Sunday, December 23, 2018

A Historical Christmas Event with Samantha Grace

Critically acclaimed historical romance author, Samantha Grace, discovered the appeal of a great love story at the age of four, thanks to Disney’s “Robin Hood”. She didn’t care that Robin Hood and Maid Marian were cartoon animals. It was her first HEA experience, and she never wanted the warm fuzzies to end. Now that Samantha is grown, she enjoys creating her own happy-endings for characters that spring from her imagination. Publisher’s Weekly describes her stories as “fresh and romantic” with subtle humor and charm. Samantha describes romance writing as the best job ever. Part-time medical social worker, moonlighting author, and a lover of history, Samantha lives in the Midwest with her family.

Merry Christmas Eve Eve, everyone! It’s great to be back at Ramblings From This Chick for one of my favorite holiday events. Can I start with a confession? I might have made Santa’s naughty list this year when I wrote my latest story, Three Little Words—a sweet novella included in book 1 of The Duke of Danby’s Christmas anthologies.

You see, when the hero Gavin asks the heroine Victoria to marry him in the story, the proposal happens off the page. Who does that?? This is romance, for heaven’s sake! I know, I know. And now I’m afraid Santa is going to have three little words for me. LUMP. OF. COAL.

Luckily, there’s still time to salvage the situation before the elves finish packing the sleigh, and I have RFTC to thank for a second chance to make it right. I really hope this scene gets me out of trouble and brings you a little bit of cheer this holiday season.

A Yuletide I Do

Victoria sat up straighter when excited murmurs traveled the great room. She had never been to a Christmas musicale. In Nassau, there hadn’t been many opportunities for this sort of entertainment, and Victoria’s sisters had assured her that she was in for a treat tonight. The Duke of Danby often arranged for the most talented, sought-after singers and musicians to travel to Yorkshire to perform for his guests.

Along with everyone else, she craned her neck, watching the doorway. When Lord Wexlow entered the room with his younger sister Lady Sylvana on his arm, a fellow seated behind her grumbled, “How much longer must I be here? I am expected in the card room.”

A woman shushed him.

The Earl of Wexlow ignored the commotion his arrival had caused and escorted his sister to a seat on the front row. Instead of claiming the chair next to her, however, he turned on his heel and stalked from the room.

“Where is he going?” Victoria’s mother whispered close to her ear. “The musicale is about to begin.”

As if on cue, all four of Lady Sylvana’s brothers marched into the room with Lord Wexlow in the lead. Audience members turned in their seats to be the first to catch a glimpse of the performer who would delight them with her talent, but much to everyone’s confusion, no one followed in the men’s wake.

Lord Wexlow nodded toward his brothers and approached the pianoforte. He made quite the show of flipping his coattails before sitting on the bench and flexing his fingers. He aimed a grin at Lady Sylvana. “This is for you, poppet.”

The earl plunked his finger on one of the ivory keys. His brothers hummed, not one of them matching the note.

Victoria’s mother chuckled under her breath. “Oh, dear.”

When the men launched into an A cappella version of Hark! The Heralded Angels Sing, the noise was an assault to the ears. Their lack of talent didn’t deter them, however. They barreled on with the poise one would expect from a seasoned diva.

A few members of the audience chose to escape the ruckus mid-song, but more seemed to recognize the men’s intent and fully supported their efforts with vigorous applause. Lord Wexlow and his brothers were willing to look like fools in order to cheer their little sister and help her forget the heartbreak of her first love marrying someone else.

When the men forgot the words, the song came to an abrupt halt, and they dashed from the room only to return a few moments later in costume. The earl wore a gown that hung just below his knees; his breeches and stockings were visible to all. Somehow, he had procured a powdered wig, and it sat lopsided on his head as if it had been plopped there before he was pushed through the threshold. He caught the wig with both hands as it slid sideways and righted it.

And so the show progressed.

It was farcical, to say the least, but Lady Sylvana seemed delighted by her brothers’ antics. When she failed to smother her giggles whenever one of them sang off-key or butchered a beautiful piece supposedly by Mozart, the entire room burst into laughter. Clearly, none of the men had ever touched a pianoforte, much less mastered it.

When the terrible performers took their final bows, the audience humored them with a rousing ovation. Victoria was loath to admit it, but Lord Wexlow and his numbskull brothers were growing on her.

Gavin laughed as he clapped along. “That was… uh…entertaining?”

“Simply atrocious,” Victoria said agreeably. “I’m eager for an encore performance next year.”

Gavin’s smile widened. “You intend to return to Yorkshire? It is good to know the crowd hasn’t frightened you away.”

“Not even a little bit.” Danby and his kin had welcomed Victoria as if they had known her all their lives. A more gracious family could not be found.

“Will you stay a while longer to stroll through the gallery with me?” Gavin asked.

It wasn’t unusual for him to feel the need to stretch his legs after a period of sitting. Since their arrival in Yorkshire, Victoria rarely found him engaged in sedentary activity. It was a wonder he had tolerated the carriage ride from London without complaint.

“A stroll sounds lovely.”

She invited her family to join them, but each one begged off. Meredith gave her a secret wink before Gavin led her away.

“They are behaving oddly,” Victoria said, looking back over her shoulder at her sisters as she allowed Gavin to steer her toward the door. Felicity and Meredith smiled and waved. “They are acting strange, aren’t they?”

“Miss Eastland, have a care.”

She turned in time to avoid colliding with a potted tree and squeaked in surprise. Gavin chuckled and guided her toward the door with his hand on the small of her back. She melted under his palm. His touch had the power to agitate the butterflies in her stomach and fortify the bond between them.

Gavin’s conversation was as light as his touch as they headed in the direction of the Danby Castle gallery. He spoke without pause, as if he felt the need to fill the silence. Victoria didn’t mind. She preferred his smoky, smooth voice to the racket they had been subjected to the last hour. Truthfully, she favored it above all others.

He returned greetings in the corridor as they passed people he knew. Wind whipped along the outside walls of the castle, creating a low moan that seeped inside. The mournful sound might have been eerie if not for the festive atmosphere that the servants had created with their decorations. It seemed no corner of the great castle had suffered neglect. Fragrant garland draped the arched doorways and clumps of greenery tied with scarlet ribbon hung from the center of every threshold.

Victoria pointed toward one of the curious looking arrangements. “What is hanging in the doorway? Are the white berries edible?”

Gavin stopped suddenly in the corridor. “You’ve never seen mistletoe?”

“Well, no. How would I? There is nothing like it back home.”

He clicked his tongue. “You poor, poor girl. How many pleasures you have missed while you were abroad.”

“It is a plant. What kind of pleasure could one take from it?”

“You will see.” Grinning, he took her by the hand and drew her away from the gallery.

“Where are you taking me?”

His silvery blue eyes were the color of twilight in the shadowy corridor. “We need privacy if I’m going to teach you about mistletoe.”

“For a botany lesson?” Whatever was he plotting? Despite her suspicions, she readily followed him into a less travelled part of the castle.

They walked in silence. The crooning of the wind quieted as they moved deeper into the heart of the castle. Gavin stopped in front of a door and pushed it open with his shoulder. Like every other part of Danby’s home, the cozy sitting room was outfitted for the holiday with greenery and a small sprig of mistletoe hanging in the middle of the room. A fire was crackling in the hearth.

“It seems like you knew where you were taking me,” she said.

He shrugged. “Maybe.”

Her suspicions multiplied, but she said nothing. Victoria’s curiosity would always triumph over caution. “Perhaps you and my sisters drank from the same bottle,” she said. “You are behaving just as strangely as they are.”

He playfully shushed her and led her toward the mistletoe. Taking her by the shoulders, he positioned her so she was standing directly beneath it. Victoria looked up to make sure he wasn’t about to shake the plant and rain berries on her head for good luck or some such nonsense. Her worries were unfounded, however. He dropped his hands to her waist, his attention solely on her.

She heated under his scrutiny. “Well? When does the lesson begin?”

“Once I’ve had my fill of looking at you, darling.” His fingers lightly stroked her lower back, sending shivers of pleasure throughout her body.

Heavens. Even her toes tingled. Would she ever become impervious to his presence?

“Do you realize how beautiful you are?” he murmured.

How was one expected to answer such a question? She nervously swept her tongue over her lips to moisten them. His darkened eyes narrowed on her mouth. He drifted closer; his chest grazed hers. Her breath seemed loud in the empty room, and her cheeks flushed with embarrassment. She couldn’t break the spell he cast with his nearness. She never wanted to break it.

He lowered his head toward hers as she twined her arms around his neck. Their bodies created a little cocoon, his forehead resting against hers. He closed his eyes and sighed.

“You have no idea how badly I’ve wanted to be alone with you.” His cinnamon tinged breath whispered across her lips. “I’ve missed our quiet dinners together.”

“So have I, Gavin. So have I.” Her heart trembled as she realized how lost she would feel without him once Christmas passed, and she retired to the family estate alone. She linked her fingers behind his head as if she could hold on to him, longing for an eternity together.

“About that lesson on mistletoe...”

The merriment in his voice banished her worries for the moment and coaxed a smile from her. “Yes?”

The warmth of his smile spread to her heart. “Tradition dictates that any young woman who places herself beneath the mistletoe wishes for a kiss from the gentleman nearest to her.”

“You are very close,” she murmured.

“Aye, close enough to kiss you senseless.”

She laughed. The sound was low and sultry, as if it came from someone else. “It’s a little late for that, wouldn’t you agree? If I had a lick of sense, I never would have invited you to share my carriage from London or allowed you to lure me beneath the mistletoe.”

He nuzzled her cheek. “You have not pushed me away, my love. May I surmise you welcome my kiss?”

“You may surmise whatever you like, as long as you stop talking and do the deed.”

Gavin eased toward her, brushing his mouth across hers before retreating, teasing her. She growled in jest.

“I said kiss me, Gavin MacBride. Kiss me now before I kiss you.”

Before she could carry through with her threat, he held a finger to her lips. “First, I have conditions.”

She drew back, frowning. “What type of conditions? Are you creating mistletoe rules as we go?”

“I want to kiss you every night.”

She gestured to the greenery overhead. “Do you mean here under the mistletoe? Every night for how long?”

“Forever, Victoria. I want to kiss you every night for the rest of our lives.” Softly, he nipped her mouth. She inhaled, too surprised to move. “I’ve fallen in love with you.”

He kissed her again, his mouth playing over hers, coaxing. She parted her lips, allowing him to take more, but he practiced restraint. The tip of his tongue skimmed her bottom lip before he caught her top one between his. Her heart beat wildly, her blood rushing in her ears. She could barely catch her breath to utter, “Are you offering marriage?”

He jerked back as if she had bitten him. “Yes, Victoria. I would never—”

“I know. I’m sorry.” She caught his hands before he withdrew from her. “You are an honorable man. I only meant to clarify. A misunderstanding of such magnitude would be embarrassing, for both of us.”

“Of course, I understand. I realize I haven’t much to offer,” he barreled on with an uncertain furrow forming between his russet brows, “but a few of Danby’s acquaintances have promised to commission me in the spring, and the duke believes the castle needs a second wedding chapel.”

“Oh, my! It sounds like His Grace is already matchmaking for next year.”

“Yes,” Gavin said. “He wishes for me to begin drafting after Christmas. By late summer, I will be in a position to support you. I’m afraid it will mean a longer betrothal.”

She ached to smooth away the ridge marring his handsome brow and erase his worries. Her inheritance meant nothing if she couldn’t share it with the man she loved. Furthermore, she didn’t require a caretaker; she never had. Gavin had been her partner from the start when they’d set off to rescue their damsel, and he would be her partner until the end.

She sighed and slowly shook her head. “I’m afraid asking me to wait until summer to become a wife is unfair.”

“No, I see how that is asking a lot.” He swallowed hard and dropped his hands from her waist. The glimmer in his beautiful blue eyes dimmed before he looked away. “Perhaps you will receive a better offer.”

“Oh, Gavin! Don’t be ridiculous.” She threw her arms around his neck again, drawing him close. “How could you ever believe I would want anyone except you? Don’t you realize I love you, too?”

That crooked grin that had won her heart spread across his face. “Is that a yes, Victoria? Will you marry me?”

“Yes, yes. I don’t know how else to say it. Now, kiss me properly before I become very cross with you.”

He caught her around the waist and tugged her against his chest. She sank into him as his mouth claimed hers. Her heart had found a home at last.

Disheartened but not defeated, Gavin MacBride temporarily abandons plans for restoring the family coffers to escort his sister-in-law’s long-lost relative to Yorkshire for a reunion. Gavin might have failed to secure funds to ensure his family’s future prosperity, but surely, he can deliver a young woman to Danby Castle in one piece.

Heiress Victoria Eastland isn’t making his job easy, though, especially when she sets off for Yorkshire alone. With no carriages for hire at the local coaching inn, Gavin is resigned to give chase on horseback in inclement weather, but a Good Samaritan takes pity on Gavin and invites him to share his coach. Soon, the newfound friends are led on a merry chase that ends with a bold rescue and an unexpected discovery. The outspoken, foolishly brave Miss Eastland has been under Gavin's nose the whole time—and a little too close when one is unprepared to lose his heart.

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  1. Happy Holidays to all!
    Kate Sparks.

  2. What an awesome lesson! Can’t wait to read the story.

  3. I loved the excerpt. Thanks for the chance to win.

  4. Beautiful cover. Thank you for the chance to win your book.

  5. Sounds like a great read. Love the cover

  6. Enjoyed the scene! Will look out for the book.

  7. Thanks for the scene, Merry Christmas!

  8. I love this scene! Thank you for sharing it with us!

  9. Great scene. Thanks for sharing. Merry Christmas!

    1. Thank you! It's always fun to share what I've written with others. It's kind of a gift to myself. :)

  10. I love your books. Can't wait to read this one. Merry Christmas!

    1. Thank you, Suzannah! Merry Christmas to you, too, and a Happy New Year! :)

  11. Replies
    1. Ooh, that's a hard question, Bonny. I have a couple on my keeper shelf. My favorite novel is probably I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb. My favorite women's fiction aka chick lit book is Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella. My favorite historical romance is probably Yours Til Dawn by Teresa Medeiros. What about you? What's your favorite book? :)

  12. Merry Christmas Samantha! Love this excerpt!

  13. I enjoy reading "road" romances. I'll be looking for this one. Thanks, Samantha.

  14. Merry Christmas 🎄💗!
    Definitely no lump of coal for you !😁💗!

  15. I loved this story and this excerpt makes it even sweeter!