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Monday, December 18, 2017

A Historical Christmas Event with Darcy Burke


Darcy Burke is the USA Today Bestselling Author of hot, action-packed historical and sexy, emotional contemporary romance. A native Oregonian, Darcy lives on the edge of wine country with her guitar-strumming husband, their two hilarious kids who seem to have inherited the writing gene, and three Bengal cats. Visit Darcy online at www.darcyburke.com and sign up for her newsletter, follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/darcyburke, or like her Facebook page, www.facebook.com/DarcyBurkeFans.

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The Magic of Mistletoe

December 1817, Suffolk, England

Ivy, Duchess of Clare, collapsed onto the bed, her face flushed and tears leaking from her eyes. She wiped her mouth and let out a soft groan.

“Here,” Lucy, Ivy’s friend, the Countess of Dartford, said as she set a cool cloth on Ivy’s brow. “Aquilla’s fetching a glass of water.”

Aquilla, the Countess of Sutton, joined Lucy, a tumbler of water clasped in her hand.

Ivy blinked up at her two closest friends and managed a weak smile. “I’m so glad you’re here. I’m just sorry I’m sick. This is supposed to be a festive, happy time.”

One of Lucy’s dark brows arched high on her forehead. “Are you sure it’s not? When was the last time you had your courses?”

Ivy’s jaw dropped for a moment. She hadn’t even considered... “I don’t know. Leah isn’t even six months old yet. I haven’t bled since she was born.”

Lucy and Aquilla exchanged a pointed look.

“Have either of you?” Ivy asked, feeling slightly panicked. She wasn’t sure she was ready to have another child—if, in fact, that was what was happening.

Both women, who’d had their first children in April, nodded. “Just last month for me,” Aquilla said.

Lucy snorted. “Apparently I was ‘lucky.’ My courses returned by August.”

“You’ve always been the lucky one,” Aquilla said cheerfully, causing them all to giggle.

Ivy’s stomach tilted again, but she didn’t think she had anything left to vacate. “Help me sit up so I can drink that water.”

Lucy scrambled to prop her up and Aquilla handed her the glass. The cool liquid slid down Ivy’s throat and settled into her belly without any fuss, thank goodness. Her hand strayed to that spot, where only recently she’d carried Leah.

Ivy sent a glance toward the cradle at the foot of the bed where her daughter lay sleeping. Miraculously, Ivy’s sudden illness hadn’t awakened the baby, but then the majority of her retching had occurred downstairs in the drawing room into a nearly century-old Wedgwood vase, which one of the maids was now carefully cleaning.

“Better?” Aquilla asked with a hopeful tilt to her mouth.

“Yes, thank you.” Ivy settled back against the pillows as her husband, West, ducked into the chamber.

“All right?” he asked, concern darkening his brow.

“Good enough,” Ivy responded.

“We’ll see you downstairs when you’re recovered,” Lucy said, inclining her head toward Aquilla and then the door.

With a nod, Aquilla followed her out.

Sebastian Westgate, Duke of Clare, the notorious Duke of Desire sat on the edge of the bed next to Ivy and fingered a coppery curl back at her temple. “The vase came clean, you’ll be happy to know.”

“Oh, good.” Ivy had been horrified, but it had been the nearest thing and she hadn’t hesitated when Lucy had scooped it up and handed it to Ivy as she began to convulse with the need to empty her stomach. “I’m sorry to ruin the tree decorating.”

Even though the children were all still babies, they’d decided to erect a tree, making a celebration of it by inviting their dearest friends who’d arrived just yesterday.

“You’ve ruined nothing, my love.” He leaned over and kissed her forehead. “I’m just glad you’re feeling better. Did you eat something that didn’t agree with you?”

Ivy chewed the inside of her cheek, uncertain if she should reveal her suspicions—rather her friends’ suspicions. She wasn’t entirely sure she believed it. She hadn’t been ill like that when she’d been carrying Leah. Ultimately, she decided to make light of it and see what he said. “Lucy suggested I might be with child again. But it’s far too soon.”

West’s reaction started with a flash of surprise followed by a hint of doubt and then unadulterated joy as a smile spread his lips. “I should be thrilled if that were the case.” He sobered, adopting a concentrated expression and a formal tone. “Let me see.”

He lifted his hand to her breast and cupped her through the layers of clothing. His touch was firm but gentle and when his thumb flicked over the tip, Ivy sucked in a deep breath, her earlier sickness completely forgotten in a flare of lust.

It seemed they both came to the same conclusion at the same time.

“I’m with child,” Ivy said.

“You’re with child,” West said.

They both laughed, and it was a moment before Ivy asked, “How do you know?”

“Your breasts have a very distinctive feel when you’re carrying. It shouldn’t surprise you to hear that I know precisely what that feels like.”

No, it didn’t, given how fond he was of touching her there at every opportunity. Indeed, his hand still lingered against her, reminding her of the need pulsing between her legs.

“And how did you know?” he asked mildly, his thumb making another pass across her breast.

“As you know, I was particularly...insatiable. Indeed, if you don’t lift my skirts right this instant, I’ll be forced to throw you onto the bed and have my way with you.”

His brows darted up his forehead for a scant moment before settling low over his darkly seductive eyes. “I can’t decide which I prefer.” The words were a purr, rustling over her as provocatively as the incessant stroke of his thumb.

In the end, they opted for a combination of both, as Ivy lifted her skirts and climbed atop her husband, careful to be quiet lest they wake the baby, for one never woke a sleeping baby.

#

“The tree is beautiful,” Aquilla said as she stood back from the massive evergreen and surveyed their decorating progress. Fruit and sweets hung from the branches along with a collection of glass baubles. The candles would go on last, but Aquilla had to admit she wondered if the entire thing might catch on fire. She supposed it could if they weren’t careful. They’d just be careful.

“Not as pretty as you,” Ned, her husband, said softly as he came up behind her and slipped his arms around her waist. He drew her back against him and sprinkled feather-light kisses against her neck.

A delightful shiver raced down Aquilla’s spine. “You’re biased.”

“I’m not. Everyone agrees the Countess of Sutton is one of the loveliest women in all of England. But they’re wrong. You’re the loveliest.”

Aquilla smiled, and a soft sigh escaped her lips as Ned’s tongue teased the sensitive spot beneath her ear. “Peregrine will be up from his nap soon.”

“Then perhaps we should take advantage of our free time...” His teeth caught her earlobe, arousing another shiver.

Aquilla turned in his arms, murmuring, “Perhaps,” as she stood on her toes to press her mouth to his.

They were, unfortunately, interrupted by the arrival of Lucy and her husband Andrew, the Earl of Dartford. Lucy held their son Alexander who was just eight days older than her and Ned’s son, Peregrine.

“Uh oh, we’re interrupting,” Lucy said.

Andrew laughed. “It’s a drawing room, not a bedchamber. They know where to go if they want privacy.”

Ned let out a frustrated snort but grinned nonetheless. Aquilla fixated on her godson and held her arms out. “Come see Auntie Aquilla!”

Lucy delivered her son to Aquilla who snuggled the boy close and dropped a kiss on his dark head. He lifted his rich, earth brown eyes to hers and smiled as he recognized her. “Gah!” he said in greeting.

Aquilla wrinkled her nose at him. “Gah yourself. I can’t get over how big he and Peregrine are already,” she said to Lucy. “Just think, next year they’ll be running around and pulling things off the tree.”

“Perhaps we ought to forego a tree,” Ned said. They’d already offered to host next year’s festivities. Since they’d spent last year together at Darent Hall—Andrew and Lucy’s house—and this year here at Stour’s Edge, it seemed they had a tradition and next it would be their turn.

Aquilla playfully smacked her husband’s bicep. “Nonsense. We are having a tree.”

“Don’t bother arguing with them once they’ve made up their mind,” Andrew said. “On second thought, don’t bother arguing with them ever.”

Ned nodded in agreement while Aquilla looked down at Alex and said, “Your father is a smart man.”

West and Ivy came in at that moment, their daughter Leah snuggled in her father’s arms. Her hazel eyes lit when they saw Alex. Upon seeing her, he squirmed in Aquilla’s arms. “Do you want to play with your friend?” she asked.

Ivy fetched a blanket and laid it on the floor. West sat Leah down and Aquilla set Alex in front of her. Lucy set down a pair of silver rattles, which Alex and Leah were soon waving about. Their nonsense words and laughs filled the room with the sound of the rattling silver.

A moment later Ivy glanced about before asking, “Does anyone know where Fanny is?”

Fanny was Ivy’s younger sister. Just twenty, she’d come to live with Ivy after Leah was born and would have her first Season in the new year.

“I haven’t seen her since she went for her walk,” West said, frowning.

That would have been hours ago. Though Aquilla had only been here a few days, she already knew the household routine and Fanny went for a walk each morning.

Ivy looked outside where fat snowflakes fluttered to the already-white ground. “It’s been snowing for over an hour.” Her face creased with concern. “If only I hadn’t been ill and...” She scowled at West who sat beside her on one of the settees. “I should’ve noticed she wasn’t home.”

West clasped her knee. “She’ll be fine, I’m sure. Sometimes she gets distracted, particularly if there’s an animal involved.”

“That’s my concern. What if something happened? What if she’s trapped in the snow?” Ivy stood, her concern blooming into stark worry. “It will be dark in a few hours.”

West got to his feet beside his wife and stroked her back. “Don’t work yourself into a dither. It isn’t good for the baby.”

“That’s true,” Andrew said. “Alex hates it when Lucy’s agitated.”

“Not that baby,” Aquilla said before realizing she perhaps not to have said that out loud. “Oh!” She clapped a hand over her mouth and sent Ivy and apologetic look.

“It seems I am with child again,” Ivy said without releasing a bit of her stress. “But I’m fine—or I will be fine once Fanny is home safe.”

“Then let us go and fetch her,” West said before pressing a kiss to Ivy’s temple. “Come lads.” He motioned for Andrew and Ned to join him, which they did with alacrity.

“I’ll be back soon,” Ned murmured. He kissed Aquilla quickly before departing.

“I’ll never forgive myself if something happens to her,” Ivy said.

Lucy went to her friend and rested a comforting hand on her shoulder. “They’ll find her.”

“Maybe I should go with them.” She started toward the door, but Lucy tightened her hold and Ivy swung her an irritated stare.

Lucy narrowed her eyes. Of the three of them, she was the most likely to impose her will—and be successful. “You’ll do no such thing. You need food after this morning’s events, and you need to rest. We insist.” She looked over at Aquilla who nodded in agreement.

“I’ll ring for tea and we’ll wait.” And pray, Aquilla silently added.

#

Fanny glared at the rabbit hole but quickly acknowledged she was angry with herself, not the tiny animal she’d foolishly followed through the copse and up the hill and over an icy stream.

Blast, she was an idiot. She’d seen the rabbit hunkered down near a tree. It had seemed to be shivering, and so she’d decided to scoop it up and take it home before it succumbed to the elements. But as soon as she’d moved close, the animal had scampered away.

Satisfied the rabbit would be fine, Fanny watched it run until it stopped. Then it sat down and began to quiver again. That had started what seemed to be a game of cat and mouse as Fanny went after it, and it ran away then stopped again. Over and over until it had disappeared down its hole.

“Well, I suppose I did see you safely home,” Fanny muttered. “You’re welcome!”

She pulled her woolen cloak more tightly about her and looked up at the muted sky as the first snowflake struck her square on the nose.

“Oh, to be that snowflake,” a masculine voice rent the quiet, drawing Fanny to spin about toward the source of the sound.

A tall gentleman lounged against a tree as if he frequented hills in the middle of a snowstorm with careless ease. Er, possible snowstorm. Fanny squinted her eyes toward the heavens once more and wondered just how far from Stour’s Edge she’d strayed.

“Miss?”

There was that voice again, reminding her that the snow and her unknown location were perhaps not her most troubling problems at present.

“I’m on my way home—to Stour’s Edge,” she added hastily.

A single dark brow arced into an upside down V as he pushed away from the tree and sauntered toward her. “I see. You must be the Duke’s bride.”

“I am not.”

The man’s dove-gray eyes flickered with appreciation as his gaze slid over her. “I see. How nice.”

Was he flirting with her? Fanny had next to no experience with that. Mr. Duckworth had tried such nonsense with her, but his efforts always seemed far more...lascivious. She would forever thank her sister from saving her from certain doom. Without Ivy inviting her to come live at Stour’s Edge, Fanny would have undoubtedly found herself the next Mrs. Duckworth. The third, in fact.

Best to just let this gentleman know she wasn’t the sort of woman he might think. “I’m afraid I’m not adept at flirting, nor do I have any interest.”

“Was I flirting?” He moved closer. “I didn’t intend. But I never do, and then a beautiful woman happens across my path and I simply can’t help myself.” His lips curved into an arresting smile.

Fanny’s breath caught. He was the most handsome person she’d ever clapped eyes on. And he was looking at her as if he maybe thought the same thing about her.

Except, he’d just said he flirts with all beautiful women, which meant this wasn’t a singular event for him, as it was for her. And really, she wasn’t beautiful. Far from it. She had freckles and her lips were too full, as her mother was fond of pointing out. “You’re definitely flirting,” she said warily.

“And you are on your guard. As you should be. You’re a bit far from Stour’s Edge, however. Are you certain that is where you are from?”

He doubted her? Actually, perhaps it was best that he did. This was a scandalous encounter, and it would behoove her to keep it from becoming known. Which meant she couldn’t tell anyone about it, and she didn’t want him telling anyone about it either.

“I think I’ll just be on my way.” She turned from him and started down the hill. She made it about twenty feet before she stopped and frowned. She had absolutely no idea where she was going. Blast it all.

“Are you lost?”

The question came from far too close behind her, and she jumped. She quickly turned and backed up at the same time, moving quickly and without care for her location near the top of the hill. Just enough snow had accumulated that she slipped.

And tumbled down the hill.

She landed in a heap at the bottom, her eyes closed and her body smarting from rolling over a few times on the way down.

“Hellfire!”

The proximity of his deep voice made her open her eyes. The concerned, yet still unbelievably handsome, face of the stranger hovered over hers.

“Are you all right?” he demanded, his gaze darkening to the color of iron.

Fanny moved her fingers and toes. “I think so.” Her backside stung most of all, and she was acutely aware of the frigid temperature of the ground beneath her. “It’s quite cold down here.”

He knelt beside her, but quickly clasped her waist and pulled her to stand, rising to his feet in front of her. “Better?”

And now she was acutely aware of his hands on her and the delicious, almost entirely foreign sensation of being held.

She quite liked it.

“Yes,” she said rather breathlessly, realizing she sounded like a ninnyhammer and not caring in the slightest.

“I insist on seeing you home.” He looked up at the sky as the snow seemed to be falling in larger flakes than it had just five minutes before. “Where is that?”

She was cold and now wet, and for some reason she felt safe with him. “Stour’s Edge.”

He gave a firm nod then wrapped her arm over his. “We’ll walk briskly. If you can.”

She nodded then wiped at the dirt and grass that seemed to cover her cloak. He helped her, his hand moving over her hip and then her backside. The moment he made that contact, their gazes connected.

“Sorry,” he murmured before averting his gaze.

They walked in silence for a few minutes, a hundred questions tumbling through her head and an equal amount of sensations coursing through her body.

He glanced over at her, a snowflake landing on his dark lashes and melting almost immediately. “I know we haven’t been properly introduced, but it seems we should take care of that.”

“It’s a bit scandalous, isn’t it?”

“No more so than my caressing your backside.”

Caressing. Oh dear. Those hundred sensations doubled.

“I’m Frances.” She decided it was best to just keep things simple. He didn’t need to know she was Fanny Snowden, sister-in-law to the Duke of Clare.

“I’m David.”

“Pleased to meet you David.” For all she knew he was a footman at a neighboring estate. She doubted that, however. While her experience with anyone outside her tiny village of Pickering in Yorkshire and its environs was limited, she could tell he was Quality. Or at least good at mimicking it.

“What brought you so far from home?” David asked.

“Providence, thankfully.” She realized belatedly he didn’t mean that home. She blamed the fact that she’d just been thinking of Pickering. Though she’d been at Stour’s Edge for nigh on six months, apparently she could still think of her lifelong home as home.

He gave a soft laugh. “Because you met me?”

Now she realized how that may have sounded. “No, I didn’t mean that. I meant... Oh, never mind. I am abysmal at polite conversation. I’ve almost no experience with it.”

“Are you in service?” he asked, voicing about her what she’d just been thinking of him.

She seized on the opportunity to mask her true identity and have a way to explain why he couldn’t escort her to the house. “Yes, I’m a maid.” She looked at him askance. “What about you?”

“In service?” He started to shake his head but then stopped. “Not precisely. I’m serving as apprentice to a steward.”

“That sounds exciting.”

He turned his head toward her. “Indeed?”

“Oh yes. To be responsible for so many things... You must be quite intelligent.”

He shrugged. “My father always told me so.”

“My father always told me I was a featherbrain.”

“I find that hard to believe.” He said this with utmost certainty. “Although, you did wander far from home in a snowstorm.”

“It wasn’t snowing then, and I was trying to save a rabbit.” She exhaled. “I’m afraid I’m terribly soft-hearted when it comes to animals. My father also told me I was far too kind. Once, he made me abandon a litter of puppies after their mother died.”

David gasped. “That’s atrocious.”

She nodded, glad for his support. “Yes, but I sneaked back out to where they were and rescued them anyway. One of the neighbors had a dog who was almost finished nursing her pups, and she was more than glad to adopt the four little babies. Ironically my father took one of those dogs several months later, never realizing it was one he’d left for dead.” She shook her head. “He loved that dog more than any of us, I think.”

“What an astounding tale. I would say you have a kind heart, not soft. There’s a difference, I think.”

She swung her gaze to his. “Do you?”

“I do.”

They stared at each other a moment before she tried to trip over a rock. He caught her, his free hand clasping her hand while he gripped her arm. “All right?”

“I’m also rather clumsy.”

“Then allow me to assist you over the stream, though I gather you made it across by yourself earlier.”

They’d arrived at the slender, but swift-moving brook. “It was a miracle, really.”

He laughed then withdrew his arm from hers. “I’ll go first and help you.” He leapt over the water with ease, and she decided she could watch him do that a thousand times. In her mind’s eye, she would.

He held his hand out to her. “Ready?”

She clasped his appendage, and he brought her over the stream with a fluid grace she didn’t possess on her own. “I bet you’re a fine dancer,” she said.

He grimaced. “Barely passable, I’m afraid.”

“I’m quite good. That is one area in which I seem to possess adequate agility.”

He chuckled. “A maid who dances and rescues animals. You are a treasure, Frances.”

Heat rose in her face, but she suspected her cheeks were red from the cold and was relieved he couldn’t see her blush.

He tucked her arm over his once more and they started on their way, keeping up their rapid pace. “Do you often get lost?” he asked.

Only when she struck off in a new direction and then only sometimes. Snowstorms were particularly helpful if one wanted to lose their way. “No, but then I just left home for the first time less than six months ago.” She wished she hadn’t revealed that much. But he was so easy to talk to.

“You’re new to your employment then?”

“Yes. What about you?” she asked, hoping to divert the conversation away from herself lest she bore him with the story of her life. “What are you doing out in the middle of a snowstorm?”

“I’m afraid I was just taking a walk. Then I saw you running up the hill, and I was curious.”

“So you followed me?”

“Guilty.” But the look he cast in her direction didn’t reflect even a tinge of regret.

She was glad and more than a little...tantalized. “Well, I suppose I must be grateful since without your help I would be lost and cold.”

“But dry. I can’t imagine you would have fallen without my intervention.” Now she detected a dash of remorse.

“That’s a nice theory,” she said wryly, “but I did tell you I was clumsy.”

“I suppose we’ll never know,” he mused. “Come, let’s move a bit faster or we’ll both be soaked to the skin.”

She had a sudden vision of him in clothing that was plastered to his muscular, athletic frame. Muscular? Yes, she could tell from his arm and the way he’d lifted her effortlessly from the ground and assisted her across the stream. Athletic? Evidently given how quickly he’d made it down the hill after she’d fallen and the fact that he hadn’t lost his balance as she had. Besides all of that, she had eyes, and she could see he was broad-shouldered and long-legged.

“Do you often go for walks?” she asked, thinking he must.

“Every day. At least once. Like you, I have an affinity for animals. In my case it’s birds.”

“Indeed? What are your favorites?”

“It’s very hard to say,” his response was solemn, as if he were deeply considering her question. “I find myself drawn to birds of the marsh—it’s their long legs and long beaks, I think. There’s something very graceful about their composition and demeanor. Avocets are beautiful. As are godwits.”

“I know next to nothing about birds.” But she suddenly wished to correct that and planned to scour West’s library for every book on ornithology she could find.

“I could teach you,” he offered softly.

It was the nicest, sweetest, most alluring offer she’d ever received.

Too bad she couldn’t accept. He was a steward’s apprentice, and she was the sister-in-law of a duke destined for a grand Season and probably a marriage to a prince. Or at least a duke. That was what she and Ivy joked about at least.

Ivy! She had to be worried sick.

“How far are we from Stour’s Edge?” Fanny asked.

“About a quarter mile, I should think.” He pointed in front of them. “There.” You’d see it if not for the copse of trees and this damned thickening storm.

She recognized the copse from earlier and from the walks she’d taken since coming to Stour’s Edge. It was the stream that had taken her off course—she hadn’t yet crossed it, probably because it had been much wider during the summer months after she’d first arrived.

When they reached the trees, she stopped. “We should part here, I think.”

“You probably don’t want to be seen arriving with me,” he guessed accurately.

“I don’t think that would be wise. I’ve been gone too long as it is.”

“Are you sure you can find your way?” he asked.

She nodded. “Yes, I’m quite oriented now. I meant it when I said I didn’t usually get lost.”

“But what about the dancing?” He moved slightly closer. “How am I to know if you can truly dance?”

“If we meet again, I’ll show you,” she promised, even though she knew that would likely never happen.

“I’ll hold you to that.” He glanced up at the sky, blinking. “It really is snowing hard. You should go.”

“I should.”

And yet neither of them moved. They stood there facing each other, arms still clasped, cloaked in white, seemingly alone in the world.

“Pity there isn’t mistletoe,” he said softly.

Oh, he wanted to kiss her!

Good, she wanted him to kiss her too.

She edged closer until they almost touched, chest to chest. “Let’s pretend there is.”

He pitched his head toward hers, and she closed her eyes just before his lips touched hers. They were cold but soft. His arms came around her, and he held her close.

The kiss continued, awakening all of her senses and arousing them so that to her mind there was just him and her and the snowy quiet enveloping their secret embrace. When his tongue licked along her lips, she opened for him, driven by curiosity and a sweet hunger she’d never experienced.

Once inside, his tongue met hers, and he coaxed her fully, showing her what it meant to really be kissed. She’d always wondered, and now she knew.

It was over far too soon, and the cold that he’d banished from her for a few, brief minutes came rushing back, reminding her that she was cold and damp and needed to get inside.

He brushed his gloved fingertips along her cheek. “I refuse to say good-bye, so I’ll just say, Happy Christmas.”

She refused to say good-bye too, even though she knew it was. “Happy Christmas.”

Then, before she could lose her courage, she turned and fled.

By the time she reached the door to the drawing room at the rear of the house, she was breathless, both from her dash through the snow and her encounter with David.

Ivy met her at the door, her forehead creased. “Fanny! I’ve been so worried.” She pulled her sister inside and wrapped her in a fierce hug.”

When she drew back, she looked down at Fanny’s snow-covered cloak. “You’re soaking wet.”

“And now you are too,” Fanny said with a touch of irony.

“So it would seem.” Ivy raised her gaze to Fanny’s. “Where have you been?”

“Trying to save a rabbit.”

“Of course you were,” Ivy muttered. “West and Dart and Ned are out looking for you, silly. I’ll send some footmen out after them. In the meantime, go upstairs and take a warm bath.”

“Yes, Ivy.” Fanny leaned forward and kissed her sister’s cheek before departing the drawing room. On the way, she waved at Lucy and Aquilla who were on the floor with the babies.

Later, when she was warm and dry, Fanny joined everyone for dinner. She apologized to West and the others for having to go out in the snow looking for her. They were all just glad she was all right.

Afterward, they placed small candles in the tree and when they were lit, Fanny gasped with wonder.

Ivy, holding her nearly-asleep daughter against her chest, moved close to Fanny’s side, smiling. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

“It is.”

“Who knows where you’ll be this time next year,” Ivy said with a touch of sadness. “You may be married. I’ll miss you, especially when we’ve just found each other.” Ivy had left home more than a decade ago and had only renewed contact with Fanny and the rest of their family last fall.

“I’ll miss you too. I may not be married. Maybe I’m meant to be a spinster.”

Ivy laughed. “No, not you.”

“You nearly were.”

“Yes, and as you can see, you can never be too sure about the path you’re meant to take.”

Fanny thought about the path she’d taken that day and wished it had ended differently.

West came over then and slipped his arm around Ivy. “Oh look, Dart is hanging some mistletoe.”

A feeling of warmth coupled with a pang of loss wrapped around Fanny’s heart. She knew right then that she’d never look at mistletoe the same.
Or Christmas.

#

The house was quiet when West climbed into bed next to his wife. Gathering Ivy close, he kissed her forehead, her cheek, her delicious lips. She sighed as she snuggled into his chest.

“Tonight was beautiful,” she said.

“Right up until we had to extinguish every one of those candles.” That had taken great care so as not to catch the entire bloody house on fire.

Ivy laughed. “Don’t you think it was worth it? I don’t care—we’re doing it every year. Just imagine Leah’s face next Christmas.”

“And her little brother’s.” He brought his hand around to his wife’s belly and stroked the soft plane through the linen of her nightgown.

“Oh, you think this one will be a boy?” Ivy asked.

“I was right about Leah, wasn’t I?”

“Yes.” Ivy traced her fingertip around his chest, arousing him with the simplest touch. “Did Fanny seem different to you tonight? She was quiet.”

“She was.” Fanny liked to talk and talk, but tonight she’d seemed a bit distracted. “I expect she was tired after traipsing after that rabbit she never caught.”

“Yes, that must be it. I’m so glad she’s here with us.” Ivy rolled West to his back and rose over him, her eyes darkening with desire. “Have I thanked you for welcoming her into our family?”

“Many times, but I shall always accept your appreciation.”

“What about my undying devotion?” Ivy reached down and stroked his rapidly-hardening shaft.

“I’ll take that too.” He let out a soft groan as her hand worked its magic. “You’re going to drive me mad, woman.”

She grinned down at him. “But you’ll enjoy it, won’t you?”

“Every blessed moment.” He clasped the back of her neck and brought her mouth to his for a soul-searing kiss. “Happy Christmas, wife.”

“Happy Christmas, husband.”




Everyone Nicholas Bateman ever loved has died. Except Violet Caulfield, which must mean he never loved her. Nine years after she threw him over to marry a viscount, Nick is a widowed duke who prefers isolation. When a friend convinces him to leave his lair of self-imposed solitude, he considers taking another wife, provided she agrees to his terms: no emotional attachment of any kind.

Now widowed, Lady Violet Pendleton hopes for a second chance with the man she’s always loved. But she isn’t prepared for the desolation in his soul or the animosity he still bears toward her. Despite those obstacles, it’s clear their passion hasn’t dimmed. However, the heat between them isn’t enough to melt the Duke of Ice, and this time Violet may find herself the jilted party. Can love, once so tragically lost, finally be found?

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8 comments :

  1. I don't know if it is me or not, but, I just think this time period is so romantic. I often wonder what it would be like for me, if I lived in than instead of now. I guess it's not just me, many write about it. This sounds like a book I would love! Thanks for the chance to read more.

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  2. I loved the excerpt. Thanks for sharing. Happy Holidays.
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

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  3. Thanks for a great story! Are we going to get more of Fanny and David's story?

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    1. Yes! I hope to bring you their book in 2018!

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  4. Happy Holidays, Darcy!

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  5. I loved this and cannot wait to read! Lori Dykes

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