Fueled by Pacific Northwest coffee and inspired by multiple viewings of every British costume drama she can get her hands on, Christy Carlyle writes sensual historical romance set in the Victorian era. She loves heroes who struggle against all odds and heroines who are ahead of their time. A former teacher with a degree in history, she finds there's nothing better than being able to combine her love of the past with a die-hard belief in happy endings.
Lady Millicent is the best friend of my heroine, Ophelia, in Rules for a Rogue. She’s a bookworm with a quick mind and a very stubborn heart. Some have even begun to say she’s doomed to spinsterhood. On Christmas Eve, she only wishes to steal a few moments to read before her mother’s soiree, but a gentleman she’s never been able to forget has other ideas.
After hours of assisting with preparations for her mother’s Christmas Eve party, Lady Millicent escaped into Pembry Park’s library, savoring the scent of fresh cut pine boughs decorating the fireplace mantel. Taking down a well-thumbed copy of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, she curled up near the fire.
Frost decorated the room’s window panes, but the snow-dusted lawn sported more green patches than glittering flakes.
Mama would be pleased. With village roads dry, carriages could travel safely. Her holiday fete would be a triumph, and nothing pleased Lady Pembry more than success.
Which was why having one tenaciously unmarried daughter—a bluestocking, no less—was quite a disappointment. A spinster could never be counted a Pembry victory.
As Milly flipped Dickens open, someone twisted the latch of the library door. She stifled a groan at the interruption.
“I knew I’d find you hiding amongst the shelves.” Her brother Charles, Earl of Pembry, strode in, reaching up to straighten his neatly-knotted necktie.
Milly abandoned her fireside chair. “I’m not hiding, and if that’s a brotherly way of saying I’m on the shelf, Mama reminds me quite often enough.”
“I meant nothing of the sort.” He frowned as he took in her day dress. “But where’s your party frock?”
“Guests aren’t due to arrive for hours.” A few moments to read quietly before the house brimmed with visitors was what Milly had been craving all day.
“I’ve invited a few to appear early and require your assistance playing host.” He lifted a hand to run his fingers through his hair, hesitated, and lowered a curled fist to his side.
“Who? Why?” Milly had rarely known Charles to alter their mother’s carefully laid plans.
“Because I wish to ask Lady Hermione Honeycutt to marry me.”
“Oh, Charles.” Milly clasped a hand over her mouth.
“Don’t you dare get misty-eyed on me. I rely on your rational ways and good sense.”
When she beamed at him, he relented, allowing his mouth to twitch up in a grin. “You’re not going to try to talk me out of my decision, then?”
“Why would I? It’s wonderful news.” Her avowed bachelor of a brother would finally be settled, find happiness, make a family of his own. Worthy goals, no matter how thoroughly she’d given up on achieving them herself.
“I’d begun to think you’d given up on matrimony.”
“Not at all.” Milly believed matrimony had given up on her. True, she’d refused to wed the boorish lord her parents chose for her, but the only gentleman she’d ever thought to marry had never bothered posing the question.
“I’m glad to hear it.” Charles took her by the shoulders and bent to press a kiss on her forehead. “Now go up, don your frippery, and come to my study. If you distract the Honeycutts while I steal a moment alone with Hermione, I promise to repay you with a fine Christmas gift.”
Milly nodded and rushed from the room.
With the help of her lady’s maid, she quickly hooked herself into a green velvet gown that matched her eyes and wrapped her tawny brown hair into a simple coil. Half an hour later, she stood outside her brother’s study, rapping gently at the door.
She pushed in when no answer came. “Charles?”
“Milly?” A man’s voice, but not her brother’s. A deeper tone, roughened with a familiar huskiness that always sent shivers down her spine.
George. Scanning the dark-paneled room, she searched for the man she hadn’t seen in years. A man she’d thought of every day since they’d parted.
Honey brown eyes locked on her, George Biddlethwaite rose from a settee near the fire, but slowly, leaning forward before straightening in his stiff soldierly way to a height that had always forced her to gaze up at him when he stood near. He gripped a sliver-tipped cane in his right hand. “Milly.” Dark headed bowed, he spoke her name on a reverential exhale.
When he started toward her, his right leg did not bend as easily as the other. Questions flooded her mind. Had he been injured in battle? This, Mama warned years before, was why a woman shouldn’t consider marrying a British Army man. No matter that he was her brother’s friend and a decent man. All that mattered to Mama was that the Biddlethwaites were commoners.
No one, except perhaps Charles, ever understood how thoroughly George had captured her heart.
“Did my brother plot this encounter?” Her throat went raw and scratchy, everything she truly wished to say burning to get out. Was matchmaking to be Charles’s gift?
“So it seems.” George glanced down at his leg and then offered her a tight smile that did not match the hesitant look in his amber gaze. “I was surprised by his invitation to call on Christmas Eve.”
“So you came to see my brother?” Milly crossed her arms. “And hoped to avoid me?”
“Never.” He took another step toward her. “Though I have no wish to intrude and ruin your mother’s party.”
Milly released the breath she’d been holding. When she inhaled again, his crisp woodsy cologne scented the air.
“It’s Christmas, and Charles has invited you.”
“Not a formal invitation. Do you truly think your mother would bear my presence?”
“It’s been four years, George.” Four long, lonely years.
“Three years and nine months.” He blinked and looked away, gazing out the window onto the moonlit lawn.
Milly heaved a sigh of frustration and strode toward her brother’s desk, yanking out the top drawer and scrabbling for paper and a pen. Finding both, she bent and scribbled out an invitation.
From the corner of her eye, she caught George studying her. The intensity of his appraisal sparked goosebumps, as if he slid his fingers along her skin.
“You’re invited.” She thrust the square of foolscap toward him, taking one step nearer. “I spent last week writing forty invitations, and today I’ve tied a hundred perfect bows in red ribbons. Mama must allow me one guest of my own.”
“And you’d spend your single invitation on me?” He swallowed hard as he took the bit of paper.
Milly found herself watching his throat, then she dropped her gaze to examine the impressive width of his chest, noting how his coat seams strained to contain his muscled arms.
“Assuming you’ve come alone.” A terrible thought struck. What if he’d married? Offered vows to another while she’d stubbornly clung to the hope of being his one day “Is there a Mrs. Biddlethwaite?”
He flinched before his square, firm jaw eased into a grin. “Only my mother. She is well and at home in Surrey.” Large hands flexing, he loosened his white-knuckled hold on his cane and added, “If you’re referring to a wife, I have spared womanhood that fate.”
Oh, this was all dreadfully wrong.
Milly knew she should be unaffected after so long apart. Angry with him for giving up too easily when her parents rejected their courtship. Instead, warmth burst in her chest. Joy fizzed in her veins, and her body bent toward him, like a flower seeking a bit of sun.
His gaze was pure brightness and heat. Despite a few more lines around the edges, his eyes hadn’t changed a bit. Tenderness, admiration, desire—he hid nothing in their whisky brown depths. Why did the man still gaze at her as if she was the most fascinating woman in England?
“And you, Lady Millicent, which lucky lord has caught your eye?” He approached as he spoke, leaving only a handful of tantalizing inches between them.
“Don’t tease.” Milly tipped her head back to gaze at him. “You must know what they say about me. Even Charles thinks I’m a confirmed spinster.”
George reached for her, his long fingers tangling with hers. “I know little of spinsters. Are they always this soft?”
Mercy. Nothing had changed. His touch still set off goosebumps across her skin, still lit her blood on fire in her veins.
“Perhaps I’m not a spinster after all.”
“No,” he said on a husky whisper, “I never thought you were. But I have thought of you, Milly, so very often.”
Voices carried in from the hallway. They both glanced at the closed study door. Milly spotted a cluster of mistletoe dangling over the threshold. Charles must have placed them to provide an excuse for kissing Lady Hermione. Unless they were part of his brotherly plot.
“We could just ignore the mistletoe,” George said, his deep voice laced with amusement.
“Might as well,” Milly said nervously. “I’ve been doing so for years.”
“Have you?” He lifted his hand, stroked the backs of his knuckles along her cheek. “Three Christmases without a kiss?”
Milly drew a shuddery breath and somehow managed, “If a lady refuses, she will not marry during the coming year.” Of course, the mistletoe curse never stopped Mama from suggesting eligible suitors.
George pulled his hand away, and Milly felt the loss of his warmth keenly.
“So you have avoided marriage?” There was an incredulous thread in his voice.
“You know how I loathe ceremonies. Can you imagine me vowing obedience to any man?” She tried for a teasing tone, even as her hands clenched into fists. Surely he knew why she’d remained unwed. Did he understand her so little?
“And if a gentleman does not wish for your obedience, only your love and the honor of being your husband?”
“I would kiss that gentleman under the mistletoe.” Milly’s chest filled with an airy lightness, a sweet burst of joy and possibility. She reached for George’s hand, laced her fingers with his, and tugged him toward the threshold.
“Shall we start again, Milly?” he asked before pressing her against the door and bowing his head to capture her lips.
Moments later, body melted, mind a blissful haze, she curved her fingers around his lapel. “I don’t wish to start again. I treasure all the memories between us too much.” Sliding her hand under his coat, Milly laid her palm over the spot where his heart thrashed as wildly as her own. “Shall we pick up where we left off?”
“Are you sure?” He uttered the words hesitantly, with a raspy catch in his voice.
“I have always been certain.” She’d never doubted her feelings for George. Never second guessed her desire to be his wife. Never been persuaded to choose another suitor.
“Me too, love.” His chiseled face softened into a heart-stopping smile. “Always.”
Rules never brought anything but misery to Christopher “Kit” Ruthven. After rebelling against his controlling father and leaving the family’s etiquette empire behind, Kit has been breaking every one imaginable for the past four years. He’s enjoyed London’s sensual pleasures, but he’s failed to achieve the success he craves as London’s premier playwright. When his father dies, Kit returns to the countryside and is forced back into the life he never wanted. Worse, he must face Ophelia Marsden, the woman he left behind years before.After losing her father, Ophelia has learned to rely on herself. To maintain the family home and support her younger sister, she tutors young girls in deportment and decorum. But her pupils would be scandalized if they knew she was also the author of a guidebook encouraging ladies to embrace their independence.As Kit rediscovers the life, and the woman, he left behind, Ophelia must choose between the practicalities she never truly believed in, or the love she’s never been able to extinguish.
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