Vanessa Kelly is an award-winning author who was named by Booklist, the review journal of the American Library Association, as one of the "New Stars of Historical Romance." Her sensual, Regency-set historical romances have been nominated for awards in a number of contests, and her second book, Sex and The Single Earl, won the prestigious Maggie Medallion for Best Historical Romance. Her current series, The Renegade Royals, is a national bestseller.
A forbidden love affair on Christmas Eve with Vanessa Kelly
Several months ago, Kate Noble, Shana Galen, Theresa Romain, and I thought it would be fun to write a holiday anthology of interconnected stories. Four couples who come to know each other over the course of a year, each couple finding his and her HEA, and all played out against a backdrop of seasonal holidays and festivals. A GENTLEMAN FOR ALL SEASONS, released just a few weeks ago, begins with a spring festival and ends with Christmas celebrations.
I pulled the Christmas story, which made me VERY happy. I love this time of year, which always seems especially magical. All sorts of unexpected things can happen, including improbable and even “forbidden” love affairs! And a forbidden affair, at least in the sense that one of my characters thinks it’s strictly off-limits, is exactly the theme of my story, THE SEASON FOR LOVING.
My hero, Fergus Haddon, believes he can never marry. The events leading up to this unfortunate state of affairs are spelled out in my last book, HOW TO MARRY A ROYAL HIGHLANDER. In a nutshell, Fergus is convinced he must maintain his permanent bachelor status because his mother suffers from a violent form of madness. In fact, Mrs. Haddon tried to murder Fergus’ cousin (Alec, the hero of ROYAL HIGHLANDER), and one or two other people as well. Under the circumstances, Fergus can’t imagine any respectable woman would want to marry him and risk such a scandalous connection.
Enter sweet Georgie Gage—recovering invalid, inveterate matchmaker, and a very determined young lady who’s fallen in love with the handsome Highlander. Naturally, Fergus returns the feeling, although he’s determined not to succumb. But it’s Christmas, there’s a big holiday party in a gorgeous old manor house, and Georgie has ideas in mind for Fergus…
“There you are,” said Georgie in a cheery voice from behind him. “I’ve been looking all over for you, and here you are hiding behind a pillar.”
Fergus ignored Lady Reese’s ironic eye as he turned to greet Georgie. Her cheeks were flushed a lovely shade of pink, and her rosy lips were parted in a glorious smile. She did look just like a Christmas angel, but not the ethereal, wispy kind. She practically vibrated with energy and joy. Just looking at her made him feel happy to be alive.
“You’ve been looking for me?” he said, sounding like a dolt.
“I thought you might like to try some wassail with me,” she said. “After all the trouble we took to find the recipe, I think it’s only fitting that we get some before it’s gone.”
“Oh, you certainly should,” said Lady Reese. “But before you do, could you two fetch the old family recipe from the library? I promised some of the Hemshawe ladies that I would show it to them. It’s such a wonderful family treasure, and they’re quite eager to see it.”
“I’m sure they don’t need to see it tonight,” Fergus said. Good Gad, Lady Reese couldn’t be more obvious.
“What a wonderful idea,” Georgie enthused. “Some of them probably want to try it out for Boxing Day.”
Fergus gave her an incredulous glance. “No one drinks wassail on Boxing Day, do they?”
“Of course they do, silly,” Georgie said, grabbing his sleeve. “It’ll only take a minute.”
Lady Reese made a little shooing motion. “Yes, off you go. I promise I’ll wait right here. But don’t feel you need to hurry.”
Georgie tugged him along—not that she had to tug very hard. When it came to her, he was all too willing to be led by the nose. Rather like a bull, he couldn’t help thinking.
She glanced up at him. “What just made you laugh?”
“Nothing. A ridiculous thought.”
“It’s just that you seem to like dragging me around these days. You’re quite masterful at it.”
She laughed. He thought it the most wonderful sound in the world, like church bells ringing out on a Highland Christmas Eve.
As they neared the wide doorway that led to the entrance hall, Fergus saw Bertie and his wife talking to some of the guests. When Bertie glanced over and caught sight of Fergus and Georgie, he frowned. “I say,” he called, waving as if to flag them over.
But Eliza clamped a hand on her husband’s arm and tugged him around. Although Fergus couldn’t hear what she said, she spoke with animation, gesturing to the other side of the dance floor. When Bertie set off in that direction, Eliza looked straight at Fergus and winked.
Good God, another bloody matchmaker in the house. While that should make him happy, he felt the weight of guilt on his shoulders. Because at the end of the day he was going to have to disappoint them all—especially Georgie, it would seem.
They passed through the doors and into the hall, where the sound of holiday revels was now muted. Georgie cast a quick glance at his face, and her smile died. “You’re looking quite frowny, all of the sudden. Perhaps you’re not happy with me dragging you all over the place, after all.” She made a funny, adorable grimace. “I’ve been doing that for the last two weeks without a word of complaint from you. How dreadful of me to be so selfish.”
Fergus simply couldn’t lie to her, even if he should. “It’s been the opposite of dreadful. In fact, I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
She grinned. “Then I can get on with the dragging?”
He should say no. But soon enough he would to say goodbye, probably forever. Like a greedy fool, he couldn’t pass up the chance to spend more time with her, storing up as many memories as he could.
He held out a hand in silent invitation. She slipped her fingers into his and led him across the hall. The butler scrambled to reach the door before them, holding it open with a flourishing bow. “Allow me, Mademois—er, Miss Georgette,” Florian said.
She sweetly thanked him. As they walked past, Fergus swore the man gave him a wink.
Demented. The whole lot of them.
He’d intended to leave the door open, but Florian closed it with a decided click. Georgie let go his arm and breathed out a relieved sigh. “Oh, this is so much better. I was finding it rather hot and crowded in the ballroom.”
“That’s because you’ve been dancing so much. I don’t think you’ve sat out one set.”
Georgie paused on the way to her brother’s enormous desk at the end of the imposing, oak paneled room. “Goodness, Mr. Haddon. Do I detect a note of disapproval? Do you think I’m having too good a time?”
“Of course not. It’s just that—” He clamped his lips shut. After all, what could he say that wouldn’t make him sound like a coxcomb? He had no right to be jealous, and he should be happy she was enjoying herself. Georgie deserved to have fun.
“Oh,” she said, her expression going flat. “You think I’m exerting myself too much. That I’m wearing myself out.”
He took a quick step toward her. “No. You should dance as much as you want, and have as much fun as you want. No one deserves it more.”
She cocked her head and studied him. “Then what is it?”
“Well, it’s rather stupid.”
“I won’t mind, I promise.”
“You haven’t danced with me, that’s all,” he said.
Her eyebrows flew up in a comical arch. “You haven’t asked me to dance.”
“I know,” he said with a rueful smile. “But there’s been quite the line in front of me.”
She studied him for a moment longer before giving him a smile he couldn’t decipher. “It’s rather splendid, don’t you think? I’ve never been the belle of the ball until tonight.”
“I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself.” He sounded like a persnickety old bachelor. With another enigmatic smile, Georgie flitted behind her brother’s desk. But instead of retrieving the wassail recipe from the bookshelf, she plucked a glass from the drinks trolley tucked behind the desk and poured a healthy splash of brandy from one of the decanters.
“Ah, what are you doing?” he asked as she took a sip.
She let out a sigh replete with satisfaction. The warm, voluptuous sound sent a bolt of heat straight to his groin, and he had a sudden, vivid image of a naked and sated Georgie sighing in his arms.
“I’m having some brandy, you silly man,” she said, coming round to perch on the front of the desk. She got comfortable, as if she intended to stay for a while.
“I didn’t know you drank brandy.” Georgie never drank anything alcoholic except ratafia or a small glass of wine with dinner.
“Only on occasion, and only when I’m by myself. Bertie’s a bit of an old stick when it comes to that sort of thing.”
“And he’s never noticed?” Given the eagle eye her brother kept on her, Fergus thought that rather amazing. Then again, brothers were dolts when it came to sisters. They generally saw only what they wanted to see.
She wrinkled her nose in that adorable way of hers. He was seized with the impulse to kiss the tip of that pert nose then head due south to her lush mouth.
“I usually sneak down late at night, once everyone’s gone to bed,” she said. “I drink only for medicinal purposes, of course. It helps me sleep.”
“Then you don’t disapprove?” She sounded as if she’d been expecting the opposite reaction.
“Only that it’s brandy and not whisky, which is what any self-respecting lass from Scotland would drink.”
Her eyes softened. “I’d love to visit Scotland someday.”
He’d love that too—more than anything. “Perhaps you shall. Someday,” he said in a polite tone.
One corner of her mouth pulled into a funny, sideways quirk. She held the glass out to him. “Would you like a sip? I know it’s not whiskey, but it’s an excellent vintage. Bertie discovered it when he was recuperating in France. He brought several casks back with him.”
When he hesitated, one of her eyebrows went up. “Are you afraid your whisky won’t be able to hold up against a fine French brandy?”
He couldn’t hold back a smile.
“Ah, lass,” he said, letting his brogue deepen. “Didn’t ye know that no self-respecting Scotsman could ever say no to a dare, especially one coming from a wee Sassenach?”
She smothered a laugh. “Good Lord. That brogue of yours is a bit much sometimes.” Still, he couldn’t help noticing that she was blushing.
By the time he prowled over to the desk, her cheeks had turned quite rosy and her gaze drifted over him in a way that made the blood rush through his veins.
When he took the glass from her hand, her lips parted and she drew in a deep breath. “I’m so happy you wore your kilt,” she whispered. “You look smashing.”
Holding her admiring gaze, Fergus took a drink. The smooth burn slid down his throat, sending warmth into his stomach and all through his body. A heady sort of anticipation seemed to shimmer in the air between them. God, he wanted to taste the brandy on her lips and in her mouth.
“It’s not whisky, but it’ll do.” Even to his own ears, his voice sounded rough. And hungry.
Georgie gave a little shiver. Through a haze of desire, it occurred to Fergus that she might be cold. After the heated environment of the ballroom, it was no wonder.
“Are you cold?” he asked gruffly.
“Actually, I feel like I’m on fire.”
She plucked the glass from his hand and all but dropped it onto the desk. Then she reached up and wrapped her hands around the back of his neck. Fergus was so surprised that it didn’t even occur to him to resist when she pulled his head down and clamped her sweet mouth on his.
In an instant, Georgie became the world. There was nothing but the feel of her mouth on his, of her hands around his neck, of her slim body arching up to cuddle against him. He wrapped his hands around her shoulders, hanging on as if she was the only steady point in all of creation.
And, God, what a kiss. It was so enthusiastically awkward and heartfelt that it was a wonder he could even keep steady on his feet. Fergus had kissed his share of willing lasses over the years, girls who had more experience than he had. He’d enjoyed all those kisses and the caresses that had followed. But none had prepared him for Georgie.
He slid his arms down to her waist and pulled her against him, bringing her clean off the desk. When she squeaked and her lips parted, Fergus took full advantage. He slipped inside, teasing her with his tongue, enjoying the taste of hot brandy and delicious girl. She quivered in his embrace, but then pressed herself closer as she murmured deep in her throat.
Sensation crashed through the remaining frayed threads of his self-restraint. He’d spent the last two years living like a monk, his penance self-imposed. But with Georgie’s body pressed against him, her lips moving over his in a teasing slide, all those dreary months slipped away. She was everything he wanted—generosity, acceptance, and love. Everything he’d been convinced would be forever denied him.
He wrapped his hands around her waist and lifted, setting her gently down on the desk. They broke apart, and their kiss seemed to shimmer and then dissolve into the space between them. It was a bittersweet moment. Their first kiss, and already he mourned its passing.
Will Fergus get his holiday miracle and turn his forbidden love affair into a happily ever after? I think he will—after all, it’s Christmas!
Have you ever wanted something you thought was off-limits? Tell me about for a chance to win a copy of HIS MISTLETOE BRIDE, another Christmas book of mine, and also a copy of HOW TO MARRY A ROYAL HIGHLANDER, the book where Fergus makes his first appearance. (North America only)
The tiny village of Hemshawe is the sort of place where nothing ever happens…until a handsome ex-soldier and his matchmaking sister let the imposing manor house at the edge of town. The friendly Londoners shake up the staid people of Hemshawe, and villagers see each other in a new and oh-so-appealing light.
Suddenly long-sparring enemies become lovers, a town festival heralds a new start for a fallen woman and a dandy, and a man who has given up on love gets a second chance with the woman he never forgot. And the matchmaker herself? She won’t rest until she finds her own happily-ever-after…
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- 1 copy of His Mistletoe Bride + How to Marry a Royal Highlander
- Have you ever wanted something you thought was off-limits?
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