A Drunken Escapade on Christmas Eve - Anna Randol
Anna Randol writes sultry, adventurous Regency romances for Avon. RT Book Reviews gave her new novel, Sins of a Virgin, four and a half stars and called it, “Smart, sassy, sexy, original and tinged with mystery…” When she’s not plotting wild storylines, Anna’s usually eating dark chocolate, having wild dance parties with her kids in the living room, or remodeling her house one ill-planned project at a time.
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I adore Christmas romances. Novels. Novellas. Short stories. So when Danielle asked me to contribute a scene, I think it took me about .5 seconds to respond with a overly enthusiastic yes. I was assigned A Drunken Escapade on Christmas Eve. Immediately, I pictured my poor, bruised hero waking up in someone’s bed. It was so much fun to write to find out why…
Enjoy! And happy holidays!
His Perfect Christmas Eve Mistake
by Anna Randol
For a moment, Captain Lucas Trenton thought he was still in the fight. Big, meaty fists pounding his head. But then he realized the pounding was all internal.
There was a soft linen sheet under his cheek. It smelled of nutmeg and vanilla.
That brought him completely awake.
He couldn’t have.
Half the reason he’d picked a fight with those other three fellows had been to avoid this very thing.
A crow cawed. It had to be outside the window. He couldn’t have been so foolish. But as he turned, he saw it. The big glossy creature glaring at him from a spacious cage decorated with a few boughs of pine.
“How are you feeling?” A composed, feminine voice asked.
Lucas froze. He had. He’d come to the one doorstep he’d sworn on his mother’s grave never to darken again. “Lady Noela.” The name tasted like the sweetest honey and the bitterest of vinegars at the same time. His hand scrambled to his face. It was in place. His patch had somehow stayed on. If he was about to face her again, he’d rather it not be while looking like a hellish Cyclops.
He forced himself to turn.
And for a moment everything stopped. The pounding in his brain. The roiling in his stomach. His desperate attempts to recall what insanity had brought him here last night.
All he could do was look at her. She was standing next to the bed wearing some sort of red velvet dressing gown. A few dark tendrils had come loose from the knot on her head to play along the slender curve of her cheek. Her round spectacles perched on her pert nose. But the accursed accessory couldn’t fool anyone as to her true nature. Not when they did nothing to hide the fiercely intelligent blue eyes behind them.
She looked delicious and far too innocent to be in a room with him.
“Your face looks poorly. What happened?” she asked.
He stiffened but refused to flinch. “A French bayonet—”
She cut off his words with a feather-light brush of her fingertip to his cheek. “I speak of the multiple contusions and lacerations.”
Hell, despite the bruising he wanted to lean into her hand.
“I know what happened to your eye. I wrote you several times after it happened, if you recall.”
Letters he’d never responded to because she deserved better. Why had he let himself be so close to her during Christmas? Why hadn’t he stayed in London where the temptation would have been futile?
He didn’t even know how many pints he’d drunk by the end of the night? Four? Five?
He sat upright. The soft quilt fell away, baring his chest. “Where is my shirt?” A quick inventory revealed he was at least wearing his trousers. He grabbed the sheet and pulled it up to his chin, even though it made him feel like someone’s maiden aunt. She was an innocent. His lieutenant’s impossibly beautiful spinster sister.
“Where’s your brother?” Frost would lend him clothes if he didn’t shoot him for being half clothed in his sister’s room first.
Her eyes studied him with that keen intensity that had fascinated him from the beginning. “With my parents at Christmas mass. Your shirt was soiled beyond repair.”
“Why aren’t you with them?” It was Christmas. She should be making merry, opening gifts, eating plum puddings. All the things her family rejoiced in.
Noela lifted a brow. “I have a man sprawled across my bed. I claimed illness.”
“Your bed?” But he should have already known the truth from that feathered beast in the room. And the telescope at the window. The tank with some sort of aquatic plant.
And mistletoe. A large bunch of it was suspended over the desk she must use as a worktable. Diagrams of it were tacked to one wall. Dried and fresh leaves filled several jars.
Some vague memory flitted through his thoughts. Of a need to see her so great it was worth every agony he’d felt as he dragged himself to her side. “Then your family doesn’t know?” He couldn’t decide if that made this whole situation better or worse. It made a drunken mistake into a something clandestine. And he didn’t want clandestine. Not with her.
With her it should be gifts of microscopes and beakers, walks to moss-filled ponds, laughter over field mice.
Lucas scrubbed his hands over his face. “How did I get here?”
“You climbed in my window.”
A cold chill snaked down his spine. “I didn’t try anything…improper, did I?” With the thoughts he’d entertained about her for the past year, he prayed he hadn’t been so far gone as to act on any of them.
“No, nothing I couldn’t handle.”
“So I did try something?” He could feel his cheeks burn. He was the worst of cads.
That brought the smile to her lips. The one he loved the best. The right side slightly higher than the left, the smallest wrinkle in her nose. “As I said, you were drunk. You wished me Merry Christmas then fell into my floor.”
“Then how did I get in your bed?”
She gave him that slightly confused look. The one that said she wasn’t quite sure how he could be so dense.
But no, that had never been in her gaze. That was something he’d told himself so it would be easier to stay away. No, even though she was smarter than most of England, she never thought of herself that way.
Instead, she spent far too much time worried about where she’d lost people in her conversations, blaming herself for not being clearer.
“I lifted you.” She pointed to a rope, coiled in the corner. “I rigged a block and tackle.” She tilted her head, causing her spectacles to slip down her nose. She pushed them back up with a graceful flick. “I wasn’t sure what trouble you were in. I didn’t want to risk involving the servants.”
This was what came of a name in disgrace. He’d known the consequences of his choices. The benefit had outweighed his personal cost. But never had he regretted it more than now. “Did you think I’d fallen in with criminals?”
She shrugged. “Smuggling can be quite fiscally sound depending on your circumstances.”
He knew most people took her comments at face value. But to him, the glint of humor in her eye had always been glaringly obvious.
“I’m not in dire straits if that is your fear.”
“Then what happened? I know you met with my brother yesterday.”
He stilled. She wasn’t supposed to know. Frost was always wanting to meet and drink to old times. Frost’s lost arm and Lucas’ eye.
Lucas’ confusion must have shown because she explained. “I knew he was meeting with a fellow officer.
Since he refused to tell me who, I deduced it was you.” For the first time, her gaze dropped from him.
He’d hurt her.
She pulled off her spectacles and scrubbed them harshly against her skirt. “You’ve met with him five times in the past year. Five times that you could have come here.”
“You know the cloud that hangs over my name now. I wouldn’t let the scandal touch you.”
“You apparently can’t stand to touch me either.” She clamped her lips shut as if she hadn’t meant to say that, yet she didn’t look entirely regretful either. “You promised.”
He had, fool that he was. How was he to know that the specimen of lichen he’d found for her last Christmas was under a bunch of mistletoe?
Or that rather than focusing on the slime she’d been scouring the countryside for, she’d look up and see it?
Or that his lieutenant’s beautiful sister would look at him with curiosity and more than a little arousal in her eye.
He’d dragged his thumb across her lips then. Soft and silken, they had promised sunshine and spring flowers. Every vibrant thing he’d known he’d soon forfeit.
“Show me,” she’d begged. “Kiss me.”
Although the knowledge that he’d had something to teach this brilliant creature had inflamed him, he’d retained enough honor to know he couldn’t give her what she wanted.
But he’d been weak enough to leave her with a promise of a kiss under the mistletoe the next Christmas they were together.
“To be honest,” he said, stopping thoughts of the contentment he’d found at her side. He needed her to know the brutal truth. “I never intended to keep my promise.” That trip to Lieutenant Frost’s house had been nothing but a bittersweet glimpse of a life he was about to forfeit. He hadn’t expected to be enchanted by a beautiful woman who never should have been labeled a spinster. To crave each moment they’d shared tromping through the snow. To marvel at the snowflakes melting on her cheeks.
“You can keep your promise now.” She glanced at the mistletoe.
“No. I killed a man, Noela.” He realized he’d called her by her first name. Something he’d only dared in his fantasies. But he needed her to understand. He would be blunt if he must. “He was my commanding officer. I shot him through the heart with a pistol.”
“How about the entire truth?”
He grimaced. “Did your brother tell you about that? The army claims I was mad from my injury when it happened, but I wasn’t. I knew what I was doing.”
# # #
“That is not what I meant.” Noela glared at the man in front of her. His lean, handsome face was twisted, his jaw tight. Bruises darkened his cheekbone. And the right corner of his lower lip was slightly swollen.
She knew people often found her confusing. Strange. But somehow this man never had. With Lucas, she’d felt like a woman and not an oddity.
Why could she never explain what was in her thoughts? She saw everything with such clarity in her mind, but she always somehow managed to muddle it? “You tried to sacrifice yourself.”
Lucas’ eyes narrowed. “How the devil do you know that?”
“My brother told me.” Her brother told her everything.
“He wasn’t supposed to.”
No, she supposed not. The general had held a grudge against Lucas’ father and he’d decided to make Lucas suffer, sending his troops on impossible missions. Oh, she knew war was bloody and that people died, sometimes men had to be sacrificed for the greater good. But the general had not had such justification, refusing to send aid or supplies. Lying to Wellington about his orders he’d given.
Lucas and her brother both had tried to inform their superiors, but time and time again the general had an explanation for everything. “General Girin sent your men to die. My brother to die—” She knew the burning in her throat was simply her body’s visceral response, but that didn’t make the sensation any more tolerable.
“It would have been easier if I’d died on the battlefield like he planned. He would have spent his rage on me.
So many men would still be alive. Your brother would have his arm.”
How could he think that? She poked him in the chest. Hard. “And to think, I thought you in possession of a brain.”
His eyes widened.
“Do you think if you had died, he would have stopped? He would have just picked another outlet for his madness.”
His attention was suddenly as sharp and intense as one of her scalpels.
“And if you will note the Army never arrested you for killing him. My brother is certain they knew of his madness but was afraid to act. The public considered him a war hero after all. You saw a chance to save your men and you took it.”
“Most men do not see it that way.”
She had never been more certain of anything. She lifted her hand to his cheek, careful to avoid his bruises. “I do. You have to forgive yourself for living. He was the madman, not you.”
His swallow was dry and harsh. “I don’t know if I can.”
She lifted his finger to his lips, and echo of the caress he’d once given her. “I will help.”
“You would still want me?”But the words held hope.
She felt a smile grow on her lips. “If you’re a man to keep his promises.”
Both their eyes locked on the mistletoe she’d gathered. She might have become a touch over interested in that plant over the past year.
His hand cupped the back of her head and with infinite slowness he pulled her toward him. His mouth quirked. “We’re not precisely under the mistletoe.”
“Yes, we are. It is definitely at a higher elevation. I don’t think I ever specified we had to be directly under—”
His lips silenced her. Tentative. Gentle.
He pulled back for an instant. For the first time, the fine lines of tension were gone from around his eyes.
“There are a few more promises I’d like to make once I speak to your father.”
In the distance, church bells began to toll in merry celebration. But their joyful notes were nothing compared to the ones in Noela’s heart.
There is improper, there is scandalous… and then there is Madeline Valdan.
To the world, Madeline Valdan is a scandalous courtesan, with society's most eligible gentlemen at her feet. But no one knows her shocking secret: she has never experienced the most intimate touch of any man. So she astonishes the ton by telling them the truth . . . and by announcing the auction of her virginity to the highest bidder.
Handsome and disciplined, Gabriel Huntford knows his time is best spent hunting down criminals from the darkest corners of London. As a Bow Street Runner investigating his sister's death, he has no desire to join London's strutting peacocks in this competition when there are more important tasks at hand.
Now, his quest leads him to one of Madeline's "suitors," so he agrees to help this sinful woman. But what begins as a business arrangement quickly turns into something more . . . and love blooms with a passion neither one expected.
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