Caught in a Snowstorm on Christmas Eve - Anne Barton
Anne lives in Maryland with her husband and three children, who try valiantly not to roll their eyes whenever she quotes Jane Austen. Her weaknesses are reality TV, cute-but-impractical shoes, and coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.
Places to find Anne:
Alec Landry, the handsome Earl of Torrington, lost his wife five years ago. Since then, he’s kept mostly to himself. But he hired a governess—Miss Charlotte Winter—a few months ago…and he’s been crushing on her ever since.
The Earl’s Christmas Wish
by Anne Barton
Alec had planned on spending Christmas Eve sipping brandy in front of a crackling Yule log.
Instead, he was trudging through half a foot of snow in the wooded area of his country estate, freezing his ass off, and looking for a flea-ridden cat.
A white cat. In the snow.
“Willoughby!” he called.
“He’ll never show himself if you shout like that.” Charlotte Winter shot him a quintessential governess look that was only somewhat compromised by her rosy cheeks and full lips. “He needs to feel safe.”
“I’d like to be able to feel my toes.”Alec scanned the frosted landscape and the heavy grey clouds that hung in the darkening sky and sobered. “If we don’t find him soon, we’ll have to return to the house.”
Charlotte’s brow knitted and her emerald eyes flashed. “We must find him. Abigail will be crushed if we don’t.”
“I know.” Alec hated the thought of disappointing either his golden-haired daughter or her beguiling governess. He even felt a little sorry for old Willoughby, who’d gone on a walk with Charlotte and Abigail earlier, gotten spooked by a fox, and run up a tree. They’d tried to coax him down, but Willoughby was too petrified to budge. Charlotte had wisely returned home with Abigail and unwisely promised that she’d go back for Willoughby. Though adamant she could manage the rescue mission on her own, Alec had insisted on accompanying her.
Even if there hadn’t been a godforsaken snowstorm raging outside, he’d have leapt at the chance to spend an hour or two in her company.
“I think this is the spot, but the trees look different covered in snow.” Charlotte gazed at the branches above, exposing the graceful column of her neck.
For a moment, Alec let himself imagine pressing his lips to the smooth skin there. He fought the temptation to slide his hands beneath her fur lined cloak and run them over the tantalizing curves of her body.
Apparently unaware of his wicked thoughts, she sang out, “Here, Willoughby. Here, kitty.”
They both tilted back their heads, looking into the lattice of boughs above them, but saw no movement. No sign of a crotchety cat.
“You should call out for him—nicely,” she added quickly. “He’s always been drawn to you.”
Alec snorted. “He’s always been drawn to my desk.” One would think a cat could find a more comfortable perch than a stack of papers. His favorite pastime? Nudging Alec’s ink pot toward the edge of his mahogany desk.
“Willoughby!” he barked.
“Softer,” Charlotte urged. She stood so close that he could feel warmth radiating from her, could smell the citrusy scent of her hair. A few dark tendrils had escaped the confines of her hat and flurries clung to them, giving her the look of a snow fairy. Sweet Jesus.
“Here, Willoughby, old boy,” he said—feeling like quite the idiot.
“Better,” she whispered, her voice as seductive as a caress. “Wait. I think I see him!”
Alec looked up, and a large chunk of ice smacked him in the face. Damn Willoughby and his twitchy tail. Still, the sight of the cat, nestled in the crook of the trunk and a branch like some fat snowbird, filled him with relief. Now to get him down. Alec kicked at the snow around the base of the trunk, picked up a long stick, and raised it in the air.
Charlotte gasped. “What are you doing?”
“I’m just going to poke him a little.”
“No! He’ll fall.”
Well, yes. That was the point. “I’m going to catch him.”
“You could miss.” She undid the tie at the neck of her cloak and threw it on the ground.
It was Alec’s turn to gasp. “What are you doing?”
“Climbing the tree,” she said—as though it should be obvious.
“Charlotte, he’s ten feet high.”
“Which is why we can’t just knock him off the branch and hope to catch him.” She walked up to the trunk and grasped the lowest branch. “I’m coming, Willoughby.”
For the love of— “Wait. I’ll get him.”
She tossed him a saucy look over her shoulder. “What? You don’t think I can climb a tree?”
“I don’t doubt that you can, and by the way, it’s something I’d very much like to see. However, it might be easier for me.”
She planted her hands on her shapely hips. “And why might that be?”
“Because I’m not wearing a dress.”
She stared at the hem of her gown which was frozen stiff and embellished with little clumps of snow. “Very well,” she said lifting her chin. “You climb the tree, and I’ll stand here, ready to catch Willoughby if he falls.”
She plucked her cloak off the ground and draped it between her arms, fashioning a net of sorts.
“What if I fall?” Alec grinned.
“Don’t ask me to choose between you and Willoughby.”
“I’m fairly certain I know who’d win.” Alec swung himself up by a branch and dug the heels of his boots into the trunk.
From his perch, the cat let out a loud meeooow.
“I’m coming,” Alec muttered. He hoisted himself up the tree, inch by icy inch, until he was eye-to-eye with Willoughby, who trembled and clung to his branch like he was hanging on for life, which he probably was.
“Come here, you big fur ball.” Alec’s forearms ached from the strain of holding onto the tree, but he managed to shift his weight and reach out toward Willoughby—
Mwraaar! The cat shrieked like a phantom as it leapt over Alec’s extended hand, landed on the back of his head, and dug his razor-like claws into Alec’s neck.
He tried to pry the paws off him, lost his precarious footing, and slid down the length of the trunk, landing hard on his ass and sprawling backward. “Damn.”
Willoughby, who’d abandoned ship just before Alec ran aground, meowed.
Charlotte ran to Alec and dropped to her knees. “Are you all right?” She leaned over him, her forehead creased in concern, and cradled his face between her palms. Her breath made puffy little clouds in the air between them. Alec would have been content to lay there in the snow, gazing into her luminous eyes all night.
“I’ll live. How’s Willoughby?”
“You were magnificent,” she said breathlessly.
“Was I?” he asked, more than a little pleased that she seemed to have forgotten about the cat.
“Mmm. You have a scratch here.” She traced a line on the side of his jaw with her gloved fingertip, and his breath caught in his throat.
This was a pre-Christmas gift. And he could not waste it.
“Charlotte,” he began, “I know you’re planning to leave us tomorrow.”
“Yes,” she said softly. “I’m going to my aunt’s, until Twelfth Night. I’d have left this afternoon, if not for Willoughby.”
“Then I owe that lazy beast a debt of gratitude.”
He propped himself up on an elbow and caressed the curve of her cheek. Her eyes grew wide, but she didn’t draw back. “I’ve been thinking that Abigail would love to have you here, with us, for Christmas…and I would too.”
Alec held his breath, waiting for her response.
At last, a smile lit her face. “I suppose Aunt Lucinda could manage without me.”
Happiness—like he hadn’t felt in five Christmases—flooded his chest. He sat upright and gently pulled her forward, till their foreheads touched. “You don’t suppose this is a mistletoe tree we’re sitting under, do you?” he asked.
“There’s no such thing…but we could pretend, if you like.”
Desire thrumming through his veins, he pressed his lips to hers. She melted into him, eagerly returning his passion, kiss for kiss, touch for touch. She tasted like peppermint tea and cinnamon, and her tongue tangled with his so sweetly he was sorely tempted to lay her down in the snow and pleasure her until she—
Good God. Reluctantly, he released her. Unless he was mistaken, Willoughby was clawing his way up the back of his greatcoat.
Charlotte laughed. “I don’t think he likes standing in the snow. Perhaps we should take him home.”
“Home sounds like an excellent idea.” He tucked a purring Willoughby into the crook of his arm and helped Charlotte to her feet. “Merry Christmas, Charlotte.”
She leaned her head into his shoulder and slipped her hand into his. "Let me know if you see any more mistletoe trees.”
Alec chuckled. “The woods are full of them.”
SOME RULES SIMPLY BEG TO BE BROKEN
A dressmaker in London’s busiest shop, Miss Anabelle Honeycote overhears the ton’s steamiest secrets—and (occasionally) uses them to her advantage. It isn’t something she’s proud of, but the reluctant blackmailer needs the money to care for her gravely ill mother. To make up for her misdeeds, Anabelle keeps to a firm set of rules:
Her list keeps her (somewhat) honest—until she encounters Owen Sherbourne, the Duke of Huntford. Not only does Owen nip Anabelle’s extortion plans in the bud, the devilishly handsome Duke soon has the sexy seamstress dreaming of more than silks and satins. With Owen, Anabelle enjoys pleasures she never imagined. . . until a scandal from the past resurfaces. Now her rules could mean his family’s ruin. Owen’s searing kisses carry the promise of passion, but how will he react when Anabelle’s most devastating secret is finally revealed?
- Never request payment from someone who cannot afford it.
- Never reveal the secrets of a paying client.
- Never enter into any form of social interaction with a client.
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