A Dance with an Earl on Christmas Eve - Anne Barton
Anne Barton started swiping romances from her mom’s bookshelf as a teenager and decided historicals (with their balls, dukes, and gowns) were the best. So, when she had the chance to spend a semester in London she packed her bags—and promptly fell in love with the city, its history, and its pubs. She dreamed of writing romance, but somehow ended up a software analyst instead.
Fortunately, a few years and a few careers later, Anne found her way back to writing the stories she loves and won the Golden Heart® for Regency Historical Romance. She lives in Maryland with her husband and three children, who try valiantly not to roll their eyes whenever she quotes Jane Austen. Her weaknesses include reality TV, cute-but-impractical shoes, and coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.
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Charlotte and Alec starred in a scene I wrote for the Historical Christmas Eve event two years ago. (You can read that short story here.) It was fun to catch up with them this year and write the next chapter in their story...
A Dance with an Earl on Christmas Eve
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Charlotte set her pen on the desk and pressed her fingertips to her forehead. How many cautionary tales had she heard about the perils of governesses dallying with their employers?
Dozens. And yet she’d made the same grave, terribly cliché mistake.
No matter that the earl was a widowed, loving father—and sinfully handsome.
He paid her salary, and she had no business kissing him this afternoon. Now, because of her monumental lapse in judgment, he’d never be able to respect her as a governess. She had no choice but to say goodbye to little Abigail, Torrington Manor…and him.
She swiped at her eyes, picked up her pen, and reread the letter she’d begun.
It is with deep regret that I hereby tender my resignation.
I should never have
Pausing, she touched the quill feather to her lips. Should never have what, precisely? Run my fingers through your hair? Tasted your lips? Fallen in love with—
“Forgive me for intruding.”
Charlotte started, nearly toppling her pot of ink as the earl strode into the drawing room, looking anything but apologetic. His dark hair gleamed in the firelight, his tailored, dark blue jacket showed his broad shoulders to advantage, and his snug buckskin trousers conformed to…
Heaven help her.
He walked closer, stopping when the toes of his polished boots were just inches from the hem of her gown.
Unable to help herself, she let her gaze drift up, over his muscled legs, flat abdomen, and solid chest. Above his snowy white cravat, blue eyes gleamed. “It’s Christmas Eve.”
She swallowed. “Indeed.”
“You’re working?” He leaned forward as though he’d peer over her shoulder, and she quickly flipped over the letter.
She should tell him that she was leaving, but he’d no doubt be disappointed. Perhaps even devastated. Not for his own sake, of course. But he’d worry about finding a new governess—one who’d care for Abigail as she did—and she had no wish to spoil his Christmas. The news of her impending departure could wait another day or two.
“I was just preparing some lessons.”
Smiling, he leaned a hip on the corner of the desk and crossed his arms. “You work too hard.”
“That is why it I’m here, is it not?” After today’s ill-advised kiss in the snow, it seemed both of them could use the reminder.
“I gave the entire staff the night off. That includes you. Surely, the lessons can wait.”
“Actually, they cannot. Abigail, as you know, is extremely bright. She must be constantly challenged if she is to reach her full potential.”
“I hardly think her education will suffer unduly if you take one evening off.”
“Learning does not take a holiday, my lord.” Inside, she cringed at her superior governess tone, but the earl chuckled.
“You should call me Alec. And you are correct—about learning that is. We must all seek to improve ourselves and further our education, even as adults.”
“Exactly.” Gratified, she picked up her pen, a signal she intended to return her attention to her work.
He plucked the quill out of her hand and slid the feather along her cheek. “I’m glad we agree, because tonight I have a lesson for you.”
Delicious shivers stole over her skin. “For me?”
“Perhaps a bit different from your usual studies.” The twinkle in his eyes set her heartbeat racing.
“There’s to be no math or Latin, then?” she choked out.
“Absolutely not. This evening’s lesson shall be infinitely more exciting. I’m going to teach you how to dance.” He put down the pen and held out a hand.
Her traitorous fingers slipped into his open palm, and he smoothly pulled her to her feet. Hoping to regain some measure of control, she raised her chin. “I already know how to dance.”
His lips curled into a knowing smile as he guided her toward an open space in front of the fireplace, where a Yule log crackled. “I’m not talking about country reel.”
Blast it all. “I know the steps of the waltz, too. My sister and I used to practice together.”
“I assure you that this experience will be quite different.” He placed his hands on her shoulders, gently turning her so that they stood toe-to-toe. “Excellent, I believe we are ready to begin.”
Heady with anticipation, she arched a brow at him. “I feel compelled to point out that you have not adequately prepared for the lesson. A good teacher ensures that conditions are optimal for learning.”
“Snow’s falling outside. It’s warm and cozy in here. You look lovely—as always. I’d say the conditions are perfect.”
“But there’s no music.”
A dangerous grin lit his face. “We don’t need music. Just follow my lead.”
He settled his hands on either side of her waist; she let her hands glide over his rock-hard biceps on the way to his shoulders.
Pressing his forehead to hers, he said, “I knew you’d be a quick study.” Slowly, he swayed, moving them in time to the snow swirling outside the large windows. When he steered her away from a small table, their bodies bumped lightly together, her breasts grazing the hard wall of his torso. She looked into his eyes, and what she saw in their depths made her breath catch in her throat.
In the intoxicating warmth of his embrace, she forgot about the cautionary tales, her unfinished resignation letter, and all her earlier self-loathing. Perhaps it was the magic of the season, but she was fairly certain she was about to let the earl—Alec—kiss her. Or maybe she’d kiss him.
For the second time that day.
He skimmed his hands up her sides, pulling her closer. “What do you think of the lesson so far?”
“That’s good.” He stopped moving, cupped her face in his hands, and smoothed his thumbs over her cheeks. He lowered his head but hesitated when his lips were just a breath away from hers, as though seeking permission.
“This is complicated,” she whispered.
“Yes,” he admitted. “And worth it. You are worth it. Just promise me that…you won’t leave.”
“I can’t promise,” she said. “But I’m not ready for the lesson to end.”
With a growl, he hauled her against him and covered her mouth with his in a kiss that proved to be very, very enlightening.
Lady Olivia Sherbourne isn't shy about speaking her mind, except when it comes to James Averill. For ten long years he has been her brother's best friend and her heart's only desire. But when Olivia hears James will soon set sail for an expedition to Egypt, she knows the time has come to make her move. It's now or never . . .
James has always found Olivia bewitchingly attractive, but what kind of gentleman takes up with his best friend's sister? Not that he's thinking particularly gentlemanly thoughts when she appears on his exploratory trip-three hundred miles from home!-and incites a tavern fight. No matter what the devil she's doing there, it's his duty to see her safely back to her family. But how safe will she be when every starlit night brings wicked temptation . . . ?
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