Crazy Hijinks on Christmas Eve - Emily Greenwood
Emily Greenwood worked for a number of years as a writer, crafting newsletters and fundraising brochures, but she far prefers writing playful love stories set in Regency England, and she thinks romance novels are the chocolate of literature. A Golden Heart finalist, she lives in Maryland with her husband and two daughters.
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While battling Napoleon’s army, Captain Nick Hargrave worked with a French spy named Giselle St. Clair, whom he came secretly to admire— while he was engaged to another woman. In MISCHIEF BY MOONLIGHT, he returned to England to marry the Englishwoman he’d once thought he loved, only to discover she was in love with his best friend. Freed from a future he’d begun to fear he didn’t want, Nick returned to France to find Giselle, the woman who’d captured his heart.
Giselle is something of a mystery, a beautiful woman with a blunt, hardened demeanor who ought, because of her noble birth, to have been living a life of ease. Instead, she disguised herself as a peasant to work in the soldiers’ camps so she could gather information as a spy.
When Nick convinces her to step away from the dangerous world in which she’s caught up and find safety in England, she agrees—but she can’t tell this man for whom she’s begun to care that a secret danger pursues her.
Nick didn’t think he could have found a better place to bring the grouchy Giselle St. Clair than Greenbrier at Christmastime. Which was…interesting, considering that Greenbrier was the home of his friend Colin, the Earl of Ivorwood, who had recently married Josie— who had not long ago been Nick’s fiancée. The Christmas Eve gathering ought to have been hideously awkward, but any hard feelings had long since evaporated, and Josie and Colin had welcomed Nick and Giselle with great warmth.
Greenbrier was beautifully decorated for the holidays, which Nick attributed to Josie’s influence. The green and red of holly brightened mantles over roaring fires, the smell of spiced cider floated in the air, and the evening was sparkling with the cheer that good friends and family could bring.
Nick was hoping all this cheer would have a softening effect on the woman currently walking with him down a deserted corridor in the enormous manor.
“All the other pairs of people went in the opposite direction,” Giselle said in a suspicious voice as the two of them moved farther down the corridor, which was well lit with sconces. Giselle usually sounded suspicious; she didn’t trust easily. Nick, knowing a little of the hardships she’d undergone, tried not to think about whether it was possible for her to trust at all.
“It’s a treasure hunt, Giselle. All of us are meant to be finding our own treasures, according to the clues we’ve received.”
“And our ‘treasure’ just happened to be located farther away from everyone else’s,” she said.
Her skeptical look made him want to smile. She looked adorable, though he doubted that had been her intention, because she’d never once done anything that might make him think she wanted to attract him. But tonight, with a maid at her service for a change, her dark blond hair was neatly swept into a knot in back, and she was wearing a rich blue satin gown that Josie had lent her, which made her brown eyes look deeper and more mysterious than usual.
“Funny how it worked out that way. And according to our clue,” he said cheerfully, stopping in front of the stillroom, “our treasure should be in here.”
Her eyes lofted to the ceiling. “Our clue was too easy. ‘If you can find the thyme, you might feel better.’ Obviously we would have to come to the stillroom.”
“Or the garden,” he pointed out.
He chuckled. He’d written the clue, of course, and had Josie make sure that he and Giselle received it.
He stepped into the stillroom and put the candle he’d been holding on a shelf, lighting the small space. The little room was full of drying herbs and bottles and jars, the tools the housekeeper used to make various healthful concoctions. It smelled strongly of mint.
She entered and he closed the door behind her.
“Wouldn’t your English governesses say this was highly inappropriate?” she said. “I am an unmarried woman, alone with a man in a private space.” They both knew her words were laughable, considering how often the war had thrown them together in outrageously compromising situations.
“French governesses would deplore it as well,” he said. “But you’re not exactly alone with me.”
“Let’s finish the treasure hunt,” he said, evading her question.
He began looking on the higher shelves, leaving her to look lower down, where he knew full well the treasure would be found.
“Well,” she said, bending in front of a box that stood directly underneath several bundles of thyme that had been hung for drying, “I suppose it will be here.”
She lifted the lid of the box and yelped. Her cry was answered by a sharp meow, and an amusingly accusatory look from the white kitten crouched in the cloth-lined box Nick had placed there half an hour before. The kitten was wearing a red satin bow.
He grinned, delighted that he seemed to have rendered Giselle speechless for once.
“Happy Christmas,” he said. “He’s yours.”
She found her voice. “A kitten?” She looked up at him. “I can’t take care of a kitten.”
That familiar hard look had come into her eyes, reinforcing a distance between them that he so wanted to banish. He scooped the kitten up and before Giselle could utter a word, brought its charming little face near hers.
“Cats are very self-sufficient,” he said. “The perfect companion for someone like you.”
“Self-sufficient,” she repeated, but her eyes were watching the kitten, and to Nick’s delight she ran a fingertip down the creature’s silky head. The kitten tipped its head toward her as though ready for more, and she smiled. Nick’s heart shivered in hope.
With a vigorous wiggle, the kitten escaped Nick’s grasp to make its way quickly up the front of his coat, then nimbly jumped onto the shelf behind his head. Giselle laughed, and he stepped closer to her.
“I suppose you think you’ve softened me up,” she said. Tough words, but a vulnerable light had come into her eyes.
“A fellow can hope.”
“You shouldn’t hope, where I’m concerned,” she said, the vulnerability fading, but before it could disappear completely, he moved his mouth close to hers.
“I know you’re used to being in charge, Giselle,” he said. “But you have to surrender sometimes.” And he took a chance and brushed her lips with his.
She let him.
Giselle knew that kissing Nick was wrong. This good man had no idea who she really was, or why she had been so agreeable about coming to England. He deserved someone pure and good, someone like the Earl of Ivorwood’s wife, to whom he’d once been engaged.
But the intensity of war that had brought them together had stirred passionate feelings in both of them that persisted even though they were no longer near the battlefield. And how was she supposed to resist him? He was ridiculously handsome and devastatingly charming, and he had an inner strength that made her want to trust him with her burdens.
And he’d given her a kitten, of all things. A frivolity, a companion when she could have none. A cat was something for a settled person who was ready to give and receive affection.
She wasn’t that person.
But though she’d long ago tried to banish all her softer emotions, this man had found access to them. He’d made her ache for him, and she didn’t want to deny herself his kiss.
It started softly, a teasing whisper of contact that blew away her good intentions, then his warm lips moved over hers confidently, bringing heat to places that had been cold for so long, and she responded with the desire she’d been ignoring for so long.
When they finally moved apart, he leaned his forehead against hers. “That was the best present I’ll get this Christmas.”
It would be for her as well, but she could never let him know.
With the night so full of romance...
Colin Pearce, the Earl of Ivorwood, never dreamed he'd desire another man's fiancée, but when his best friend goes off to war and asks Colin to look after the bewitching Josie Cardworthy, he falls under her sparkling spell.
Who can resist mischief?
Josie can't wait for the return of her long-absent fiancé. If only her beloved sister might find someone, too...someone like the handsome, reserved Colin. A gypsy's love potion gives Josie the chance to matchmake, but the wild results reveal her own growing passion for the earl. And though fate offers them a chance, a steely honor may force him to reject what her reckless heart is offering...
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