaps you’d like to inform me of this most distressing news while we find some refreshment?”

She contemplated him. He was a determined man, she knew this. With a calculating, intelligent mind and a sharp eye, he was admired by his peers and even the occasional lady though he rarely showed interest in any of them. Considering he was a bachelor of prime age with decent wealth and a title, she found that odd.

A new thought formed. He couldn’t…no, really. Could he? Was he the sort to dally with other men? Did he have some sort of relationship with Ambry?

No. It couldn’t be true.

“It’s silly,” she finally said with a beguiling smile, hoping she could steer him in another direction. If she were to mention any sort of ill rumor about Ambry, he would run and tell his friend in an instant. “Gossip and speculation, nothing more.”

“I adore gossip and speculation.” His velvety deep voice was sincere, as was the glint in his eyes and she stared at him a bit too long.

Hmm. She recognized that look in his gaze now. Was that—desire? And when did Dernflook become so dashed handsome?

Shaking herself from her thoughts, she smiled and waved a hand toward the open double doors that led to the ballroom. A lively waltz played and she could see the many happy dancers, the ladies’ colorful gowns twirling as their gentlemen partners led them around the floor.

She suddenly wanted to be one of those ladies out on the dance floor, in the arms of a man who looked at her as if he might find her attractive. “Dance with me, Dernflook,” she suddenly demanded.

His brows rose. “Really, my lady? You want to dance with me?”

She met his gaze, saw the mixture of shock and pleasure swirling there. Smiling, she nodded and gave his arm a squeeze. He was rather muscular, no padding at all beneath the fine cut of his jacket and she wondered why she never noticed before.

Noticed just how handsome Lord Dernflook was. God rest ye merry gentlemen, indeed…

“Yes, really, my lord.” She paused and smiled in invitation. “Well, Are you going to leave me standing here? Or shall we dance?”

He smiled, bright enough to light the entire ballroom. “I would be delighted to dance with you. Louisa.”

A tremor moved through her at the delicious way he said her name, at the rather commanding way he led her onto the dance floor.

And when he took her into his arms and held her scandalously close, all thoughts of Ambry and his dastardly betrayal earlier this evening left her completely.


Amelia wanted to stomp her foot in frustration. Where was that rat Thomas? She had the distinct feeling she was playing a part in too many plots—and she was the one in the role of the fool. Thomas, the poor Lady Smallwood, all of their intricate plans were muddling her brain and leaving her in a heaping mass of confusion.

And after sampling Lord Ambry’s kiss, well. She couldn’t stop thinking of it—of him. His soft lips, how he held her. The look of shock on his face when he realized he’d been well and truly caught.

Despite his recent distressing news of being a pauper, she found that she might not care about wealth any longer, or trying to destroy him completely to please the poor vengeful Lady Smallwood.

Not when she could have a man—a husband who looks at her with such desire in his gaze night after night.

“Would you care for some plum pudding?”

She turned on a gasp and found the very man haunting her thoughts standing in the shadows. He emerged from the darkness much like the devil himself, a smile curling his lips, a plate of—yes indeed, plum pudding gripped in his hands.

“No, thank you.” She tipped her chin up, nose in the air, desperate for a dignified air. She couldn’t be tempted by a sweet treat. She wasn’t that weak.

“Oh, come now, Amelia. There’s no need for the façade any longer.” His voice was pitched low, dark and foreboding and a shiver stole over her. Was he finally on to her ruse?

“I haven’t the faintest idea what you speak of.” She turned her back on him, heard him settle the china plate on a nearby table with a soft clank. His heavy footsteps as he drew closer before he settled warm, firm hands upon her shoulders.

“You know exactly what I speak of, Amelia,” he murmured close to her ear, his warm breath tickling her skin. “Your trickery is most distressing.”

She held her breath, waiting for him to say something else but he remained silent. “I didn’t mean to trick you,” she finally whispered. “I had no choice.”

He squeezed her shoulders and she felt his touch to the very depth of her soul. “I don’t believe you.”

“Why would I lie to you now, my lord? I have nothing to gain by it. Not any longer.”

“Of course, you don’t. I’m good and well trapped, aren’t I? He whirled her around so that she faced him. Saw all the dark rage reflected in his gaze, on his face. Fear filled her and she struggled within his grip but he wouldn’t be deterred.

“Let me go,” she demanded but he laughed, the insufferable rogue.

“Not a chance, my lovely Amelia. I believe I’m going to take advantage of my husbandly rights.”

“Wha—” she started to shriek but he cut her off.

With a firm press of his sensuous mouth.


The lovely Susan Edwards will wrap up the story on December 20th so be sure to return to find out what happens!



And don't forget: Each post will contain the name of a Christmas carol. As readers, you're asked to follow the blog and then post a comment on each entry naming that carol. The person with the most correct answers will win a bundle of SEVEN fabulous Carina historical novels to keep them entertained over the festive period, and beyond.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Romancing a Christmas Past -- Part Seven














Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six


(Many thanks to the talented Eliza Knight for the introduction to this passage.)


“What were you thinking, Ambry?”

Richard shook from his thoughts to see that his good friend Lord Dernflook stood beside him refilling his glass of brandy.

Richard shook his head and took a sip. “She lied.”

Dernflook raised his brows. “About what part?”

“All of it!” Richard scoffed. “Come now, Dernflook, you’ve known me since I was in leading strings, when have I ever taken a woman who wasn’t going to make my earth quake? And really, on the ice? I was freezing my ballocks off out there!”

Dernflook chuckled and took a swig of his own glass. “I did wonder about that. Thought maybe you were just overcome with lust.”

Richard frowned. “She’s pretty. She’s got a lovely, curvy—" He cut himself short, what the hell was he thinking? “She’s a conniving little witch is what she is, and I’m going to find out what she’s up to.”

“I imagine she’s after you for marriage.”

“Yes, but why me?”

“Come, come, dear chap, think,” Dernflook said. “I’ve never thought you unable to look past the end of your aristocratic nose.”

Well Dernflook could speak of noble noses. Over generations of systematic breeding, some involving marriages between cousins, the man’s family had perfected that part of the anatomy to the point that the current Earl of Dernflook, the very fellow who stood beside Ambry at the moment, had exactly the right length of nose to sniff insufferably in a manner than no one standing near him could miss. He did it now. Irritating fellow, truly.

“Out with it, man,” Ambry snapped. “What are you talking about?”

“Didn’t it seem strange to you that none of your former lovers took up your cause when the Slockholme chit made her accusations against you?”

“How can I know why women do what they do? The lot of them might have been enjoying my downfall, for all I know.”

Dernflook arched a brow. “Or planning it, rather.”

“The devil, you say.” The fellow could be a thorn in Ambry’s side on occasion, but he had a sharp mind and even sharper eyes. Friends disregarded Dernflook’s advice at their peril. “They’ve formed some kind of conspiracy to get me wed to Miss Slockholme?”

“They acted eager to help her to trap you, and consider this.” Dernflook laid a hand on Ambry’s arm. “None of them seemed the least surprised to find the two of you rolling in that ice.”

“You’re right.” Devious females. “They’ve planned the entire thing somehow.”

“And that’s only half of the story, old fellow,” Dernflook said. “Someone else must be directing their efforts. Have you even known a man’s multiple mistresses to cooperate with each other?”

“Hair-pulling and eye-gouging is the more usual course,” Ambry said.

As the ball continued around them, gowns of all colors swirling in the newest dance, a waltz, Ambry let the consequences of what Dernflook had implied roll through his mind. Though most ladies disguised any flaw of character with their beauty, the female was truly the more dangerous sex. If some woman was plotting against him and had enlisted all of his previous liaisons in the conspiracy, he could find himself in a great deal of trouble, indeed. Perhaps far worse than a marriage he hadn’t asked for nor wanted.

“I believe Miss Slockholme has only recently entered polite society, has she not?” Dernflook asked.

“No one had heard of her until a few months ago.” Of course, he hadn’t considered that while staring at her mouth and wondering about the taste of her lips. When he’d sampled them and found them warm and pliant beneath his and when he’d enjoyed the press of her bosom against his chest, any thoughts of who she might actually be or where she might have come from had flown right from his mind. Or rather, what was left of his mind after she’d filled his senses with her scent and the sound of her rapid breathing. Typical male reaction and dashed inconvenient.

“She had a letter of recommendation from a Lady Smallwood in Kent,” he continued. “Or was it Hertfordshire? Shropshire?”

“And no one checked her reference?” Dernflook asked.

“Of course. All the ladies claimed acquaintance with Lady Smallwood and vouched for her judgment.”

“The same ladies who abandoned you just now in your hour of need?”

Ambry could only stare at the man in amazement. “By God, you’re onto something there, Dernflook.”

Dernflook raised a finger into the air. “Find Lady Smallwood and you’ll find the source of your current discomfort.”

More easily said than done. He didn’t know where the woman lived, and none of his former lovers would provide any help. How was he to find a Lady Smallwood in all of England, if that even was her real title?

“If I were you, I’d keep close watch on the orchestra,” Dernflook said with another sniff.

“Do you think the lady in question is lurking among the musicians?”

“Not she in person, but if you look closely, you’ll notice one performer who doesn’t belong in a salon ensemble,” Dernflook said.

Ambry scanned them, pausing on each individual. All seemed as it should be until he came to a small figure on one end. “The little drummer boy.”

“Exactly,” Dernflook said. “A spy if ever I’ve seen one. Here to watch you, but I’ll wager that if you follow him, he’ll take you right to Lady Smallwood.”


Meanwhile, in a country house in another part of England that might be Kent or Hertfordshire or Shropshire or somewhere else entirely, Olivia Dorney, the Dowager Countess of Smallwood, paced before the hearth in her drawing room. A certain letter folded and stuffed into the bodice of her newest gown crinkled softly as she moved. It was addressed to Miss Olivia Havenscourt, her maiden name. The last she’d had from Ambry. If her plan worked, he’d eat every word he‘d written--very literally--without even sherry to wash it down.

Her mind wandered back to that day so long ago. How she’d sat in that warm field, full of flowers, rubbing her rapidly swelling ankle as he’d ridden up on his chestnut gelding. He’d blotted out the sun with his size, and the rays had seemed to cast a halo around him. He was truly the most magnificent human being she’d ever set eyes on, and when he’d dismounted and helped her to lie back in the fragrant grass so that he could examine her injury, she’d surrendered to the tenderness of his touch. She’d made things so easy for him. She’d never make that mistake again.

“I’m ready for my revenge, Ambry,” she said softly to herself. “I only need for you to come to me.”

Alice Gaines is the author of Miss Foster's Folly and Always a Princess, both of them Victorian.  She apologizes in advance for any errors she may have made in the Regency details of this piece.  She also wishes you a happy holiday season and a great 2012.

http://www.alicegaines.blogspot.com/

authoralicegaines@yahoo.com

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Romancing a Christmas Past - Part 6



Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five


As soon as the crowd had dispersed, Amelia rushed into the grand manse under pretense of needing a moment of privacy to compose herself.

As soon as she closed the door in the lady’s retiring room—thankfully alone--burst into a fit of giggles. Oh, her performance had been one of a kind! She should have taken up stage acting at some point.

From behind her a slow clapping sounded, surprising her.

“A right good performance you gave there, Miss Slockholme. I must admit I did not see that coming at all.”

Amelia turned slowly at the sound of Lord Ambry’s voice.

She pursed her lips and lifted her chin. “It was no performance. Your hands were all over me! And you were dragging me about the ice like a caveman would a woman he’s about to ravish.”

Lord Ambry’s head fell back and he laughed so loud it echoed from the pretty papered walls. “Oh, Miss Slockholme, you may have trapped me, but I win in the end.”

She crossed her arms over her chest and narrowed her brows. The man was positively mad. “How do you figure, my lord?”

A lazy smile curled his lips, shocking Amelia’s unshockable senses. The man was toying with her. And she liked it. She sucked in a breath, trying to hide her reaction at having met a man who she would enjoy sparring with.

Ninny! Do not let yourself become attracted to this man! Despite her inner berating, her heartbeat sped up, and her skin tingled as she awaited his answer.

“I suppose, I ought to thank you.” He stepped closer, reached out and brushed a finger over her cheek.

Instinctively she leaned into his touch, only to be completely disgusted with herself. She tried to jerk away but he stepped even closer, snaked an arm around her waist and hauled her against his lean, muscled form. The sent of his shaving soap wafted over her, making her want to close her eyes and just breathe it in.

“The Duchess and nearly every other person in attendance is demanding we wed.”

Triumph! She had him! Her plan was going to work. Soon she’d be living the life of a true aristocrat. Money at her disposal, a title. Thomas would be so proud of her. And it didn’t hurt that she was actually looking forward to the bedding of her soon-to-be new husband.

She leaned into him, pressing her breasts against the hard expanse of his chest. She tilted her chin up, licked her lips. “And why should I thank you?” she murmured.

Lord Ambry leaned down and brushed his lips against hers, sending a shockwave through her limbs. Her breath caught, and she sighed against his lips as he kissed her. His lips roved over hers, his tongue teasing the corners of her mouth. She tilted her head to the side, deepening the kiss and cirlced her arms around his neck.

Lord Ambry shifted his lips from hers just enough to say, “Oh, my dear. You see, I am flat broke, and now you have given me an out for my debts. I will get the special license first thing in the morning.”

His words startled her from the maddening desire that had taken hold of her. She shoved against him, anger spiraling through her. “What?”

He held his grip on her elbows, keeping her pressed close. His nose touched hers, and he bent to kiss her again, catching her lip between his teeth before pulling away. “Thought you’d land yourself a title and wealthy husband? You shall be punished for sullying my reputation.”

This time when she tugged away, he let her go. His dark eyes smoldered sending opposing hot chills up her spine. How could she have let this happen? Lord Ambrey wore the best of fabrics, had the most stately carriage. How was it possible he was up to his eyeballs in debt?

Bloody jackanapes! He’d beat her at her own game. She gritted her teeth and clenched her fists. Of all the beef-witted, beetle-headed luck! She was not going to let him get the best of her.

She charged toward him and poked her finger into his chest. “You tricked me! How dare you! I will deck the halls with you,” she said menacingly.

Lord Ambrey only laughed more. “I tricked you? I do believe you have partaken of a bit too much of Duchess Claverham’s punch. I will see you in the morning. Wear your best gown.”

Amelia could do nothing but seethe as he walked out of the retiring room. She wanted to stomp her feet, rip the paintings from the walls, and shred the upholstery. But she couldn’t do that. She had to find Thomas. She had to tell him they’d picked the wrong mark.



Richard sauntered from the retiring room and brushed off his shoulders, feeling very proud of himself. Lying to the little minx had not been hard at all. What had disturbed him however was how much he’d enjoyed kissing her—and how good at kissing she was. No virgin kissed like that. And her scent… orange flowers and vanilla. It intoxicated him.

But he couldn’t be thinking like that. Now, he just had to wait. She was obviously angry that he didn’t have any money. Not that she needed his money, but she probably didn’t want to part with her own. Rumor was Miss Slockholme was filthy rich. He pursed his lip as he entered the gentleman’s card room. Why did she need to trick him into marrying?

He walked to the sideboard and poured himself a healthy glass of brandy, pretending to watch some of the gentleman at cards—and ignoring the disapproving looks they were flinging at him. He drained the glass, and sucked air in through his teeth. Something wasn’t quite right. Miss Slockholme was obviously not the woman she portrayed herself to be.  And who the hell was the Comte de Villiers? The man hadn’t been around earlier in the day. He seemed to arrive just when needed to accuse him of abusing the little minx.

He narrowed his eyes at the wood paneled walls. Why had she locked that door?

“What were you thinking, Ambry?”

Richard shook from his thoughts to see that his good friend Lord Dernflook stood beside him refilling his glass of brandy.

Richard shook his head and took a sip. “She lied.”

Dernflook raised his brows. “About what part?”

“All of it!” Richard scoffed. “Come now, Dernflook, you’ve known me since I was in leading strings, when have I ever taken a woman who wasn’t going to make my earth quake? And really, on the ice? I was freezing my ballocks off out there!”

Dernflook chuckled and took a swig of his own glass. “I did wonder about that. Thought maybe you were just overcome with lust.”

Richard frowned. “She’s pretty. She’s got a lovely, curvy—“ He cut himself short, what the hell was he thinking? “She’s a conniving little witch is what she is, and I’m going to find out what she’s up to.”

“I imagine she’s after you for marriage.”

“Yes, but why me?”

Eliza

The talented Alice will be picking up the story on the 16th, so be sure to stop by to see where our story goes from here!

And don't forget: Each post will contain the name of a Christmas carol. As readers, you're asked to follow the blog and then post a comment on each entry naming that carol. The person with the most correct answers will win a bundle of SEVEN fabulous Carina historical novels to keep them entertained over the festive period, and beyond.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Romancing a Christmas Past - Part 5

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Louisa spun around to meet the wickedest green eyes she had ever seen in her life. Angled like a cat's, they glittered madly in the candlelight, and suddenly Louisa, despite the solidity of the wall at her back, plus the fact that the ball continued in full swing and that they were in view of everyone-- felt decidedly unsafe.

She attempted to move past the man, but he sidestepped, so she was unable to avoid him. She felt herself blushing--stupid, how old was she?--so she lifted her chin and glared, cutting him with contempt, before attempting to pass again. With a smile he simply sidestepped and was in front of her again. Really, it was altogether too galling.

She cast her eye across to the nearest group, who were too busy watching the dancing to notice her discomfort. Why hadn't anyone seen she was trapped like this? If she had been Amelia, she thought with chagrin, a handful of men no doubt would step to her rescue, but then Amelia was a wealthy pretty--minx--not a widow. Widows were considered able to look after themselves, and certainly a match for an unwanted advance.

"Sir," she said, filling her voice with venom. "Let me pass."

"Mais, mademoiselle..."

She'd heard voices like his before. Émigrés with one thought on their mind, to marry wealthily to make up for all they had lost in France. Lazy foreigners, all of them, every man jack of them.

"Madame," she snapped. "We have not been introduced, sir. Such proprieties are no doubt unimportant in Paris these days, but here in England we are made of better things."

The infuriating man had the gall to smile again. "You mistake me...madame" he said with an over-exaggerated bow. "Your virtue is safe with me, which is rather the point of my private discourse."

"Hardly private!" The words were out of her mouth before she could stop herself.

"I can assure you, ma chére, we have more privacy--and are regarded with far less suspicion-- here than we would be if we attempted to find a more secluded place to talk."

"I have nothing to say to you. Let me pass."

"But I have something to say to you. I am sure a lady of your discernment, your experience saw through the little Slockholme's trap. I know that you and the distingue milor' Ambry are good friends, but I'm afraid that is all you two will ever be."

"He's already made that clear," she said, turning away and looking blindly out at the dancers. Mutton. It stung her more than she had thought it ever could.

"Oh, don't envy Miss Slockholme; all Ambry wants is a wife to cover his real attachment..."Louisa found herself listening despite herself. She refused to give the man the benefit of a response and kept quiet. 

"Surely," he said, "you've noticed his partiality? Non? You surprise me. He isn't only susceptible to the fair sex, my dear. He dotes on the quite unfair sex aussi." Louisa frowned, baffled, and he gave a small laugh as if amused by her naïveté. "Ah, oui. How can I put it more delicately? Cherchez le homme."

"No," Louisa breathed. "No. It's not true. Richard...Richard and I..."

"Oh, he's very clever--and didn't you know, ma chérethat some men like both the grape and the grain? He will play the Hervey - surely you remember the stories of him? A leg in each camp, as they say. Smile, you've gone quite pale, you don't want people asking questions. Not now, do you?"

"I don't believe you," she said.

"Oh, it's quite true. Why do you think Richard was in the garden?" He produced the note that Amelia had dropped in the snow. "I saw him cast this aside when he was confronted. As you can see, it's most definitely addressed to him. And who is this Thomas? A pretty mystery, is it not?

Her hand shook as she read the note. It was a masculine hand. "What if I were to bring this to Ambry's notice? Ask him of this? I could denounce you..."

"I don't think you'd do that, Lady Carmichael. And believe me, if you were to do so, it would bring you no joy. To the world, you would be enmeshed in a most sordid complication… even if it were not true. Forget about him, Lady Louisa. Find yourself a man who can give you what you want." He touched her face gently, then swaggered off towards the conservatory.

After the man had gone, leaving her more breathless than she liked, she leaned against the moulded wall for a moment or two, thinking about what the man had said. Richard? No. It couldn't be. It was not to be countenanced, surely! They'd been lovers...surely to goodness it would be obvious? I am no ingenue, she thought, blood rushing to her head, making her cheeks glow with warmth. I know a man's touch, a man who wants me. I would...

But then she remembered the scandals around the ton over the past decade. Some she had been too young to understand until recently. Men who went abroad, leaving their wives behind, taking their devoted male friends or their secretaries. Conversations in drawing rooms with groups of dowagers which stilled the moment a certain fop or dandy entered the room, arm in arm with a close friend. Lord Hervey--a good many years before, but still the scandal lingered. He had been married, he had had children--and had kept a...friend (Louisa's mind shunned any word more coarse) for years.

His poor wife. That was what everyone said.

Well, I will not be an object of pity, she thought with savage decision. But I must know who...who was the man? She hurried towards the conservatory herself to catch up with the count and question him. Stepping into the huge glass space, she could hear voices. There were no lights here, only the light of the moon pouring in the windows, giving the huge tropical plants a monstrous appearance.

A male voice sounded loud in the echoing space. She couldn't quite make out the words, so she crept nearer. It wasn't a French voice, she could tell that much. "Yes. Kiss me again. Quickly. I can't be away long. You are sure it will work?"

What woman would be risking her reputation like this? Other than me, she added to herself. The question was answered for her as the very recognisable tones of the Comte followed.

"I guarantee it," the Comte's voice sounded muffled, as if pressed against...Louisa felt faint. There was a compunction to step forward. To see. But she resisted it with all her will and continued to listen. The men were quiet for half a minute and then the Comte continued. 

"The note dropped made it even easier. It was the work of a minute to append Ambry's name to it. Now the path is free for the fair Amelia. Lord Ambry might have tried to protect himself against Amelia's accusations by using Lady Louisa Carmichael as a shield, but that door will now be firmly closed to him. Lady Carmichael will not sully her name further than she has to take a risk on a suspected sodomite, and she will, I'm sure, discreetly pass the information to any other eligible ladies. And once our dear little Amelia is ensconced as Lady Ambry--and realises just how she got there, and how easily we could tear her down again--we can begin to reap the benefits, both financial and otherwise. Amelia's pillow talk is famous--we'll have secrets pouring into our laps."

"You've done well," the other man said. Louisa didn't recognise the voice. "You'll find that the French government will not be ungenerous."

"As long as I get my pardon," the comte said, "and a ... small consideration."

"My dear Thomas, won't this do on account?" There was a rustle of clothing and Louisa took the opportunity to back away before she fainted dead away on the floor.

Richard. Oh, no. What on earth was she to do?

Erastes

The talented Eliza Knight will be picking up the story on the 14th, so be sure to stop by to see where our story goes from here.

And don't forget: Each post will contain the name of a Christmas carol. As readers, you're asked to follow the blog and then post a comment on each entry naming that carol. The person with the most correct answers will win a bundle of SEVEN fabulous Carina historical novels to keep them entertained over the festive period, and beyond.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Romancing a Christmas Past - Part 4

Richard took in the sea of faces around them—shocked, disapproving. He’d seen such looks before, but usually only on one face at a time, when he and a female companion had been surprised in a secluded spot at Vauxhall or caught kissing on a moonlit terrace. Seeing it on twenty faces at once was unsettling. “Miss Slockholme slipped on the ice.”

Mon dieu! Slipped, do you say?” A strapping young man stepped forward, an elegant study in gray and white. “That is not what I saw.”

Richard’s eyes narrowed. “And who are you?”

“I am the Comte de Villiers.” The man turned to address the crowd around them in his heavily accented English. “Someone must speak for this poor girl. This fiend, against her will he drags her out here, then he makes the attempt on her virtue!”

In a flash, Richard veered between two competing reactions. First outrage, that this jumped-up Frog should dare accuse him of forcing himself on an innocent girl. Then disbelief—of all the wrongs with which to charge him, how could anyone imagine he’d be so uncivilized as to pleasure a woman on the ice? Then outrage again, that Miss Slockholme's reputation was in jeopardy. “You’ll take back those words, sir, or you’ll answer for them.”

“Why should I take back the truth?” Spreading his hands, the Frenchman looked to their hostess. "I entreat you, Madame la Duchesse, ask the poor girl yourself.”

“Which is it, Miss Slockholme?” the Duchess said. “Is the Comte mistaken, or was Lord Ambry forcing his attentions on you?”

Richard glanced down at the girl, expecting a swift defense of his conduct or at the very least a mortified shake of the head. Even if she was too green to understand the full import of the Comte’s accusation, she had to be dismayed by the attention they’d drawn.

But to his surprise, she burst into a flood of tears. “Oh, it was awful! I told him I would never betray my dear friend Lady Louisa with him, but he only laughed and said, ‘Why should I want mutton when I could have lamb?’ Then he pulled me out here, dragging me through the holly and the ivy even though I told him over and over he was making a mistake. And then he—he—oh, it’s too dreadful to describe!”

Richard’s jaw dropped. What?

“There, you see,” the Comte said. “Did I not say it was so?”

Richard couldn’t believe how completely he’d been duped. The scheming minx! He’d never imagined he was dealing with a mastermind, yet Miss Slockholme had obviously planned this whole scene, and he’d fallen for it like a Johnny Raw.

He turned from the sobbing girl to smile blandly at the audience around them. “As diverting as this farce has been, I ask you all, does that even sound like me? I mean, really—forcing an ignorant girl? When have I ever had to force a woman?” When no one answered, he looked from one face in the crowd to another, his eyes coming to rest on Louisa. She was always quick to laugh at the ridiculous. “Well?”

Though a flush stained Lady Louisa’s cheeks, her face was as cold as an Inverness winter. She turned away with a jerk.

Damn. Richard looked quickly to Harriet Fordyce. They’d been occasional lovers since her husband’s death nearly five years ago. Surely she would come to his defense. “Honestly, does that sound like something I would do?”

She darted a glance at Miss Slockholme’s youthful face and looked pointedly away.

What was happening? Richard was beginning to think he was the only one who found the very idea ludicrous. With growing desperation, he picked out Celia Rosedale in the crowd. She’d been one of his earliest conquests. “Well, does it?”

Celia, too, looked away with a sniff.

Richard’s mouth went dry as the awful import of their silence sank in.

Good Lord. He’d been snared at last, and by the likes of Amelia Slockholme.



Louisa fled back into the ballroom, angry with herself at her own foolish sentiment. She’d all but thrown herself at Richard, and he’d not only failed to appreciate the offer, he’d been openly contemptuous of her charms. Though she knew he would never actually harm a woman, he'd obviously tried something improper enough to shock poor innocent Amelia. Why should he have mutton when he could have lamb, indeed.

She fought back a strong wave of self-pity. She’d known he wasn’t in love with her, just as she wasn’t in love with him. Well, not really in love. She’d had a hopeless schoolgirl crush on him for as long as she could remember, and he was the best lover any woman could hope for—but, unfortunately, he knew it. There was only one person who admired Richard more than she did, and that was Richard himself.

She’d long since realized the futility of waiting for a proposal from such a man. She’d dutifully married a much older suitor, and she and Gilbert had enjoyed three good years together. So why did that decision still feel like a mistake, even though she could see Richard didn’t want her?

It wouldn’t be nearly as humiliating if only he’d chosen someone else. Lady Rosedale was still striking and everyone knew she’d invited him into her bed when he was little more than a youth, so Louisa might have understood if he’d chosen her instead. Mrs. Fordyce was rumored to know more bedroom tricks than a seasoned courtesan, so she would've been a less galling choice too. But Amelia? Not only was she a friend, but Amelia didn’t have the first bit of experience with men.

No, all she had was money and beauty and youth.

Louisa was so lost in her own misery, a low, heavily accented voice just inches from her ear made her jump.

“Your pardon, ma jolie, but you look so very sad. Please, tell me there is something I can do to make you smile.”


Alyssa


Don't miss the next installment, when the talented Erastes picks up the story on the 12th.

And don't forget: Each post will contain the name of a Christmas carol. As readers, you're asked to follow the blog and then post a comment on each entry naming that carol. The person with the most correct answers will win a bundle of SEVEN fabulous Carina historical novels to keep them entertained over the festive period, and beyond.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Romancing a Christmas Past - Part 3

Read Part 1 and Part 2

“Hello gorgeous,” a gravelly voice breathed in her ear and Amelia shivered with excitement as the man’s hand slid away from her mouth.

“Thomas." She turned in the circle of his arms, hugging him close, his thin frame fuller than the last time she’d seen him. "What are you doing here?”

“I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see you at work,” he smirked and Amelia pushed him back, reaching up to make sure both hired earbobs still dangled from her earlobes and hadn’t been tucked into his pocket.

“What if someone saw you?”  
“Who in this part of England knows me? Besides, I’m no longer Thomas but the Comte De Villiers, newly arrived from France and looking for a bourgeois heiress in search of a title.” He stepped back into a pool of moonlight falling through a high window and Amelia gasped at his clothes. A dark greatcoat tailored well across his wide chest flared out over a gray jacket and matching breeches tucked into high polished boots. A white vest and impeccably tied cravat to make Beau Brummell jealous emphasized his fine neck and sharp jaw. It was a far cry from the course coat and stained tan breeches she’d last seen him wearing in Paris. “Je suis beau, no?”

“Oui,” she breathed, reaching out and rubbing the soft wool between her fingers. “Where did you find the money for these?”

“Had a bit o’ luck in Dover,” he smiled, his light eyes sparkling, a swath of dark hair falling slightly over his forehead. “Obviously, you’ve had some luck too.”

“My luck came in Paris. I won enough to pay my passage and my way into society.” Amelia pulled out the sides of her velvet coat and dipped into an exaggerated curtsy. “You are in the presence of Miss Amelia Slockholme, the orphaned heiress of a sugar plantation whose guardian has sent her from Barbados to London to make a suitable match.”

“You clever girl.” His lips twisted into a wicked smile as she straightened.

“It was easier than you can imagine to fool these country nobs. One forged letter of introduction to a poor old widow in need of blunt and as I was in.”

“And when you spring the parson’s mousetrap and your groom discovers there’s no money?”

“Another letter will arrive from my guardian explaining how a hurricane wiped out the plantation and left me penniless.”

Thomas threw back his head and laughed and Amelia rushed to him, grabbing his fine cravat and covering his mouth with her hand. “Be quite or they’ll hear you.”

His fingers slid up her exposed wrist, covering her hand as his lips dropped a feathery kiss on her palm. Amelia sighed, a familiar heat licking through her as he wrapped one arm around her waist and pulled her closer. “Who knew you’d learn so fast?”

"I had an excellent teacher,” she breathed as his lips met hers.

“Amelia?” Lord Ambry’s voice carried from outside and they froze, looking toward the door.

“Hark, the Herald Angel Sings,” Thomas snickered in her ear, his low, rumbling voice turning Amelia’s insides into molten lead. “Is that your intended?”

“If all goes well tonight.”

The shadow of a man appeared at the glass door and the doorknob rattle furiously. “Amelia,” Lord Ambry called through the wood. “Unlock the door. Everyone has gone to the stables. It’s safe to return to the house.”

“Time to continue the performance,” Thomas whispered.
“Come soon. I’ve found a lovely young widow who might just suit you.”

He dropped a quick kiss on her lips before pulling open the door and pushing Amelia out into the frost and practically into Lord Ambry’s arms.
“Why did you lock the door?” Lord Ambry demanded, stepping back and tugging at the edge of his glove in irritation.

“I didn’t want anyone to find me before you did.”
“Enough of this foolishness. Let’s get you back to the house.” He took her by the arm, looking cautiously around before pulling her down the summer lodge steps and into the clearing. The deepening cold had thickened the ice and Amelia stumbled slightly, Lord Ambry’s firm grasp saving her from falling once again.

They were half-way across the clearing when Thomas’s voice split the still. “I found her. She’s near the lodge with Lord Ambry.”
“Blast,” Lord Ambry muttered. “Come, we must hurry.”

He tried to pull her faster toward the cover of the trees but she held back, pretending to slip on the ice and pulling him down on top of her.

A second later, the clearing filled with people carrying torches, the orange lights flickering over the astonished faces of men and the disapproving scowls of matrons.

“And just what is the meaning of this?” the Duchess of Claverham demanded.

Lord Ambry jumped to his feet, pulling Amelia up to stand beside him. She kept her head down, studying the mud on her boots, doing her best to appear stunned and shamed instead of triumphant.

Georgie Lee
The talented Alyssa Fernandez will be picking up the story on the 10th, so be sure to stop by to see where our story goes from here.
And don't forget: Each post will contain the name of a Christmas carol. As readers, you're asked to follow the blog and then post a comment on each entry naming that carol. The person with the most correct answers will win a bundle of SEVEN fabulous Carina historical novels to keep them entertained over the festive period, and beyond.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Romancing a Christmas Past - Part 2

Read Part 1

    "I believe we are both accommodated at the Roasted Pheasant this evening, Richard.”
    Lord Ambry glanced down at his partner. “You’re remarkably well informed, Louisa.”
   "Certainly I am. That way one avoids being stuck with people one does not wish to acknowledge.”
    "Or to renew old intimacies with?” Richard arched a brow, amused.
   "It is most ungallant of you to suggest such a thing.” She fluttered her lashes at him. “Rest assured, you don’t fall into that category.”
   "How gratifying.” 
   Less than one tenth of Richard’s attention was taken up with Lady Carmichael. He was restless and even the prospect of a night spent in Louisa’s irreverent company failed to inspire. He glanced into the dining buffet as they whirled through a turn in the dance. Miss Slockholme, Louisa’s little friend, was behaving in a most singular manner. Almost on her knees, she appeared to be searching for something beneath the buffet table. Now she’d withdrawn to an alcove where she obviously believed herself to be unobserved and was reading a note. Why that should concern him, Richard was at a loss to know. The machinations of young ladies fresh to the marriage mart, even heiresses of Miss Slockholme’s ilk, were of no interest to him.
   In spite of that, his interest was piqued.
   When the dance concluded, Richard escaped the ballroom before a determined matron, dragging an insipid chit in her wake, could detain him. He headed for the library in the west wing and poured himself a substantial measure of the duke’s excellent brandy. He’d not been there above five minutes before the sound of footsteps reached his ears. He withdrew into the shadows, astonished to see Amelia Slockholme, dressed for the outdoors, heading for the French doors that would take her to the garden.
   "What the deuce—”
   Without hesitation, he followed her into the cold night air.

  Shivering, Amelia drew her coat more tightly about her. She had been to this estate often and knew the grounds well. The sky was clear and a full moon lit her path. Moving slowly, her feet crunching across the frozen ground, she made slow progress towards the summer lodge, still wondering why Thomas found it necessary to act with such caution. Perhaps he had only just arrived back in England and hadn’t received an invitation to the ball. Even so, he could have called upon her tomorrow. Why the urgency? Something wasn’t right about all this, but unless she went to the summer lodge she would never find out what troubled her old friend.

   Deep in thought, Amelia forgot to look where she put her feet, slipped on a patch of ice and, with a startled oath, fell headfirst into the thick snow, her hat flying from her head. Or she would have fallen, had not a strong arm snagged her waist and saved her at the last second. Disorientated, she turned and found herself looking up into the bluest eyes she’d ever seen in a gentleman’s face. Trapped in the circle of Lord Ambry's arms, a gambit of strange sensations invading her body and she suddenly felt over-warm. She must be sickening for something.
   "Oh, it’s you,” she said, somewhat ungraciously.
   Lord Ambry released her immediately, his expression as frosty as the conditions. “At your service,” he said, inclining his head. 
   "Might I enquire what you’re doing out here, alone, on such a cold night?”
   "You might, but I fail to see why I should answer you.”
   Lord Ambry appeared taken aback by her pert response. He was reputedly the most eligible bachelor at this gathering. Presumably, not many ladies had the temerity to speak back to him.
   "Foolish child. Do you not realize the dangers of wandering abroad alone?”
   Amelia pulled herself up to her full height. “Firstly, Lord Ambry, I am not a child. I’ll have you know that this is my second season.”
   His lips quirked. “My apologies.”
   "And secondly, what harm could possibly befall me in the duchess’s garden?” Apart from you.
   "I assume you’ve forgotten that, had it not been for me, you would even now be prostrate in the snow, with a broken ankle, or worse.”
   "You exaggerate.”
   "Do I?”
   He continued to block her path, looming large and dangerous in the periphery of her vision, the most unlikely of protectors. Damn the man, he clearly wouldn’t leave her alone until she offered him some sort of explanation.
   "Since you seem intent upon learning my business, I lost an earring earlier and came to look for it.”
   "Alone? In the dark?”
   "It isn’t dark. The moon is sufficient illumination. I can see quite clearly.” I can certainly see you. Your eyes are no longer blue but almost black, presumably because I’ve displeased you.
   His penetrating gaze rested upon first one of her ears, and then the other. Both had earbobs securely attached. God’s beard, why couldn’t the moon go behind a cloud and obscure his vision?
   "I found it and was about to return to the house,” she said, tossing her head, daring him to defy her.
   "Then I shall escort you.”
   "No thank you. I’m perfectly familiar with the route. Besides,” she added, smiling sweetly,” I have been told that you’re one of the dangers I would do well to avoid. How would it look it we were observed returning from the garden together?”
   "I shall escort you only as far as the terrace.”
   "Your concern for my reputation is touching, but I don’t need your help.”
   He surprised her by reaching out and grabbing her arm. “Who are you meeting in there?” he asked savagely, nodding towards the summer lodge. “What did the note say?”
   "What note…how did you—“
   "You are both an innocent and an heiress, which makes you a prime target for fortune hunters. If you were to be discovered alone in a compromising position with a man you would be ruined.”
   "I shall not be discovered. They are all too intent upon celebrating the season and making free with the duke’s wine.”
   "Joyous Noel,” Lord Ambry said, rolling his eyes.
   The sound of approaching voices took them both by surprise.
   "She must be out here somewhere.”
   "It’s all right,” Amelia said, relief sweeping through her. “It’s only Louisa.”
   "I can see fresh footprints here in the snow,” another voice said.
    Lord Ambry canted his head, listening. “She isn’t alone. She must have assembled a party to search for you. We can’t be found here together.”
   "Don’t worry, Lord Ambry, I won’t make any demands upon you if we are.”
   "It’s your reputation that’s in danger, not mine.”
   "Because yours is already beyond recall, perhaps?”
   "There’s no time for this. They’re getting closer.”
   "It’s of no consequence. As you rightly pointed out, I am an heiress. Suitors tend to overlook the occasional lapse in protocol under such circumstances.”
   "So cynical,” he said softly.
   Still holding her arm, he led her up the steps to the summer lodge, opened the door and pushed her inside. “Stay in there. I’ll call when the coast is clear.”
   "But, I—“
   He closed the door on her objections.
   "Well!”
   Amelia had barely drawn an indignant breath before someone grabbed her from behind and covered her mouth with his hand to prevent her from screaming…

Wendy

 The talented Georgie Lee will be picking up the story on the 8th, so be sure to stop by to see where our story goes from here. Over to you, Georgie.

Click here to read Part 3

And don't forget: Each post will contain the name of a Christmas carol. As readers, you're asked to follow the blog and then post a comment on each entry naming that carol. The person with the most correct answers will win a bundle of SEVEN fabulous Carina historical novels to keep them entertained over the festive period, and beyond.
  

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Romancing a Christmas Past - Part 1

The Duchess of Claverham’s annual Winter Ball was the most anticipated event of the Christmas Season. Half of Surrey had descended on the Claverham’s country estate and Amelia Slockholme was one of the fortunate few to have been provided with a guest suite for the weekend. The rest were being accommodated at neighbouring estates as far as ten miles away and worse.

Amelia lifted her champagne glass high to avoid an elbow and made a slow path through the festive crush. An arm suddenly linked into hers, and when she saw it belonged to her dearest friend, Lady Louisa Carmichael, she smiled and leaned in closer. “I heard you’ve had to secure a room at the Roasted Pheasant for the night.”

“Where on earth do you dig up your information?”

“So, it’s not true.”

The young widow threw her head back on a laugh. “I didn’t say that.”

“Then you’re sharing my room tonight,” Amelia decided.

“Thank you for the offer, darling, but that’s bound to ruin all my fun. Speaking of which…” She slanted her gaze in the direction of the dance floor as the music trailed off. “I’ve promised the next dance to Lord Ambry.” She slid her arm free and spun about, directly into an approaching footman. A silver tray went flying one way and a folded note went the other. “Oh, dear!”

“We’re terribly sorry,” said Amelia, watching a stout grey-haired man walk over the note. It stuck to the sole of his shoe and went with him.

“Forgive me, m’lady,” muttered the footman, his head bent as he stooped to retrieve the tray. “I have a message for you.” He came back up, his gaze still on the ground. “Where did it go?”

“I believe it went to the dining buffet,” Amelia told him. A puzzled look crossed his face and she quickly added, “Not to worry, I’ll go after it.”

At that moment, Lord Ambry intercepted them with a shallow bow. Dark hair curled untamed around his cravat and eyes, a deep, deep blue, skipped right over Amelia to linger on Louisa. “Shall we?”

Amidst the flurry of Louisa sauntering off with the dashing Lord Ambry and Amelia striding toward the buffet table that had been set up along the ballroom wall, the footman was left to stand, staring after her.

Luck was on her side and Amelia found the note partly showing from beneath the creamy linen cloth that draped over the buffet table to the floor. The paper was thoroughly scuffed, but only a little sticky. She’d withdrawn to a shadowed area by the curved staircase before she thought to question whether the footman had been delivering the message to her or Louisa.

All doubt disappeared as she started reading and immediately recognised Thomas’s handwriting. As far as she was aware, Louisa had never even met him. No, this letter was clearly meant for her. She and Thomas had practically grown up together, but she hadn’t seen him since he’d left on his Grand Tour almost three years ago. Every three or four months, he'd sent her a letter detailing his travels and she'd cherished every single one of them.

We need to talk.
I’m at the Summer Lodge by the lake. Please hurry, it’s urgent. I’ll wait here until you come.
Thomas Brunes.

Amelia rushed up the staircase and down the passage to her room. She kicked her slippers off and rummaged through the wardrobe for a pair of sturdy walking boots and her thick, velvet coat. She grabbed the matching velvet hat, plumped it directly on her curls and tugged it down low enough to cover her ears.

Oh, how she’d missed Thomas. She hadn’t appreciated him nearly enough until he was no longer there to make her laugh, to tempt her into his outrageous schemes—to tease her! She hadn’t forgotten about that. But I still missed you like the devil would miss his fire if ever it were taken from him.

The second her boots were on, she hurried out, pulling her coat on as she went. To avoid the ballroom, she used a secondary staircase leading directly to the west wing. This part of the house was quiet and she saw no one as she passed through the library to the French doors that led outside. A thick blanket of snow covered the landscaped gardens and beyond as far as she could see. Moonlight glittered off the frozen lake and the row of tall elms beyond looked like giant white skeletons.

Amelia was halfway to the lake before she slowed her step, sucked in a frosty breath and gave proper thought to Thomas’s note. Why hadn’t he attended the ball if he was home? Why couldn’t he have come to see her up at the house? What could possibly be so urgent as to send her outside, alone, in the middle of this deathly cold, darkly silent night?

The lovely Wendy Soliman will be picking up the story on the 6th, so be sure to stop by to see where our story goes from here.

And don't forget: Each post will contain the name of a Christmas carol. As readers, you're asked to follow the blog and then post a comment on each entry naming that carol. The person with the most correct answers will win a bundle of SEVEN fabulous Carina historical novels to keep them entertained over the festive period, and beyond.

Click HERE to read Part 2...

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Romancing a Christmas Past

This December the sober, seriously minded authors who contribute to this blog have had a collective rush of blood to their heads. Instead of keeping you enthralled with details of our latest Carina titles, we've decided to get into the spirit of things.

Starting 4th December, we'll be writing a rolling story about a Christmas past. I'd give you a clue about its content but I'm as much in the dark as you are. Claire will start the ball rolling on the 4th, leaving me with two days to post the next installment. Thanks, Claire! Two days laters, Georgie picks up where I left off, and so on. Brave Susan Edwards has 'volunteered', (you did volunteer, didn't you, Susan?), to tidy up the mess we leave her with on the 20th.

In the true spirit of the Lord of Misrule, it's difficult to see how this story will make much sense since we write across different time periods. Be prepared to find a Celtic warriors taking tea with Regency lords and ladies. Oh my!

Each post will contain the name of a Christmas carol. As readers, you're asked to follow the blog and then post a comment on each entry naming that carol. The person with the most correct answers will win a bundle of SEVEN fabulous Carina historical novels to keep them entertained over the festive period, and beyond.

Please support our silliness and let's have some fun.

Wishing you all a joyful and peaceful holiday.

Wendy

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Her Christmas Pleasure


Her Christmas Pleasure, the second novella in the Merry Widows series, is now available!

Damien Morton is madly in love. Unfortunately, it's with his best friend's widow, Lady Danver. Damien is not worthy of Celia. Or so he thinks. Desperate to escape his feelings for her, he plans to leave the country at the first of the year. Celia treats him as a family friend and nothing more—until they share a heated kiss beneath the mistletoe...

Celia is shocked by the passions that surge within her at her dear friend's kiss. One touch and one taste aren't enough to satisfy her cravings, and she is startled into action. Damien has stirred something inside her that she never expected to experience again, and she must have more. Full of shameless desire and emotions newly discovered, she decides to pursue Damien and won't be deterred. Will she be able to convince him to stay—both in her heart and life—forever?

Find it here: Carina Press | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

I feel like I've waited for this moment all year! Oh, wait...I have. You see, I wrote the novella back in early January so it has been nearly a year since I first created Celia and Damien.

In celebration of Her Christmas Pleasure releasing, I'm all over the blogosphere these next few weeks. As a matter of fact, I'm over at the Manic Readers blog today, giving away an Amazon copy of Her Christmas Pleasure to one commenter. So please, come visit me.

Also, click here for the list of various blog stops I'm making. There will be many chances at winning prizes so I hope you'll stop by!