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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A Historical Christmas Event with Katharine Ashe

Katharine Ashe is the USA Today bestselling, award winning author of historical romances reviewers call “intensely lush” and “sensationally intelligent,” including The Duke, one of Amazon’s Best Romances of 2017. A professor of history and popular culture, she writes romance because she thinks modern readers deserve grand adventures and breathtaking sensuality too. 
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With her reputation in tatters, and vowing to mend her scandalous ways, Lady Iona McCall settles in for a cozy celebration at a friend’s Christmas house party full of married couples and children. But when a gorgeously foreign and intriguingly elusive bachelor appears at the castle, will Iona surrender to the temptation to seduce him, and get the quick satisfaction she craves? Or will she let the magic of the season and an extraordinary gentleman show her a new and deliciously divine sort of love?

The Gift came to me as I was writing my novel I Adored a Lord. Lady Iona, who becomes close friends with the heroine of that story, was so full of life that right then I promised to give her a happily-ever-after of her own. And I already knew the perfect man for the job. I’ve been longing to write this story forever, and this year I’m finally doing so. This scene below is Part 3 of The Gift. You can find Parts 1 and 2 in my e-newsletter here and here

PART 3 of The Gift

Iona had seen it happen before. Many times.

Typically it went thus: A young gentleman arrived at the party. He saw her. He liked what he saw. When introduced, he offered a gorgeous bow and probably flattery. Perhaps they danced, or he fetched refreshment for her, or he offered his arm to take her in to the dining room, the garden, the exhibition, the box at the theater.

Later, a companion or a gossip told him about her. About her reputation.

At that moment the scenario always followed one of two well-trodden paths: The gentleman waited until the moment she was alone in some private place, and then swiftly made his intentions clear, usually with his hands. Or he avoided her like the scrofula, pretending thereafter that they had never spoken, that they had not danced, that he had not begged for her attention with pretty words and gallantries.

Friendships with women always traveled the second path. Except for Ravenna Courtenay, whose heart was too full of love to judge anybody harshly, Iona had grown accustomed to it.

This, however, had never happened.

From across the room, sitting before the hearth, the Earl of Bedwyr and his cousin Lord Christos had been studying her throughout the game of Snap-dragon. Finally, the earl obviously said something about her to Lord Christos — something that caused the handsome young lord to turn his gaze away from her and lift a brow at the other man.

Yet the duke’s younger brother, who dressed with European style and spoke with an accent more French than English, did not leer at her or turn up his nose. Instead, Lord Christos offered her a smile, neither lascivious nor stiff, simply a smile, an almost sweet smile. Unfolding his lean, graceful limbs from the chair, he came toward her.

In the midst of everybody — her friends, his family, the children — he walked directly to her.

Apparently there was a third path she hadn’t known about. Not, at least, in a long, long time.

“My lady,” he said, the lovely baritone spilling through her senses like the strong spirits she was imbibing one raisin at a time. “You have made this game appear so delightful, I am captivated by it.”

“Captivated by it?” Nobody else was listening. Throughout the evening, conversation had bubbled louder with strong wine and even stronger affection. And the children and dogs were respectively squealing in joy and barking in excitement sufficient to bring down the castle. Iona needn’t pretend demureness, and certainly not beneath the beautiful gaze of this man.

“Show me,” he only said, quietly.

It took her a breathless moment to realize that he actually wanted her to teach him the game.

“We dinna play this in Scotland. I’ve ne’er done it afore tonight,” she added, words which she had never once said to an attractive young man.

He smiled.

Iona’s belly did a series of delectable pirouettes.

“Children!” the duchess called to the little ones, holding out her hands for them to latch onto. “Nurse is ready for you.”

When the children had gone to bed, the earl said, “Now the game can be played as it should be: in darkness.”

“So that we will all appear as demons when the blue flames shine up onto our faces?” Ravenna said. Bending over the bowl, she made her eyes wide and rolled them dramatically.

Ravenna had been Iona’s dearest friend for several years. This was the first of Ravenna’s family parties, however, that Iona had attended without her mother. Ravenna had convinced her that, rather than remain alone in London for Christmas, she must come to Combe Park where her entire family would celebrate the holiday.

At that time Iona had not known that Ravenna’s entire family included a young bachelor with a jaw like sculpted marble and eyes like emeralds.

She had never given Ravenna any reason to feel shame about their friendship. But a lass could only feast her eyes on so much virile temptation before she started craving a taste of it too.

“Demons indeed,” he said in a tone that made Iona hot in all the best places. “An ideal game, it seems.”

The lamps were dimmed, the candelabra were doused, and the room fell dark save for the golden-red flames from the hearth and the blue fire dancing upon the surface of the bowl of brandy.

Ravenna showed Lord Christos how to most effectively snatch up the plump raisins.

“You see, Christos,” Ravenna said blithely, “to enjoy the sweetest fruit one cannot fear getting singed.”

He looked up from the bowl and directly at Iona.

* * *

When the fire in the bowl petered out and the lamps were relit, and glasses of brandy replaced the raisins, the party settled in to adult conversation. Ravenna’s family and friends were precisely the sort of company Iona most cherished on a cold winter’s night: clever and informed and as eager for light amusements as sober debate. Lady Rowdon traded quips with Father Stuart; the duke discussed politics with Mr. Wolfe and Lord Courtenay; and the earl amused Ravenna’s sisters and silver-haired Sir Beverly with stories of his and the duke’s misspent youth.

“But you had two cousins,” Iona said to the earl, sliding the tip of her finger around the rim of her glass as she looked at Lord Christos. “Were you such a properly behaved lad, my lord, that your cousin has no tales to tell o’ your misadventures too?”

“In truth, my lady, I’ve little memory of my childhood. And what I do recall of it does not bear telling.”

“I am delighted to supply you with anecdotes about the best parts of it, Christos,” the earl said lightly. “Lucien,” he called over to the duke. “Do you remember that Christmas you stole the Duchess of Hammershire’s perfume and spilled it all over your father’s favorite spaniel?”

“As I recall,” the duke said, “I did the stealing only.”

“Once a pirate,” his duchess said fondly.

“Cam poured it on the dog,” the duke said. “He said the bitch pleased everybody a great lot more than Her Grace of Hammershire so she may as well smell as fine.”

“Outrageous,” Ravenna exclaimed, stroking the giant shaggy white head of her own dog. “Perhaps I will pour a bottle of perfume on you, sir,” she said to the earl, “and see how you like it.”

“I think I should like it excessively, my dear lady, but only if you were to do it as though I were a dog that needed washing.”

In the midst of the laughter, Lord Christos came to his feet with silent grace.

“Arabella,” he said to the duchess and bowed elegantly. “Mesdames et Messieurs, the road from Calais today was lengthy. I must bid you good night.”

After fond goodnights, the party fell again into conversation. Stomach in knots, Iona watched him go and knew she had caused it. Until she had asked him about his childhood, except for that moment at the brandy bowl, he had seemed so at ease, so content.

When the duchess went to the piano to play, the duke rose to refill glasses, and the singing of carols commenced, Iona slipped out of the room.

He was waiting for her.

Men had waited for her in shadows so often that it did not surprise her. Still, the tingles in her belly since he had come to her at the brandy bowl now dulled.

She had thought perhaps he was different. She had hoped.

Leaning against the wall in shadows on the broad staircase that led up to the second story, when he saw her he did not immediately come forward but waited until she neared. Then he pushed away from the tapestry hanging there all red and gold and green, and met her not a foot away.

“What did the earl tell you about me?” she said, because for once she wished to know. She must understand how much of his disgust or lust would be based on reality. “About my reputation?”

“Much like the uninteresting stories of my childhood, it does not bear repeating.” He moved closer yet, filling her vision with his chiseled beauty. “You needn’t apologize for asking me what you did.”

“How do you suppose I’ve come after you to apologize?”

“You’ve the most guileless eyes, every shade of emotion clear for a man to read—affection, pleasure, surprise, distress.” His voice had grown rough. “Desire.”

“’Tis surely the pot callin’ the kettle black.” Inches separated them only. The lean, muscular lines of his body beckoned. She wanted to know that body. She wanted to know him, more and more each moment, as he seemed already to know her.

“Perhaps.” His eyes smiled like sunshine in winter. Like coming home.

Her heartbeats were raucous.

“Forgive me,” rushed from her lips, though she did not quite know for what she was asking forgiveness.

“Never,” he said, his gaze traveling over her features slowly, hungrily, but with no hunger she had ever seen in a man’s eyes before. “We will not begin this with apologies, rather with promises.”


“You are exquisite.” He lifted a hand and his fingertips touched her, light yet intentional, resting upon her jaw. “This face,” he said. “These expressive eyes. This glorious form.” His gaze slipped downward. “This intoxicating laughter.” A single fingertip caressed her throat. “I am, it seems, intoxicated.”

Her breaths stuttered beneath his touch.

“What promise will you be givin’ me, then?”

“The promise,” he said huskily, bending his head, “of a gentleman.”

She tilted her face upward to bring her lips closer to his. “What if I’d rather have the promise of a scoundrel?”

“You shan’t have it.” From an inch away his words brushed warmth over her lips.

She inhaled his scent of pine and snow from the journey that had brought him here. “Then what?”

“The promise I give you, Lady Iona McCall, is this.” Her name upon his tongue sounded like an enchantment, the shadows wrapping around them glittering all sorts of possibilities. “You will offer,” he said, “and I will resist.”

She barely breathed. “I will offer?”

“Are you not doing so now?”

“Aye,” she admitted because with him she wanted only honesty. “Yet you will resist?”

“I will . . .” he murmured. “Resist.” And their lips met.

The kiss was soft, warm, perfect — perfect. The gentlest caress. The most fleeting pleasure.

And over before she could even respond.

“’Twasn’t enough,” she whispered.

“Yet all I can handle,” he said gorgeously low.

Flattening her palm on his chest, Iona pushed onto her tiptoes and pressed her lips to his.

This time his fingers spread, his hand wrapping around her jaw, drawing her up, and he bent into her. Their lips connected fully, deeply, entirely. Then again. Then longer, parting. Hunger spun through her. Her fingers curled into him.

Breaking away abruptly, he released her.

She fell back onto her heels, heaving in a great lungful of air.

“Fine resistin’ there, my lord.”

“Your voice is quivering.” The emeralds were fever bright. “That was all you can handle too.”

Smoothing her hair with both palms, she pinned her attention to the place on his chest where she had felt taut muscle and the hard, quick beats of his heart.

“Do you imagine you’ll be resistin’ again any time soon? A lass likes to make plans for these things, you see.”

He laughed softly. “Tomorrow. Ride with me.”

Her gaze shot up to his face.

“Horses, my lady.”

Horses. He wanted to actually ride horses with her. He was offering her a perfectly regular diversion, as though she weren’t what everybody called her behind her back: a penny jo dressed in diamonds and lace.

Biting her smile to hide the wild surge of pleasure inside her, she pivoted about and started up the stairs.

“Will you be resistin’ as successfully tomorrow too?” she threw over her shoulder, a little lightheaded, as she hadn’t been in years.

“Probably as well as tonight, I suspect.” There was pleasure in his voice.

She glanced back and he was watching her from below. He bowed beautifully, and warmth spread through every bit of her.

“Hurry now,” he said, “before I break my promise.” But he was smiling.

She went to her bedchamber — astonishingly, wonderfully alone — climbed beneath the soft covers, and dreamed of a chiseled jaw, tender kisses, and Christmas magic to come.

The Lady Authors are back, this time with a sparklingly sexy Christmas anthology, At the Christmas Wedding, including Katharine’s novella “Snowy Night With a Duke”:

The last time Lady Charlotte Ascot bumped into the Duke of Frye, she climbed a tree to avoid him. Sometimes it’s simply easier to run away than to face her feelings for him! Now, on her way to Kingstag Castle to celebrate the holidays with friends, Charlotte is trapped by a snowstorm at a tiny country inn with the duke of her steamy dreams. But Frye has a secret of his own, and Christmas is the ideal time to finally tell the woman he’s always wanted the whole unvarnished truth. Better yet, he’ll show her…

Purchase: | Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo |

Check out the Devil's Duke series:

Up For Grabs:
  • 1 Kindle copy of At the Christmas Wedding

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  1. Sounds like a sweet romance! I would love to read more. Thanks for the chance and Happy Holidays to you!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Thanks for inviting me to your party, Danielle! It's always so lovely to be with you. Wishing you and your readers a joyful holiday season!


  4. Sounds lovely. I'd love to keep reading more. :)
    Wishing Happy Holidays to everyone.
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

  5. I have this book but just have not had a chance to read! I know it will be wonderful!