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Monday, December 17, 2018

A Historical Christmas Event with Theresa Romain

Theresa Romain is the bestselling author of historical romances, including the Matchmaker trilogy, the Holiday Pleasures series, the Royal Rewards series, and the Romance of the Turf trilogy. Praised as “one of the rising stars of Regency historical romance” (Booklist), she has received starred reviews from Booklist and was a 2016 RITA® finalist. A member of Romance Writers of America® and its Regency specialty chapter The Beau Monde, Theresa is hard at work on her next novel from her home in the Midwest.

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Readers first met Samuel Goddard in my novella Desperately Seeking Scandal, where he was the younger brother of reporter hero Colin. Samuel is a fine writer and satirist in his own right, but he’d always lived in his brother’s shadow. He has what we’d today call Tourette syndrome, with tics that make him feel conspicuous.

By the end of Desperately Seeking Scandal, however, Samuel has begun to come into his own. He’s become a co-editor of the tabloid-ish Gentleman’s Periodical, and his satirical pieces—written under the name Vir Virilem—have boosted the circulation of the financially troubled magazine. For the first time since being orphaned as a boy, Samuel has won himself a secure place in life.

Is that his happily-ever-after? Not quite.

As the year draws to a close, professional success is tied to loneliness. His brother is married and living in Berkshire; Samuel is alone in the lodging the brothers shared for so many years. The answer to his troubles, Samuel believes, is to throw himself more deeply into work. But he hasn’t counted on Christmas writer’s block, or the determination of Harriet Keating…


What is Christmas but a chance for the unscrupulous to steal a kiss under mistletoe?

Vir Virilem

Samuel Goddard studied the type he’d just set into the page forme for the next issue of The Gentleman’s Periodical. After years of piecework and months as a co-editor, he could read backwards or upside-down as swiftly as the ordinary way. He could set dozens of letters per minute despite the twitches that clenched his hands. On printing day, quickly as he’d once hungrily gleaned millet from an unguarded field, he could now clip hundreds of ink-damp pages to dry on the clotheslines that webbed overhead in the periodical’s cramped offices.

But today it all felt wrong. The wryness, the cynicism of his latest piece—this wasn’t what Christmas had meant to him as a boy. Under the cold guardianship of one indifferent adult after another, Christmas had always meant a reprieve of warmth and song. A solid meal at the manor house. A pair of thick socks knitted by an elderly lady who pinched his cheeks. Raisins and walnuts and the comfort of his elder brother, Colin, telling him next year, next year would be better.

What Samuel was writing now? This was too much like the on-demandes, the scandalous questions Colin had thought up for years. Who was climbing down the Countess of Marbury’s trellis after midnight? The answer was no one, of course, but the question was titillating. Merely posing a question, Colin had convinced the Periodical’s founder, was no grounds for a lawsuit. And it would do wonders for circulation.

And so the on-demandes had, for a time. But they had also almost ruined Colin’s chance at happiness with his now-wife, Lady Ada. When Samuel earned a co-editorship of the Periodical, he’d convinced its founder, Botolphus Bright, to drop the feature.

Why, then, did everything Samuel wrote for the Christmas issue sound like a return of Vir Virilem at his most cynical? His most scandal-mongering and bitter?

Because Samuel was damned lonely. Unless he was granted a miracle of printer’s ink and inspiration, he wouldn’t finish type-setting the issue in time to visit Colin and Ada in Berkshire for Christmas. Nothing awaited him but his rented rooms and a toddy he mixed himself.

He should be grateful not to be cold and hungry. To hold his own fate in his hands, and to be able to buy thick socks when he needed them and raisins when he wanted them. And he was. But the one thing that had never deserted him—words, the perfect words—had abandoned him a week before Christmas, and he didn’t know how to go on from here.

With a frown, he wiped ink from his fingers and turned from the printer’s case to the desk that held correspondence. Perhaps there’d be a reader letter to print, something that he as Vir Virilem could respond to. Something to fill column inches so Samuel could get this issue completed.

But there was nothing, nothing, nothing. A request that the editors add a section of classified advertisements; a demand that the editors retract a recent article about the best coffee-shops in the metropolis, for it hadn’t included the letter-writer’s own establishment. Another letter included quite an elaborate vulgar drawing, and thank goodness that had been brought by messenger rather than coming through the post. The Periodical was no different from the rest of the country in that it paid the Royal Mail for each letter it received.

What he really wanted, Samuel decided as he sorted the letters into piles, was a new piece from E. H. Wise. That last analysis of the rotten boroughs around London had been trenchant! Politically important! And best of all, witty—so that a reader might be entertained, but learn without realizing it.

Samuel always did his best writing as Vir Virilem after reading a piece by Wise. If Wise sent something today, he just knew the words would come together for him. Words of joy and inspiration and wit and wonder.

The perfect words for Christmas.

If they ever met, Samuel had long since decided, he and Wise would be friends. At least, he hoped they would be. Perhaps Wise would not like a friend who nodded at the wrong time, or who sometimes had to hunch or pace or shake out his hands. A friend who was quite new to the business of having friends at all.

Samuel was just about to settle back in the rickety chair for a second flip through the post when the door to the Periodical’s office burst open.

He looked up, squinting, as the person who entered was silhouetted by watery winter sunlight. Then the figure stepped forward, revealing itself to be…

“Harriet Keating,” Samuel sighed. “I have told you, The Gentleman’s Periodical doesn’t hire women.”

He said this without a single stutter. With hardly even a single twitch, though ordinarily a pretty young woman would make him more conscious than ever about the tics that wracked him.

But Harriet Keating had visited so often with her portfolio that he’d become accustomed to her. To the neat little hats set atop hair black as ink; to the shrewd brown eyes and the trim figure. And clutched in her gloved hands, the slim case of buff leather in which she carried her papers.

Papers he’d never looked at. Botolphus Bright had instructed Samuel that he might buy whatever pieces he wished from independent writers, as long as he never bought from women. “Our periodical is by men and for men,” insisted the older fellow.

Of course, the Periodical was largely about women. Gossip about them, drawings of them, advice on wooing and wedding them. And the periodical was probably read by a devil of a lot of women too. Otherwise, why would Miss Keating wish to sell her work here?

Samuel rose from the wobbly chair, steadying himself with a hand that clenched and unclenched of its own seeming will. “Miss Keating,” he said. “You are remarkably persistent.”

She drew closer with a little smile, bringing with her the scents of wood smoke and peppermint and winter air. “It’s all part of my strategy.” Her dark eyes roved the confines of the office. “Isn’t this the day of the month you usually finish setting type?”

So. She was observant, or maybe blessed with a good memory. Samuel hunched, trying to make it look like a bow of assent. “It is. We lack only one piece to finish the issue.”

“Dear me. And Vir Virilem has failed to perform?”

Samuel coughed. “Vir Virilem is finding himself too cynical, perhaps, for the season.”

Her eyes opened wide, playful. “Can a gentleman’s magazine be too cynical? Even at Christmas?”

“It seems so. Annoyingly.”

She gave a little shrug. “It’s your conscience, Mr. Goddard, having a laugh at you. But I confess, I’m glad for it.”

Did she usually look so roguish after having her work rejected? He thought not. Something was different today. He noticed it in the carelessness of her grasp on her little case of papers; the brightness of her eyes. Her cheeks were nipped pink from the wintry weather; her bonnet…

Her bonnet was a bit shabby, actually. And her gloves had been darned, and her cloak had been turned. He revised his judgment of her as a wealthy dabbler. She looked lovely, as usual—but now that he really looked, she wore signs of making do. Of respectability, determination, and genuine need. How had he missed all this before?

He’d been seeing what he expected to see. He’d been seeing what he’d been told to.

That was neither gentlemanly nor Christmassy, and it certainly wasn’t how he’d want people to judge him. For how many years had he been called “that strange Goddard boy”? The one who twitched; whose tongue was sometimes stubbornly silent. The one who took refuge in the written word.

Just as Miss Keating did—or so he presumed, with her portfolio and her persistence.

So he extended a hand, grateful that Miss Keating ignored the way it clenched and unclenched. “Come, show me what you’ve brought along.”

She grinned. “It’s a Christmas miracle! Finally.”

“What’s that? What if I had turned you away again?”

“You did. But I hadn’t quite got around to leaving yet.” She unfastened her little case and upended it over the desk. Papers spilled out, folded and fluttering like great snowflakes. “And aren’t you glad now that I didn’t?”

He hardly heard her. All of the world had narrowed to the sight of those papers floating, falling. Papers in a hand he knew as well as his own; a hand that felt like Christmas every time he saw it: a gift of insight, of wonder, of warmth and humor.

The neat hand of E. H. Wise.

“What are these papers?” he said through numb lips. “Whose are they?”

“They’re mine. Or yours, if you want to buy them.”

Samuel looked up from the bounty atop the desk. Into the eyes of Harriet Keating, brown and familiar and not known at all. “You wrote these? You’re E. H. Wise?”

For the first time, she looked uncertain. “Are you pleased? I was determined to tell you today, as—as a gift for myself. But perhaps I shouldn’t have.”

“You’re E. H. Wise. You, Harriet Keating.” He hadn’t quite accepted the new shape the world had taken.

“Ellen Harriet, though I’ve never cared for my first name.” Her chin lifted. “If you’re interested, what can you offer me? And if you’re not interested, tell me at once, and I’ll never return.”

Never looking away from her face, Samuel extended a hand to touch the papers. Papers she’d written; sentences she’d formed in that marvelous brain.

“I’d hoped we could be friends,” he blurted. “Someday. If we met.”

Her brows knit. “What do you mean?”

He shook his head. Kept on shaking it. “Sorry. Just—thinking aloud.”

“Are you interested in buying a piece from me?”

“God, yes.” Finally, his brain was catching up with the situation around him. “Yes. Of course. Always. Any time.”

Her mouth fell open. “That’s quite an endorsement from someone who usually can hardly boot me out of the office quickly enough.”

“All part of my strategy.” He attempted a joke based on her earlier words. “Why do you want to write for The Gentleman’s Periodical so badly?”

“Ah.” Her look of skepticism turned shy. “It’s because of you, Mr. Goddard. The Periodical used to publish on-demandes, those dreadful questions that ruined people’s lives. And now that you’re an editor, you don’t do that anymore.”

He blinked. “Oh. It’s—because of me? That is—”

“You stood for something.” She tilted her head. “You stand for something. And—and I do too, and that’s why I wanted to work for you. I sent in my pieces by mail so you’d know what I could do, without deciding you already knew I couldn’t do it because I was a woman.”

“I see,” he said softly. He did. Oh, he did. How many times had people decided Samuel couldn’t do something before they even knew him? How many times had he said the same to himself without even trying?

“But I told myself,” she continued in a rush, “that if I stopped into the office, you’d get to know me a bit. So one day I could write for you as myself. But I know it’s the work that matters, isn’t it? Just the work. Even so, I wanted you to know it was mine.”

Samuel turned to the papers on the desk, stacking them and returning them to order. And then he turned back to Miss Keating. E. H. Wise. Both of them. “It’s not only the work that matters. It’s the person who creates it. There cannot be one without the other.”

“Oh,” she said, and her eyes were warm as chocolate and lovely as stars, and he swayed toward her as if she were a magnet. That pretty face. That wonderful mind.

“Please select a piece,” he said, “from those you have brought. I have two-thirds of a column to fill, and it will be yours for the Christmas issue.”

“Don’t you want to read it?”

“I will read it, and with pleasure. But I trust your judgment.” He smiled, knowing he was twitching; not caring. “You stand for something, Miss Keating, that I admire very much.”

“Oh,” she said again. “Please—please do call me Harriet.” He offered his Christian name in return, and then they both got to work.

She handed him a piece, and he read it as he set it into type. It was a recollection of family Christmases from years past; of firesides and church bells and bawdy games and laughter. Above all, laughter—such as Samuel had never known on Christmas, but that he could now feel in his heart.

He inked the final forme and pressed to it a page for proof-reading. Clipping it overhead, he skimmed the lines.

“It’s perfect,” he told Harriet, who had handed him type with nimble fingers and watched every step of production with curiosity and interest. “The perfect piece. Exactly what was needed. Name your price, madam.”

“The standard rate,” she said. “Though there’s one more thing. An error that needs correcting.”

“Oh?” He squinted at the page. “What did I miss?”

“Right there.” She pointed at a spot on the inky proof. “You see? It says mistletoe on the page, and it’s hanging over our heads.”

Unmistakable hint. “I know what to do about that,” said Samuel Goddard, who just now had the perfect words—and then no words at all, as he was home for Christmas in the arms of Harriet Keating, pressing a kiss to her lips. Not a stolen kiss beneath mistletoe, but one freely given, by two people who stood for something, and best of all, now stood together.

Lady Ada Ellis has two great talents: managing the accounts of her horse-mad brother’s dukedom, and hiding in Berkshire from London society. Several years ago, a scandal rag published family secrets—and Ada was jilted as a result.

She has no use for the press or for her onetime fiancĂ©, but fate delivers both into her hands at once. At the same time her former betrothed visits Berkshire with his new bride, charming reporter Colin Goddard seeks Ada’s help for a career-making series of articles on how to snare a wealthy spouse.

Ada agrees to assist Colin—if he acts as her devoted suitor before the man who once spurned her. What was intended as a humorous exploit turns seductive, as she and Colin challenge each other to a battle of wits, wills, and hearts. But Colin is keeping secrets of his own, and if he and Ada fall in love, one of them will lose everything…

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Up For Grabs:
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  1. That's such a sweet story. :)

  2. Good morning Theresa! I loved your Christmas story & look forward to reading Colin's story! Have a Merry Christmas!

    1. Hi, Sharlene! Thank you, and merry Christmas to you too!

  3. Thank you for the chance to win your book and for the short story Desperately Seeking Christmas!
    Wishing you and yours a very happy and blessed holiday season.

    1. Venette, thanks so much. Best wishes to you and your dear ones as well!

  4. Loved the Christmas story! Can’t wait to read Ana and Colin’s love story.

    1. Thanks, K! I hope you'll enjoy meeting Samuel again. :)

  5. Thanks for the chance to win! Merry Christmas

    1. Suzannah, thanks for checking out my post. Merry Christmas to you!

  6. Loved the excerpt! Love a smart woman!

  7. What a sweet story. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Replies
    1. Jean, thank you. I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

  9. Love the Christmas story. Book sounds good.

  10. Loved Samuel and Harriet’s story

    1. Thanks, Carol! It was nice to catch up with Samuel after the events of Desperately Seeking Scandal.

  11. great excerpt love Ms. Romain's books!

  12. Big thanks to RFTC for hosting this event and inviting me to take part!

  13. Happy Holiday Theresa! Love this cover and the excerpt! Have really been enjoying the Christmas stories that have come out! Excited to read this one...

  14. The book sounds awesome. Thanks for the chance to win!

  15. What a great story!! Thank you so much!!

  16. such a lovely story! Thank you so much and Merry Christmas!

  17. You always write such lovely stories!! Thank you so much for the chance, Theresa. Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas! xo

  18. Should I read Samuel and Harriets story before I read this one?