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Sunday, December 1, 2019

A Historical Christmas Event with Cheryl Holt


CHERYL HOLT is a New York Times, USA Today, and Amazon “Top 100” bestselling author who has published over fifty novels.

She’s also a lawyer and mom, and at age forty, with two babies at home, she started a new career as a commercial fiction writer. She’d hoped to be a suspense novelist, but couldn’t sell any of her manuscripts, so she ended up taking a detour into romance where she was stunned to discover that she has a knack for writing some of the world’s greatest love stories.

Her books have been released to wide acclaim, and she has won or been nominated for many national awards. She is considered to be one of the masters of the romance genre. For many years, she was hailed as “The Queen of Erotic Romance”, and she’s also revered as “The International Queen of Villains.” She is particularly proud to have been named “Best Storyteller of the Year” by the trade magazine Romantic Times BOOK Reviews.

She lives and writes in Hollywood, California, and she loves to hear from fans. Visit her website at www.cherylholt.com.

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Merry Christmas everyone! Thank you for taking a minute to read my new holiday short story. This is my favorite writing event of the year, and I’m always thrilled and honored when Danielle invites me to participate.

My favorite theme is always a “first kiss” on Christmas Eve so I’ve used that topic again. With the release of this story, I’m also giving readers a first glimpse at two characters from my new “Lost Girls” trilogy that’s coming in Summer, 2020. In my novels, I always try to create female characters who are “typical” to the Regency time period in which I set my stories. They are usually sheltered and naïve about men, romance, love, and lust, and it means they get themselves into all kinds of trouble they didn’t intend.

In this scene, I’m introducing two characters from Book 1 of the new trilogy: Lady Penelope “Penny” Pendleton and Mr. Simon Falcon. Penny is 18 and an earl’s daughter, and she’s about to become engaged to a very appropriate, much older aristocrat. But during her father’s annual Christmas party, she meets dashing, flamboyant gambler and confidence artist Simon Falcon, and suddenly, her best laid plans don’t seem quite so perfect.

When Simon sets his sights on Penny, any wild ending might be possible!


First Kiss on Christmas Eve

Lady Penelope Pendleton, called Penny by everyone, dawdled on the edge of the crowd surrounding Simon Falcon. He was performing magic tricks with a coin that had people gasping. He was so flamboyantly charming that it was difficult to not watch him.

It was Christmas Eve, the house packed with guests as her father, Lord Roland, hosted their annual holiday party. Red and green ribbons festooned the halls, and the stair bannisters were wrapped with pine boughs. The air smelled fragrant and enticing.

They’d invited the important neighbors, merchants, and tenants, but dozens of her friends had come from London too.

While it was a holiday party, it might end up being her betrothal party as well. Their closest neighbor, Lord Barrett, was also present and—according to her father—he would be the perfect husband for her. Though she was only eighteen, many of her classmates from school were marrying that year, and she’d convinced her father to let her join in the fun and become a bride too.

He'd insisted she was too young and should wait and grow up a bit, but she’d been too eager to begin her adult life. Lord Barrett was the premier catch on the Marriage Market, and she should have been ecstatic to hear that he was interested in her. If she simply acted like the appealing, pretty girl she was, she could win him with very little effort. But did she really want him?

He was handsome, but in a dark, severe way, and he was so old—twelve years older than she was!—and almost as old as her father. He was very much like her father too: stern in his attitudes, strict in his habits, and morally inclined in every situation.

She’d much rather have a husband like Mr. Falcon. He was slender and willowy, his body imbued with the grace of a dancer or an athlete. He was incredibly handsome too, but more like a beautiful angel who’d flown down from Heaven to grace them with his presence.

His hair was blond, and his eyes blue, so he had the traits common to most any Englishman, but his hair was a golden blond, his eyes a dazzling blue. On him, the common traits were much more striking.

His hands were splendidly intriguing, moving with a casual air that was hypnotic. As his magic trick progressed, he talked constantly too, having an innate ability to keep the spectators laughing and listening.

She thought he was her same age of eighteen or perhaps he was a bit older than that, but he had a flair and confidence she would never have dared exhibit. She didn’t realize there were men who carried on so flagrantly, and his antics had her wishing she could carry on flagrantly too.

He’d been twirling a coin, then it vanished, and he held up his palms to prove it wasn’t there.

“Where is it?” he asked, then he turned to Penny and said, “Oh! I believe I see it!”

He walked over to her and brushed his fingers under her hair to caress her ear. The bold advance was audacious, and she should have been incensed that he’d touched her, but when he pulled his hand away, the coin had reappeared.

“Lady Penny!” he said. “You’re such a scamp. Why were you hiding it from us?”

He displayed it for everyone, and the observers clapped and patted him on the back. Several of them patted Penny on the back too, as if she’d been his assistant. He winked at her, and for just an instant, it seemed as if Time stood still. Sounds faded away, and there was only dashing, brazen Simon Falcon, smiling for her alone.

“More! More!” the crowd urged.

He shrugged them off, but in an affable way. “I can’t show you all my tricks at once. You’ll stop thinking I’m interesting.”

People chuckled at that, and he sauntered away. She tried to ignore him as he left the room, but she couldn’t conceal her heightened attention. But then, all the young ladies were furtively peeking at him.

She tarried where she was until she felt she could wander off without others assuming she was following him, but she definitely was. They hadn’t met before he’d traveled to Roland for the party, and from the moment he’d arrived, she’d been enchanted.

When she finally found him, he was in a different parlor and over by the doors that led onto the verandah. He was posed there, as if he’d been waiting for her.

He noted her immediately, and he nodded pompously, as if she’d behaved exactly as he’d been expecting.

He grabbed a glass of champagne from a passing waiter, then went outside, providing a clear invitation that she should accompany him. It was chilly out on the verandah, and she didn’t dare grab a cloak. If her Aunt Millicent saw her, Penny would never be able to explain what she was doing.

But she couldn’t not join him. The temptation was impossible to resist. She hesitated for a minute, then a minute more, but she couldn’t tamp down her enthusiasm any longer than that. She flitted out too.

Initially, she couldn’t see him anywhere. She rushed over to the balustrade, and he was out in the grass, standing under a lantern in the garden, and he motioned for her to come down.

She recognized that she was perched on the edge of a significant ethical cliff. It would be wrong to go to him. He would escort her farther into the garden. They would find a secluded spot and…what?

Probably kiss, but she was so naïve that she couldn’t guess with any certainty if that was what he planned.

At school, she and her classmates had spent untold hours, fantasizing about the husbands they would eventually have. They’d been determined to be swept off their feet by Prince Charming. In reality, they’d all been high-born heiresses who were destined to wed whomever their fathers picked. The man could be old or fat or horrid, and they’d have no say in the matter.

Their marriages would be contracted to make their fathers and husbands richer, to spur the united families to new heights of power and influence. Passion and love were irrelevant, but frivolous girls could always dream.

Mr. Falcon gestured again, and he raised a brow in question. Was she coming or not?

It appeared as if he was able to read her mind, was able to understand how conflicted she was. If she took a step into the garden, she’d be crossing a line she shouldn’t cross. Then he smiled, sending her the distinct message that she’d be glad afterward.

She glanced over her shoulder, but no one was watching, and she practically ran to him. He extended his hand and clasped hold of hers. They dashed off together, heading deeper into the shadows, and they were laughing like naughty schoolchildren who’d gotten away with mischief.

They kept on until the noise from the manor faded behind them, then he guided her off the path and led her into the trees.

“You’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen,” he murmured.

She was used to those sorts of compliments. “Thank you.”

“I was positive you’d follow me out here.”

“How could you have been? I wasn’t certain myself.”

“Sparks fly when you’re near, so it indicates that the universe approves.”

“Approves of what?”

“Of our being together, silly. While I’m at Roland, I want to spend all my time with you. When can you get away?”

“To do what?”

He grinned a cocky grin. “I’ll show you once we’re alone.”

“You’re too vain by half.”

“Yes, I always have been. Where is your bedchamber located? I could sneak in later.”

She gasped. “What?”

“Does your maid sleep with you? Or will you be by yourself?”

“Yes, but it’s awfully brash of you to suppose you’d be welcome. What kind of girl do you think I am?”

“I think you’re one who will fall in love with me.”

She frowned. “This is my engagement party. You’re aware of that. I’m about to be betrothed to Lord Barrett.”

“Are you really? Can you actually picture yourself wed to him?”

“Well…yes. I imagine I can.”

He vehemently shook his head. “He’s all wrong for you, and you’d never be happy. He’s so old and dreary. Is that the type of husband you seek?”

He’d uttered so many wild statements that she felt dizzy.

“My father picked him for me,” she said.

“Just because your father picked him, that doesn’t mean it was a good choice. Your father might like him very much, but your father isn’t the one who has to climb into the marital bed with him. You need a husband who is young and exciting and who will make you smile constantly.”

“Someone like you for instance?” she warily asked.

“Yes, someone exactly like me.” He leaned in and whispered, “Where is your bedroom? I’ll meet you there after the house has quieted down for the night.”

The prospect sent a shiver of exhilaration through her innards, leaving her weak in the knees. Did men and women behave so scandalously? Was it common? Did they regularly sneak away to romp in bedrooms?

If they went to her bedchamber, she had no idea what would happen there. She’d heard plenty of rumors at school, but her fellow classmates had been as naïve as she was. They’d been guessing, sharing gossip.

There was physical conduct involved. There was occasional nudity too. Depending on a male’s amorous skills, the event could be thrilling and wonderful or embarrassing, painful, and unpleasant.

She suspected though, with Simon Falcon, it would be on the thrilling end of the scale.

Her curiosity was inflamed, and she almost agreed, but at the last second, better sense prevailed. He was cunning and seductive, and if he visited her, she had no doubt he could spur her to commit acts she shouldn’t.

It would imperil her future, so…

She had to ponder carefully. What were the benefits of a liaison? What were the risks? Was there a way to proceed, but without any genuine damage occurring?

Mr. Falcon would be at Roland for two weeks, and she couldn’t bear to not be alone with him again. Already, she felt closer to him than she’d ever been to anyone. He’d stirred the sort of avid passion every girl yearned to experience, but it had pushed her to the verge of reckless decisions, so she had to think wisely and clearly.

“You can’t come to my bedchamber,” she told him.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“I have to see you though—as often as we can manage it. Tell me you want that too.”

The moon shone down, bathing him in a silver halo of light so he looked magical and mysterious. If she was shrewd, if she was clever, might she be able to keep him for her very own? Or perhaps, could she have him for a little while?

If she had some fun before she became engaged, how could it hurt? Who would ever know?

“I want to be with you again,” she firmly declared. Of that fact, she wasn’t confused at all.

He shuddered with relief. “If you’d refused, I can’t predict what I’d have done.”

“We’ll have to be cautious.”

“Of course we will be.”

“No one can ever discover that we’re flirting.”

“It’s more than flirting,” he insisted.

“Maybe.”

“The more we dally, the more you’ll understand.”

“Tomorrow,” she said. “We’ll find an excuse to sneak off.”

“I will absolutely die a little bit until then.”

She chuckled and shook a finger in his face. “Mind your manners, Mr. Falcon, and guard your wicked tongue.”

“I never mind my manners. Haven’t you figured that out?”

Without asking, without furnishing her with a chance to decide what she’d like to have happen, he dipped down and kissed her. It was her first kiss—on Christmas Eve no less! She was so astonished that she couldn’t do anything but kiss him back.

Even though it was her very first kiss, it wasn’t awkward or strange. She joined in with incredible relish, and it seemed as if she had quite a knack for it. Or perhaps he was simply so good at it that he made it easy for her to participate.

The embrace went on forever, with neither of them disposed to call a halt. How long had she stolen away? Would she have been missed by anyone? By her Aunt Millicent most likely. If her aunt interrogated her about her lengthy absence, what excuse could she give?

Finally, he was the one to end it. He drew away and gazed down at her, his expression tender and intense. She’d never had a man look at her as he was looking, as if she was exotic and amazing and he couldn’t live without her.

Lord Barrett—her possible fiancé—had definitely never looked at her like that. In fact, he barely noticed her at all. Whenever he deigned to speak to her, he was unfailingly polite to the point of dullness. So far, he hadn’t evinced by the slightest word or deed that he found her to be exceptional. She definitely couldn’t picture him dragging her into the garden for a torrid kiss.

They were mostly strangers, and it would never have occurred to him that she might like him to exhibit a bit of passionate interest.

She, herself, hadn’t realized she’d been hoping for it, and now that she’d trysted with Mr. Falcon, how would she ever view Lord Barrett as she had previously?

Her father had insisted Lord Barrett would be the perfect husband for her, and she hadn’t doubted him. She’d accepted his opinion, as she accepted all of them. On a topic as important as matrimony, surely he knew best.

A match between them would be about land and money, but clearly, there were facets to a male-female relationship that she hadn’t considered. She felt as if Mr. Falcon had opened a door that only adults could peer through, and suddenly, she was asking herself: Why would she settle for a boring, aristocratic marriage?

The question was shocking. How could a few desperate kisses have rattled her thought processes to such a stunning degree?

He pulled her nearer so the front of her body was crushed to his. He kissed her hard, kissed her fiercely, then he said, “You’re mine now. I can’t allow Lord Barrett to have you.”

“My father might have something to say about that.”

“Bugger your father,” he crudely muttered. “If he would select such an unsuitable candidate, why would you listen to him on any topic?”

“Why indeed?” she mused.

She was anxious to escape so she could calm down, and she stepped away, but he clasped her hand in a tight grip. He was that determined to keep her with him.

“You can’t go,” he said. “Not yet.”

“I have to. My aunt will have been searching for me.”

“Let her search. I don’t care if she worries.”

“I do.” She stared at him forever, then sighed with gladness. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“You better mean it.”

“I mean it,” she responded.

“It will be Christmas Day. Will you have a gift for me to unwrap?”

“No. Will you have one for me?”

“Haven’t you figured it out?” he cockily said. “I am your Christmas gift.”

He grinned a grin she felt clear down to her toes. It rattled and excited her in equal measure, and she was so overwhelmed that she didn’t dare tarry. She couldn’t imagine what he might convince her to attempt.

She whipped away and ran to the manor, recognizing—if she didn’t force herself to part from him—she’d have dawdled in his arms all night. She continued to run until the lights from the windows in the manor illuminated the garden and she could have been observed racing toward the verandah.

She slowed and walked up the stairs and, because she couldn’t resist, she stopped and glanced back. As she’d hoped, he’d followed her to be certain she arrived safe and sound. He was down in the grass, watching from the shadows, his focus intense and riveting.

“Merry Christmas,” she mouthed to him.

He didn’t reply, but kissed his palm and sent that kiss winging to her. It was the most romantic thing she’d ever witnessed.

His expression was smug, as if telling her she’d wind up giving him whatever he sought in the end. The notion was terrifying and thrilling.

She flashed a smug expression of her own, informing him he might have met his match. Then she spun and sauntered inside, positive he would remain transfixed until she vanished in the crowd.




CHERYL HOLT delivers the thrilling and dramatic final novel in her acclaimed ALWAYS trilogy…

Rebecca Blake Carter saw her world fall apart when she was just three years old. Her parents died, and she was sent to live with her greedy, horrid relatives. They always made sure she realized she was a terrible burden, and she’s lived a true Cinderella existence. She’s constantly riveted by odd dreams that remind her of a prior period in her life, one where she was surrounded by people who loved her. Who were they? And how could she find them again?

Raven Shawcross also saw his world fall apart when he was a small boy. His father was duped in a confidence scheme, and his family ended up losing everything: their property, their reputation, their good name. His parents died of shame, and he vowed to avenge them by retrieving what was wrongly taken by their enemies. He’s spent his life, preparing for the moment when he will finally be able to deliver the justice he’s dreamed of having.

But when he meets Rebecca, he’s disturbed to find that there are other things in the world worth having besides retribution. True love just might be the best ending of all.

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24 comments :

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Enjoyed reading this snippet. Happy holidays

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  3. Wonderful. So nice reading about you and your delightful short story. Thank you. I love discovering new authors. Wishing you and yours the very best this holiday season. Merry Christmas!

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  4. I enjoyed the Christmas Story. Happy Holidays!

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  5. Loved the story. Thanks for sharing.

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  6. Enjoyed your short story! :) Thanks for sharing! Happy Holidays!

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  7. Looking forward to starting The Always Trilogy! Thank you

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  8. Hi everyone! Thank you for taking a few minutes to read my new Christmas short story. Hope you loved it! Merry Christmas, and I hope the whole month of December is fun for you and filled with great events.

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  9. I love Christmas romances and I agree that the first kiss on Christmas Eve is a perfect theme. Thanks for sharing.

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  10. Thanks for the excerpt, looking forward to reading the trilogy.

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  11. Thanks for the cute first kiss story!

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  12. Enjoyable scene, though it makes me concerned for Penny!

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  13. Love your stories! Thanks for the chance to win!

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  14. That was a fun first kiss! Love Christmas stories!

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  15. What a wonderful Christmas short story! Thanks for sharing.

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  16. Definitely a fun introduction to Simon and Penny, Cheryl! How do you choose character names? Do you use names of people you know in real life?

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  17. Hi Fedora. Thanks for your inquiry about how I pick character names. When I start a new trilogy, I spends weeks picking place names and character names. I have a "Baby Name" dictionary that I use, and I also have several pages of lists where I keep track of interesting names that I think will work in the story. I like to use interesting names, that indicate my characters' traits, but I also need them to be "time" appropriate to early-1800s where my books are usually set. It's really hard to get just the right name! I dither relentlessly over which choices are best and I'm never sure I make the right decision!

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  18. I was captivated by this series from the very first glimpse--would love to win! Best Wishes for all releases!

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  19. I really enjoyed reading this Christmas story and meeting Simon and Penny. I look forward to reading the trilogy. Thank you for sharing.
    Carol Luciano

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  20. I love Christmas romances that make my toes curl.

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  21. I love a first kiss on Christmas Eve!

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