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Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Ruined Dinner Party...with Juliana Gray and Giveaway

A Ruined Dinner Party on Christmas Eve - Juliana Gray

JULIANA GRAY is the award-winning author of the Affairs by Moonlight trilogy. Her debut, A Lady Never Lies, is a nominee for 2012 Book of the Year by RT Book Reviews. The trilogy concludes with A Duke Never Yields, which has won starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist and a 4 ½ star rating from RT. She enjoys dark chocolate, champagne, and dinner parties, and despises all forms of exercise except one.

Places to find Juliana:

How to Ruin Your Christmas Eve

An invading army of daughters, in-laws, grandchildren, and guests lay snoring in the various sumptuous bedrooms of the Duke of Olympia’s country seat––including the fair lady now asleep beside him––but the duke himself preferred to rise early on New Year’s Day.

Not wishing to disturb his mistress, who was never at her best before one o’clock in the afternoon, he found a silk dressing gown on the chair beside the bed and moved into the sitting room adjacent, where his valet, anticipating his master’s habits, had just that moment laid out a tray of steaming tea and ginger scones, along with a selection of letters in neat white envelopes. The fire was hot, the tea fragrant. Olympia settled himself in the chair next to the window, letters on lap, and turned his attention briefly to the immortal land outside.

The year of grace 1889 had arrived in giant snowdrifts, piled up against the stone walls of the castle and its outbuildings, against the trees and hillsides that undulated north and west to the sea. It had been a snowy week altogether, suitable for introspection, had His Grace been allowed a moment to himself this festive season. So bloody exhausting, being a patriarch, and yet his work was never done.

Take this pair of letters on his lap. If he opened them, he would probably find more requests for assistance, more problems to be solved, more relatives and assorted hangers-on who needed places found here and debts paid there. More damning reports from agents in various godforsaken corners of the planet.

A scheming mind could be such a curse.

He sipped his tea, set the cup down in its saucer, and sliced open the first letter with a long silver opener.

Half past eleven o’clock
Christmas Eve, 1888
Southam Castle, northern England

My dear Olympia,

You will perhaps wonder at my writing to you, of all people, at such an hour, and on a day reserved for goodwill to all mankind. The truth is, I should very much like you to arrange for the thorough and discreet murder of my entire family.

Failing that, perhaps you would be so kind as to assign me some particularly complicated mission on the far side of the world.

You chuckle, perhaps, thinking I exaggerate. I am quite serious. I arrived here at Southam Castle at noon today––the latest possible hour––and up until the last quarter mile of the final branch line, I clung illogically to the hope that my little train might plow itself into a snowdrift, from which a valiant crew might require at least three days to dig free. Alas, my hopes were crushed, the line remained clear, and I proceeded with heavy heart to the home of my father and stepmother––my half-sisters, it seemed, found pressing engagements elsewhere––to which eight surly cousins had accepted the invitation to Christmas Eve dinner.

It all began in the usual way. My father, being short of funds (if by “short” one means “entirely deficient”) laid a lean table, with only the vintage wine from some hitherto unplumbed depth of the castle catacombs to liven it up. You can imagine the result: eight surly cousins and their spouses, all hungry, all thoroughly drunk. It soon became evident that my stepmother is carrying on intrigue with at least three of them simultaneously, while my father attempted to interest the least skint among them in some sort of dodgy investment scheme, designed to run the family overdraft even further into the red. (You can imagine I kept myself as scarce as possible, lest my empty stomach and swimming head should be prevailed on to mortgage my own project, of which my father knows little, thank God and my own discretion.)

Perhaps the two of them are losing their touch, however, because neither achieved their chosen objects. We soon found ourselves alone at the table, with the bones of the roast and the dregs of the broth. Naturally, they turned on yours truly. Did you know, sir, that I am an ungrateful son, a discredit to the family title, a pretty young wastrel, and an unsociable bore, all at once? I confess I did not think it possible. I do sometimes wonder if I’m not a changeling of some kind, or perhaps it’s just a matter of having not found a single person on this earth who really comprehends me. Unless I really am nothing more than a pretty wastrel. My damned looks do have an unsettling tendency to drag me into darkness.

But I am growing maudlin. The effects of the holiday, I suppose, or my father’s wine. I apologize.

In any case, as I said before, I should much appreciate any avenue of escape your scheming brain can design for me. It is all so intolerable. Were it not for my rowing, I think I should go mad. (And rowing, as you can imagine, is quite impossible in winter.)

Yours most affectionately,

Indeed, thought the Duke of Olympia, turning the letter over and tapping it against his cheek. His eyes fell upon the other envelope, propped against the saucer, and at once a smile broke out across his face.

Half past eleven o’clock, Christmas Eve 1888
Holstein Castle
Holstein-Schweinwald-Hunhof, Germany

Uncle Darling,

I expect you will shortly be receiving a letter from my father the Prince. I beg you not to read it. I’m quite sure he will misrepresent the ENTIRE AFFAIR and cast my involvement in the WORST LIGHT POSSIBLE, as he always does. You know he has no sense of humor whatever, and ever since the death of our dear stepmother last year, it is all BROOD, BROOD, BROOD, as if he doesn’t have three perfectly charming daughters still living, who would quite like a word with him now and again, and perhaps even a sensible chat to clear the air of any silly misunderstandings.

But I digress. The gist of it is, we had a bit of a contretemps over Christmas Eve dinner tonight, and I swear vow by all that is holy I had no conception of things carrying on to such a degree, not that it was really so very bad, but as you know (and as I said before) Father has not a single iota of humor in his entire body. (Nor, I might add, does our governess Miss Dingleby, but as I understand she is a PARTICULAR FRIEND of yours, I only offer this information as a gentle hint.)

In any case, these formal court dinners are such a DREADFUL bore––I don’t think you can possibly understand how heavy a state tiara weighs down on one’s head, after several hours of wassail and whatnot––and having endured over two decades of the exact same ceremony already, I thought perhaps it was time to liven the proceedings by the slightest degree. The details aren’t all that important, really, and I assure you I procured only the finest absinthe––I made absolutely certain there was no possibility of adulteration––and yet somehow the Baroness of Schlessen-Pleissen thought it suitable to enact a form of what I believe is called the cabaret (not that I have any experience of such things) directly on Father’s lap, and progressing from there to the interesting and rather shocking abuse of a quite valuable silver candelabrum. This in itself might have been smoothed over, had not a footman elected to join her atop the table (which makes one wonder exactly how much punch is siphoned off below stairs, on the sly, and I assure you I shall make a full investigation). At any rate, the whole affair naturally descended into proper Bedlam, even though such a dismally small quantity of absinthe really can’t be blamed, unless the parties concerned consumed a shocking great GREEDY amount of punch. Which wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest, but there it is.

My dear uncle, I am beginning to think that perhaps I’m not designed by nature for the princess business. I do sometimes wonder if I’m not a changeling of some kind, or perhaps it’s just that I haven’t yet found a family or a person who understands or appreciates me. Or perhaps there’s just nothing to appreciate, after all.

In any case, I wonder if you might have need for a young woman of spirit and dash for one of your missions, or any other avenue of escape at all. It is all so intolerable. Were it not for my horses, I think I should go mad. (And riding, as you know, is nearly impossible in our winters here.)

Your loving niece,
HRH Stefanie

The Duke of Olympia held up the one letter and the other, side by side. He set them down again, drank a sip of tea, broke off a section of scone, and contemplated the neat white rectangles, the scrawling black handwriting.

“Yes,” he said, brushing the crumbs from his lap. “Yes. Yes, indeed. I wonder I didn’t think of it before.”

Three intrepid princesses find themselves targets in a deadly plot against the crown—until their uncle devises a brilliant plan to keep them safe...

Of all her sisters, Princess Stefanie is by far the least amenable to law and order, which is why she’s appalled to find herself masquerading as an unbearably drab clerk for the most honorable barrister in England. But her dull disguise turns out to have its privileges: namely, the opportunity to consort unchaperoned with her employer’s exceedingly handsome nephew, James Lambert, the Marquess of Hatherfield.

Hatherfield quickly realizes that his uncle’s spirited new clerk is, in fact, a lovely young woman of daring habits. The outwardly impeccable marquis isn’t about to reveal her deception. After all, he’s hiding a dangerous secret of his own. But when one too many escapades with the madcap princess bring Hatherfield’s troubled past to light, it is only Stefanie’s sharp wits that stand between the marquis and utter disaster, and only Hatherfield’s daring that can save the princess from the shadowy agents bent on finding her.

Purchase: | Amazon | Kindle | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository |

Click for info.

 Check out what's up for grabs.

Up For Grabs:
  • 1 copy of How to Master Your Marquis

To Enter: 
  • Please leave a comment or question for Juliana.
  • Please fill out the Rafflecopter form.

**Don't forget to enter the grand prize giveaway!

Good Luck! 

Special thanks to Juliana Gray for sponsoring this giveaway.
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  2. I love the letters! Great premise for a love match!

  3. Hi Julianna! I loved the excerpt. It sounds like a fun read. The title of your post "A Ruined Dinner Party..." made me laugh because it reminded me of a ruined dinner party that took place at my mother-in-law's place about 17 years ago. It involved my crazy Dalmatian (hey, my mother-in-law insisted that her "granddoggie" attend--not my idea!) and 2 home made apple pies. Disaster and a mess and no more invitations to grandma's house for said crazy dog.
    Anyway, congrats on the new release--it looks like I have another book on my ever-towering to-be-read pile. Have a Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year!

  4. Sounds like a great story and one I must read. Thanks

  5. Oh boy, Julianna...I can't wait to read the entire madcap story of Stefanie and James! I had a "feeling" things would liven up when the excerpt mentioned that the Duke broke out with a smile. Sounds like the Duke was a master puppeteer.heh heh Thanks so much for your lovely stories.

  6. This sounds like it would be a very fun read. I already like both James and Stefanie - they both sound so put upon by their families.

  7. These do sound amazing. I can't wait to start reading one.

  8. Sounds like a great read. Thanks for the post, I love her work.

  9. The letters sound like they add and make the book awesome. :)

  10. I loved the Affairs of Moonlight trilogy. Juliana Gray has become one of my favorite authors.

  11. Great opening for you new book. You certainly got my interest peaked.

  12. It's nice to read an excerpt of the Duke of Olympia. I grew to like his character in How to Tame your Duke and hopefully continue to like him more. I remember I hated his characters in some parts of book one. I'm getting excited for book 2!

  13. thanks for the fun post :) Congrats to Juliana on the new release!!!

  14. Squeal!!!! Oh I love how this came about!!!! I'm so excited~ That excerpt just got me running to the book store! :D

  15. Hi Juliana!

    I loved your Christmas story but then since I started reading your books when The Affairs of Moonlight Trilogy was released I've learned that you always manage to surprise me with your stories and I've learned that once I start one I won't be able to put it down until I read the very last line!

    I loved reading How to Tame a Duke and am so excited that you have the next two books in the series coming out next year with How to Master Your Marquis in January and only making us wait until June to read How to School Your Scoundrel! (PS: I love that they're already available for pre-order on Amazon!)

    Which character (whether hero, heroine or secondary character) in the series was the most fun for you to write?

  16. Looks like a great story. I love the premise of hidden princesses!

  17. Are your characters based on people you know? Especially the Duke of Olympia?

  18. I loved the first book and can't wait to read the next two.

  19. I like the book covers for your books. I enjoyed the excerpt and can't wait to read this series.
    Happy Holidays :)

  20. I really loved the excerpt!! I've got more books to add to my wish list!! Thanks!

  21. What an awesome excerpt. It makes me want to read it right now. I'll definitely be picking it up soon.

  22. I love it! That's a great lead-in to How to Master Your Marquis.

  23. LOL!! Great letters, awesome idea :D Can't wait to read this one :)

  24. Sounds and looks like a very interesting read.

  25. Loved the excerpt, can't wait to read it!

  26. What a great start to their story. AND a great way to pull a reader in to want to know about them! Thank you

  27. Beautiful letter thank you for sharing, I think I'd love to know Hatherfield <3

  28. Hi Juliana! Why did you choose to write about a Marquis? That's kind of unusual rank to write about in historical romance.

  29. I loved this thank you.

    Merry Christmas!!

  30. Wow! Talk about an attention grabbing opener! Loved it, especially how earnest Stefanie's letter was.

  31. Haha! I can see the wheels turning in the Duke's head. I can't wait to read about how they deal with each other on whatever mission they end up on.

  32. I am a huge fan of yours. Can't wait to read this new one!

  33. Looking forward to read this book.
    I enjoyed this short story :)

  34. Sounds like a great read!!
    Thanks for the chance to win!

  35. Hi Juliana, love your excerpt - can't wait to read your book! :-)

  36. thanks for the giveaway chance!

  37. Hi, Juliana! Loved the excerpt. Thanks for the giveaway!

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  38. Hi Juliana! I'm really looking forward to your new book. Merry Christmas!

  39. I love the humor in this - I'd love to read the whole thing! Merry Christmas!

  40. Fantastic excerpt, now I can't wait to find out what happens next!

  41. Thanks for the giveaway!

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  42. The book sounds wonderful.
    theresa n

  43. Such interesting interaction from these letters, I'll have to put all these stories on my TBR. Thank you. lisagk(at)