Free Christmas Read
I was asked to participate in the fun “A Romantic Proposal on Christmas Eve” event sponsored by two romance blogs, Not Another Romance Blog and Ramblings from this Chick. Here’s my contribution, with best wishes for a happy holiday season and a spectacular New Year!
My November book, Lord Gray’s List, revolves around a Regency newspaper that serves as a clearinghouse for gossip, employment and matchmaking. Who better than Lord and Lady Gray to help another couple become as happy as they are?
December 24, 1821
“I don’t like it, Evie,” Lord Benton Gray said to his wife.
“You never like anything if I’ve thought of it first,” Lady Gray replied, spreading letters out on her desk. Well, their desk. Ben had bought a huge new partners desk for the London List’s office since he now owned the newspaper.
But he didn’t own her. Maybe her heart, perhaps, but she had a perfectly good mind of her own. And right now it was whirring with the intricacies of bringing the young Marquess of Portland up to scratch.
He and Miss Fernanda Abernathy would be married by the New Year, or her name was not Evangeline Ramsey Gray.
“Give the poor boy a few more years of freedom,” Ben begged.
“What good did your freedom do you? Courtesan races. Dancing in the nude in graveyards. I ask you,” Evie sniffed with disdain. “No, when Fernanda and Portland arrive, I shall lock them in the storage room. That should do it.”
“Those methods seem awfully crude for a woman of your intellect, Evie.”
“Well, Portland has been awfully slow. He’s known Fernanda since they were in leading strings. She’s turned down sixteen perfectly decent proposals in the past three years. It’s past time, even if a bit of compromise is involved. You’re on your way to pick up her aunt?”
Ben shuddered. As much as Evie would like to take all the credit, the idea for this ruse came from Augusta Abernathy, Fernanda’s indomitable aunt.
“All right then. Give me a kiss. The happy couple should be here any minute, and one look at you will convince Portland we’re up to something.”
Evie was always up to something.
Robert Humphrey, Marquess of Portland, threw his body up against the locked door. Nothing happened except a jolting pain from his shoulder to his pinky finger.
“Devil take it! Where is that newspaperwoman? I thought we were here to deliver Christmas baskets to orphans.”
“Well, at least we won’t starve to death. Cook made quite a lot of figgy puddings,” Fernanda replied. It was rather dark in the closet, but she was sure Robert rolled his eyes.
“You seem unnaturally calm, Fern. Did you plan this?” Robert asked. “Saying your aunt had the grippe and your maid the ague and your footman a toothache, and you had nobody to take you to the poor orphans’ party. A plague on you if you did!”
“Why would I do that? I don’t want to spend Christmas Eve in a closet with the likes of you!” True, Fernanda had been a bit suspicious at the sudden illnesses and her aunt’s suggestion she ask Robert to escort her. This entire affair smacked of Aunt Augusta’s manipulation. In a little while the woman herself would probably be pounding on the door and accusing Robert of compromising her favorite niece.
Robert had not compromised her. Robert was all the way over in the far corner. He hadn’t even tried to kiss her.
He hadn’t kissed her in two years. But when he had, he had ruined her completely.
She would never forget the look on his face afterward—the glazed eyes, the slack jaw, the sudden flush of color on his chiseled cheekbones. Yes, she had had a certain effect on him, and he’d been running from her ever since.
“I suppose you think I’ll have to marry you now that we’ve been trapped together.” Robert didn’t sound quite so belligerent.
“Is that a proposal?” Fernanda asked. “If it is, I’ve had better.”
“Why haven’t you married any of your dozen swains?”
“Sixteen,” Fernanda corrected. “I guess I’m hard to please.”
“You’ve always seemed perfectly agreeable to me.”
It was time for her to roll her eyes. “How you flatter me, my lord.”
“If I was ever in the mood to marry, I might not do any better than you. We’ve known each other all our lives.”
“Familiarity breeds contempt.”
“You hold me in contempt?” Robert took a step toward her.
Fernanda’s heart raced just a little. “I didn’t say that.”
“Do you like me, then?”
“You’re all right, I suppose. For a boy.”
“A boy? I’m four and twenty! I’m man enough for any woman.”
She enjoyed the crack in his voice. “Kiss me. See if you can improve on the last one you gave me. Let’s see—I think it was the occasion of my thirteenth birthday party.”
“It was two years ago, you witch, and I’ve dreamed about it every night since then. I’m not only going to kiss you now, Fern, but kiss you every night from now on. You’re going to marry me.”
Fernanda smiled in the dark. “I am?”
Neither one of them much cared when the closet door opened some time later and Aunt Augusta gave a practiced, ear-splitting shriek.