Stuck in Close Quarters During a Christmas Party on Christmas Eve - Valerie Bowman
Valerie Bowman is an award-winning author who writes Regency-set historical romance novels (a.k.a. Racy Regency Romps) with a focus on sharp dialogue, engaging story lines, and heroines who take matters into their own hands! Valerie’s first Regency series from St. Martin’s Press has garnered acclaim including a nomination for Best First Historical from RT Book Reviews, a BookList starred review, and a Publishers Weekly starred review. She is also a 2014 Kirkus Prize nominee for fiction. Her work has been called “Too delightful to miss” by New York Times bestselling author Lisa Kleypas and “Everything a romance should be” by New York Times bestselling author Sarah MacLean. Valerie lives in Jacksonville with her family including her rascally rescue dog, Roo. When she’s not writing, she keeps busy reading, traveling, or vacillating between watching crazy reality TV and PBS.
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It's Christmas Eve and Cerian Blake and Oliver Townsende are attending a Christmas House Party neither of them wants to. When an over-eager party guest suggests a game of hide and seek, Cerian takes refuge in the silver closet and soon discovers she's not the only one who thought of it.
Cerian rounded a bend just as a loud male voice boomed through the house, “One hundred!”
Oh, jolly, the men were finished with the count. She could just picture Sir Gilliam and Lord Esterbrooke barreling through the doors no doubt with mistletoe in hand ready to demand a kiss from the unwitting female foolish enough to be standing in the middle of the corridor during a game of hide and seek.
Cerian glanced around a bit frantic. There had to be somewhere to hide temporarily, just while the gentleman passed through. Then she could resume her quest for the back staircase. She glanced to the left. Nothing. She glanced to the right. Nothing. Wait a tick. Nothing but the door to the silver closet.
The silver closet it was. She scurried across the polished floor, flung open the door, and hurled herself inside the empty closet just in time to hear the raucous laughter as the large group of men passed by. She tried to still her breathing, pressing her ear to the door to listen. They seemed to all be gone, but just to be certain, she would count five and twenty before she ventured out. She moved back from the door, pressing her hand to the chest.
“One, two, three,” she whispered.
She took two steps into the darkness, pressing her back against the far wall. No need to light a candle. She wouldn’t be here long.
“Four, five, six.”
She braced her hand against the cabinet behind her. Hmm. What was the most likely location of the servants’ staircase and how might she get there the most expediently?
“Seven, eight, nine.”
What was that noise?
The door cracked open and just before the room was plunged into total darkness again, Oliver Townsende’s face came into focus.
Had he seen her?
Cerian’s heart pounded in her chest so loudly she was certain Oliver would hear.
She’d been back in the shadows. She’d seen him from the light in the hallway, but had he seen her? He moved then, coming toward her, she could tell by the shuffling of his feet on the floor and the intoxicating scent of him moving closer. He bumped into something and cursed lightly under his breath.
Cerian pressed her lips together tightly. He was searching for the candle, she realized with a sinking feeling in her middle. The candle that was perched in a stick directly behind her in the cramped space. Oliver grunted as he knocked into something else and Cerian covered her smile with her hand a moment before realizing how entirely unnecessary that action had been. She held her breath, not daring to breathe, lest he hear her.
Could she somehow move the candle out from behind her? Hand it to him perhaps? Oh, yes, because a candle floating in the middle of thin air would raise no questions. She bit her lip to keep from laughing hysterically. Her foot was shaking with the desperate need to tap. She had to do something. She could hear his movements not two paces in front of her. He seemed to be touching everything along the shelf. He’d get to her and the candlestick soon. There was no help for it. She must either declare her presence or put her back against the wall opposite the shelf, suck in her belly, and hope against hope that he didn’t bump into her.
Clearly the former of those two choices was the intelligent, mature thing to do.
So she did the latter.
She knew the moment his hand touched the candlestick. “Ah, there you are,” he said and Cerian’s heart nearly stopped. She curled her toes in her slipper. No tapping. No tapping. The flint was sitting next to the candle. Her presence was about to be discovered when the candle illuminated the space, so she did what any reasonable person would do in such circumstances and squeezed shut her eyes. What she didn’t count on, however, was that the man would accidently drop the flint.
“Blast,” he mumbled just before Cerian heard a clatter on the floor next to her foot. She briefly considered attempting to kick the flint into obscurity but she might hit him with it and reveal herself.
Instead, she kept her eyes closed even though it was dark. He turned and his coat brushed her arm. She nearly whimpered. Why did he have to smell so very good? Oh God. Could he smell her? All right, now she was being ludicrous. Ludicrous, it seemed, was the order of the day.
He bent down, she could tell by the sound of his voice when he said, “Where are you?” He was searching, searching along and the floor and—
His hand brushed her ankle and Cerian jumped. Jumped, and if truth be told, squealed the tiniest bit before quickly clamping her hand over her mouth, mortified.
Oliver took a deep breath and let his hand play over the shapely ankle in front of him.
Cerian was here. He’d know the sound of that voice anywhere. Not to mention he’d previously encountered her in this precise location. He hadn’t noticed before, or perhaps he thought he’d dreamed it, but the scent of her perfume wafted in the air along with the scent of the silver polish. He brushed his hand against her ankle again, once, twice. A sharp intake of breath. He braced himself. Would she slap him? Or kick him? He had to smile to himself at that thought.
He took a deep breath. Yes. This situation called for delicacy to be certain. Delicacy and self-control. Another smile.
He drew one finger up her ankle, higher, higher. Another sharp intake of her breath. Her silken stockings beneath his fingers made his hands tremble. He clenched his jaw. He ran his hands up the backs of her calves to her knees. This time her breathing was ragged.
Then he stood. He remembered the space and he’d best have a damn good memory for what he was about to do. He hovered over her, their deep breaths mingling in the small cramped dark space. He reached down, picked her up, and set her on the shelf behind him. She made a small gasp.
“Cerian,” he breathed, just before his lips found hers in the darkness. She was sitting at waist height and he pulled up her skirts and spread her knees wide with his hands. She gasped against his mouth. His arm went around her lower back and he pulled her against him, hard.
This time he gasped. “Jesus,” he groaned. He might as well have entered her then, the feeling was that evocative. Her head fell back and she groaned.
“Oliver,” she whispered just before his mouth found hers again.
His fingers found the buttons on the back of her gown and made short work of them. Her gown gaped away from her chest and Oliver pushed the fabric down, down until his hands found her full round breasts. He bent his head. He had to taste her.
Relax on a silent night and dive into Christmas Brides, a lush historical holiday anthology featuring a brand-new story from USA Today bestselling author Alexandra Hawkins. And back by popular demand from last Christmas, previously published One Hot Scot, The Scandal Before Christmas, and It Happened Under the Mistletoe are back to deck the halls in this sensual Christmas collection.
One Hot Scot by Suzanne Enoch
Duncan Lenox lives surrounded by enemies, a MacLawry in a land of Campbells. But when an English beauty has nowhere else to turn, he feels obligated to help. Now that they must spend a night together in an abandoned cottage while a storm rages on, will their mutual passion save—or doom—them both?
Once Upon a Christmas Scandal by Alexandra Hawkins
Lady Ellen is outraged when she learns her dowry’s been increased by her dad, eager to draw every bachelor in England to her front door. So when Lord Swainsbury comes knocking, Ellen assumes he’s another dreadful fortune hunter. Little does she know that Swainsbury has completely fallen for her—body, heart, and soul…
The Scandal Before Christmas by Elizabeth Essex
Lieutenant Ian Worth needs a wife by Christmas. He has to find her, woo her, and wed her before he goes back to sea. Anne Lesley is a shy spinster with no prospects, so she accepts Ian’s hasty offer only for the security it will bring. But when a midwinter storm rolls in, things start to heat up between them…and they might just find true, honest-to-goodness love…
It Happened Under the Mistletoe by Valerie Bowman
Oliver Townsende intends to avoid the hordes of marriage-minded misses at a friend’s holiday party. When he meets Miss Cerian Blake, who’s dodging her own unwanted set of admirers, the two decide to join forces and fake an infatuation to keep their suitors at bay. But when mistletoe becomes involved, will their Christmastime prank turn into a love to last all seasons?
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