This collection of Regency Holiday shorts has one rainbow couple among the men and women searching for love, and that’s Artemis. 🙂 Jessica is also donating 25% to Equality North Carolina.
Holly and Hopeful Hearts
Genre: Regency romance, historical romance, holiday romance
Heat rating: G-PG13
ABOUT HOLLY AND HOPEFUL HEARTS
When the Duchess of Haverford sends out invitations to a Yuletide house party and a New Year’s Eve ball at her country estate, Hollystone Hall, those who respond know that Her Grace intends to raise money for her favorite cause and promote whatever marriages she can. Eight assorted heroes and heroines set out with their pocketbooks firmly clutched and hearts in protective custody. Or are they?
A Suitable Husband , by Jude Knight
As the Duchess of Haverford’s companion, Cedrica Grenford is not treated as a poor relation and is encouraged to mingle with Her Grace’s guests. Perhaps among the gentlemen gathered for the duchess’s house party, she will find a suitable husband?
Marcel Fournier has only one ambition: to save enough from his fees serving in as chef in the houses of the ton to become the proprietor of his own fine restaurant. An affair with the duchess’s dependent would be dangerous. Anything else is impossible. Isn’t it?
Valuing Vanessa, by Susana Ellis
Facing a dim future as a spinster under her mother’s thumb, Vanessa Sedgely makes a practical decision to attach an amiable gentleman who will not try to rule her life.
The last thing widower George Durand thinks he wants is another wife, but his difficult daughter is proving difficult to handle. In any case, the admirable Miss Sedgely is far too young for him.
A love match is not even a remote consideration for these two. Or is it?
A Kiss for Charity, by Sherry Ewing
Young widow Grace, Lady de Courtenay, has no idea how a close encounter with a rake at a masquerade ball would make her yearn for love again. Lord Nicholas Lacey is captivated by a lovely young woman he encounters at a masquerade. Considering the company she keeps, she might be interested in becoming his mistress. From the darkened paths of Vauxhall Gardens to a countryside estate called Hollystone Hall, Nicholas and Grace must set aside their differences in order to let love into their hearts.
Artemis, by Jessica Cale
Actress Charlotte Halfpenny is in trouble. Pregnant, abandoned by her lover, and out of a job, Charlotte faces eviction two weeks before Christmas. When the reclusive Earl of Somerton makes her an outrageous offer, she has no choice but to accept. Could he be the man of her dreams, or is the nightmare just beginning?
The Bluestocking and the Barbarian, by Jude Knight
James must marry to please his grandfather, the duke, and to win social acceptance for himself and his father’s other foreign-born children. But only Lady Sophia Belvoir makes his heart sing, and to win her he must invite himself to spend Christmas at the home of his father’s greatest enemy.
Sophia keeps secret her tendre for James, Lord Elfingham. After all, the whole of Society knows he is pursuing the younger Belvoir sister, not the older one left on the shelf after two failed betrothals.
Christmas Kisses, by Nicole Zoltack
Louisa Wycliff, Dowager Countess of Exeter wants only for her darling daughter, Anna, to find a man she can love and marry. Appallingly, Anna has her sights on a scoundrel of a duke who chases after every skirt he sees. Anna truly thinks the dashing duke cares for her, but her mother has her doubts.
When Lady Exeter insists on Anna befriending a marquis’s son, a man Anna thinks is far too crude, Anna learns all about the trials her mother went through to find love herself. Only time will tell if Anna can find true love this Christmas season.
An Open Heart, by Caroline Warfield
Esther Baumann longs for a loving husband who will help her create a home where they will teach their children to value the traditions of their people, but she wants a man who is also open to new ideas and happy to make friends outside their narrow circle. Is it so unreasonable to ask for toe curling passion as well?
Adam Halevy prospered under the tutelage of his distant cousin, powerful banker Nathaniel Baumann. He’s ready to find a suitable wife, someone who understands a woman’s role, and will make a traditional home. Why is Baumann’s outspoken, independent daughter the one woman who haunts his nights?
Dashing Through the Snow, by Amy Rose Bennett
Miss Kate Woodville, teacher and bluestocking, enjoys her independence, thank you very much. But when a very determined viscount insists she accompany him on a mad dash through the snow to Gretna Green to stop his younger sister, Violet, eloping with Kate’s own brother, she has little choice but to go. She’ll risk the ruin of her own pristine reputation if it means she can save Freddie from Lord Stanton’s wrath.
As they race along the road north and then back to Hollystone Hall in Buckinghamshire for a New Year’s Eve charity ball, hearts and wills are certain to collide. But will anyone—Freddie and Violet, or Kate and Lord Stanton—find the path to everlasting love?
BUY LINKS for HOLLY AND HOPEFUL HEARTS
Amazon US: http://ow.ly/INwa3049Ey3
Amazon UK: http://ow.ly/ZMuH3049ELM
Barnes & Noble: http://ow.ly/LqCI304jGuS
PAGE COUNT: 578 pages on Kindle
ABOUT THE BELLES
The Bluestocking Belles, the “BellesInBlue”, are seven very different writers united by a love of history and a history of writing about love. From sweet to steamy, from light-hearted fun to dark tortured tales full of angst, from London ballrooms to country cottages to the sultan’s seraglio, one or more of us will have a tale to suit your tastes and mood. Come visit us at http://bluestockingbelles.net and kick up your bluestockinged heels!
BLUESTOCKING BELLES ON THE WEB: Look for us online…
Website and home of the Teatime Tattler: http://bluestockingbelles.net
Amazon Author page: www.amazon.com/author/BellesInBlue
The Bluestocking Belles proudly support the Malala Fund charity. You can find out more on our website: http://bluestockingbelles.net/belles-joint-projects/the-bellesinblue-support-the-malala-fund/
About Amy Rose Bennett
Amy Rose Bennett has always wanted to be a writer for as long as she can remember. An avid reader with a particular love for historical romance, it seemed only natural to write stories in her favorite genre. She has a passion for creating emotion-packed—and sometimes a little racy—stories set in the Georgian and Regency periods. Of course, her strong-willed heroines and rakish heroes always find their happily ever after.
About Jessica Cale
Jessica Cale is the award-winning author of the historical romance series, The Southwark Saga. Originally from Minnesota, she lived in Wales for several years where she earned a BA in History and an MFA in Creative Writing while climbing castles and photographing mines for history magazines. She kidnapped (“married”) her very own British prince (close enough) and is enjoying her happily ever after with him in North Carolina. Visit her history blog at www.dirtysexyhistory.com.
About Susana Ellis
Susana has always had stories in her head waiting to come out, especially when she learned to read and her imagination began to soar.
A former teacher, Susana lives in Toledo, Ohio in the summer and Florida in the winter. She is a member of the Central Florida Romance Writers and the Beau Monde chapters of RWA and Maumee Valley Romance Inc.
About Sherry Ewing
Sherry Ewing picked up her first historical romance when she was a teenager and has been hooked ever since. A bestselling author, she writes historical and time travel romances to awaken the soul one heart at a time.
About Jude Knight
Jude Knight writes stories to transport you to another time, another place, where you can enjoy adventure and romance, thrill to trials and challenges, uncover secrets and solve mysteries, and delight in a happy ending.
A late starter, she now has the wind in her sails and a head full of strong determined heroines, heroes with the sense to appreciate them, and villains you’ll love to loathe.
About Caroline Warfield
Traveler, poet, librarian, technology manager—award winning author Caroline Warfield has been many things (even a nun), but above all she is a romantic. Having retired to the urban wilds of eastern Pennsylvania, she reckons she is on at least her third act, happily working in an office surrounded by windows while she lets her characters lead her to adventures in England and the far-flung corners of the British Empire. She nudges them to explore the riskiest territory of all, the human heart.
About Nicole Zoltack
Nicole Zoltack loves to write romances. When she’s not writing about gentlemen and their ladies, knights, or superheroes, she spends time with her growing family. She enjoys riding horses (pretending they’re unicorns, of course!) and visiting the PA Renaissance Faire. She’ll also read anything she can get her hands on.
A Suitable Husband, by Jude Knight
Mademoiselle Grenford looked up as he approached, tipping her head a little to one side as she waited for him to speak.
“May I have the honor of this dance, fair shepherdess?” he asked.
She furrowed her brows for the briefest of seconds. “I do not dance, sir, but I will find you a partner—”
“Not dance? When your costume is made to swirl on the dance floor, and the music begs—nay, demand—for you to pay homage?” A slip there. He had pronounced homage in the French way.
Her eyes widened, but she said nothing, merely—oh joy—placed her gloved hand in his and allowed herself to be conducted through the doors to join the waltz.
They began slowly, his hands resting tentatively just above her waist, and hers placed lightly on his shoulders. He honoured the respectable distance due to a maiden, but as they began to circle one another in the dance, his legs shifted past hers and could not avoid repeated touching.
Turn, turn, and turn again. The candles of the chandeliers seemed to whirl above them, the other dancers disappeared, and he and Mademoiselle Grenford were alone in the ballroom. She swayed and dipped and twirled with him, light as a feather but far more substantial, a delight to his hands, his arms, and his legs.
Her eyes fixed on his, her face flushed, she murmured, “Monsieur Fournier, what are you doing here?”
It was a dose of cold water, jerking him back to reality. Would she rebuke him? Tell the duchess?
“One dance,” he managed, almost begged. “I promised not to importune you, mademoiselle, but I thought… In costume, no one would know if I stole one dance.”
Somehow, his feet kept moving, they kept dancing, round and round and round, their legs shifting past each other’s again and again, their eyes still locked.
She smiled, a benison beyond his deserving. “This dance is not a theft, monsieur, when I give it willingly.”
He was in heaven. He was no longer dancing; he was floating several inches about the ballroom floor. She knows me even in my disguise. She dances with me willingly.
His heart was too full for speech, and she said nothing more as they continued around the floor, oblivious to everything except the music and one another.
Marcel stepped back when the music ended, dropping his hands from her waist to her hands, unable to resist touching her for a moment more. “Thank you, mademoiselle. Thank you more than I can say. I will leave now, but you have given me food for many happy dreams.”
“No.” Mademoiselle Grenford folded her fingers around his and tugged him to follow her. By chance, they had stopped at the most poorly lit end of the ballroom, close to the corner where a door let on to a servant’s passage, and it was to this she marched determinedly, with Marcel bobbing after in her wake.
No. Not that door. She was opening a door onto the terrace, and in moments, they were outside.
“I do not want it to end,” she said. “Will you not consent to sit and talk with me for a little?”
Consent? Did she not know he would consent to the guillotine for her sake?
Valuing Vanessa, by Susana Ellis
“Are you certain it is not an imposition, Miss Sedgely? Because I shouldn’t mind showing the ladies around myself, in Mrs. Seavers’s absence.”
Vanessa’s chin rose as she directed a firm gaze at the institution’s housekeeper. “I assure you there is no imposition whatsoever, Mrs. Barnes. I shall be pleased to guide the ladies on their tour this morning, as Matron directed.”
Mrs. Barnes flushed. Obviously she considered the task her own prerogative, but Vanessa had not taken the trouble to get the hospital matron out of town just to be foiled by the housekeeper.
“But what about your class, Miss Sedgely? The children do so look forward to them! Why, they will be exceedingly disappointed to miss them today.” She leaned in closer, her eyes gleaming. “I hear that little Willie had prepared a special passage to read for you. He is quite partial to you, you know.”
Vanessa refused to allow herself to be diverted, in spite of the tiny twinge of guilt she felt deep inside. “My maid has agreed to take my classes for today. She has assisted me previously, you know, and thus is well-known to the children.”
She gave a curt nod to the housekeeper, who took it as the dismissal it was meant to be, and walked out of the room.
The Board of Governors were conducting a meeting in a quarter hour’s time, and Vanessa had taken great pains to find a reason to be lingering in the foyer as the gentlemen arrived. It was Mr. George Durand she wished to encounter, of course. During the week since the masquerade at Vauxhall, she had unearthed a great deal of information about the attractive gentleman.
George William Durand was the grandson of a viscount, his late father being the younger son, who had made law his profession. Durand’s cousin William had become the 4th Viscount Faringdon five years ago following his father’s death, and he had four healthy sons to follow him, which meant the title was unlikely to fall to George. George had followed his father into the law profession, although interestingly, he had briefly studied landscape gardening with one of Capability Brown’s former associates. That ended after his marriage, however, when young George set himself to becoming a successful solicitor like his father. His wife, Geneviève d’Aumale, was a French émigrée, the daughter of a comte who had lost his head on the Place de la Concorde at the hands of revolutionaries. She, her sister Juliette, and their mother the comtesse had lost their lives in a carriage accident which had arisen from an attack of highwaymen.
So dreadful. Life was so ephemeral. In a matter of minutes, three ladies’ lives had been snuffed out in such a horrific manner, leaving their husbands to bear the loss as best they could. And their adolescent daughters, of course. Both Durand and Lord Nicholas had daughters, approximately the same age. And perhaps not surprisingly, both had been residing with relatives since the tragedy. Men were notoriously helpless when it came to their maturing daughters. But in retrospect, Vanessa thought it rather pitiable that the girls had effectively lost both parents in that one disastrous moment.
One thing was certain, however. A well-off gentleman with a near-grown daughter was clearly in need of a wife. And Vanessa thought she might suit this one very well indeed.
A Kiss for Charity, by Sherry Ewing
Arms of steel wrapped around her waist to prevent her downward pitch. Her rescuer’s cape whirled around their bodies as though the cloak itself would conceal them from the night and those around them. Fathomless dark eyes were all but hidden in the black mask that concealed his features, yet, a flicker from the walkway lanterns hinted at their color. His eyes were brown, much like his hair, she surmised, if the curls that formed around the edges of his hat and mask were any indication.
Grace gasped as he quickly maneuvered her off the pathway to save them from being run over by the eagerness of the crowd. She shivered, but not from the cold for she was far from chilled. No. She quivered from the warmth that raced up and down her spine at being this close to a man, let alone held intimately for the first time in many years.
“Are you hurt, my lady?”
His deep voice went straight to her heart. His low tone plummeted down to reach into the very depths of her soul to awaken a part of her that had been left dormant as though she had been waiting for him her entire life. Waiting… yes she had been waiting for someone to come along who would give her this sudden feeling of completeness, even though he was a total stranger.
The realization of what she was doing hit her as if a bucket of icy water had been thrown over the top of her head. He was asking her something, but her brain could not wrap itself around what he had inquired.
“Pardon me?” she asked in a breathy whisper of astonishment, especially when she realized she had been caressing the lapel of his jacket beneath his cloak.
His arm tightened around her. She watched in mild fascination as one side of his mouth turned up in a cocky grin. He knew exactly how her body was reacting to their close proximity.
“I asked if you were hurt, although I might also beg for an introduction.”
“I h-hardly think this en-encounter is a-appropriate,” Grace stammered. Was that actually her voice sounding so unsure of herself?
He leaned down, and, for an instant, she thought he was about to kiss her.
“How utterly charming that I have you all tongued-tied.” His words whispered gently in her ear were almost her undoing.
Before she could comment, Moriah’s voice was heard above the noise of the crowd, and she quickly untangled herself from the man who did nothing to hide his disappointment.
“There you are,” Moriah declared as she stared up at the stranger. Grace could only imagine what was going on inside her friend’s mind, given their recent conversation. “I am sorry I lost you. Are you all right?”
Grace nodded. “Yes… of course. Thank you, sir, for your assistance this evening,” she murmured shyly to the gentleman whose lips turned up into a charming grin.
He raised his fingers to tip his hat towards her. “It was my pleasure to rescue a fair damsel in distress.”
Her eyes followed him through the crowd until he disappeared. Her heart hammered in her chest. What in the world had just happened?
Artemis, by Jessica Cale
“There are two ways to look at everything.” Charlotte paused for dramatic effect, curling blue fingers over the side of the bridge. “All beginnings are endings in disguise. Place of arrival or means of escape; will I find my end at the bottom, or fall clear through the other side?”
The wind swallowed her famous voice and carried it away, taking the last thing she had of any value. It was the ice in the air that had caused her voice to shake, she reasoned. She was far too cold to feel the fear lurking in her heart, insulated as it was by dread and resignation. It was too dark to see anything but a great growling blackness over the side, but the smell assured her she had reached the right place.
“It’s only a river,” she reassured herself, though the observation brought her little comfort. Ravenous beast or churning waves, it would swallow her just the same. “Would it be better to drown or be devoured?”
She turned to face her audience, but they paid her no mind. Not ten paces away, they shuffled their wings, dark feathers gleaming in the moonlight like polished knives as they pecked at a murky spot beyond. The play had been over perhaps an hour, and now she couldn’t even command the attention of crows.
Her laugh brought a welcome puff of warmth to her lips as she turned toward the river once again. The night was worse than cold, it was merciless, and it carried with it a dampness that seeped into her every pore, chilling her to her bones and invading her weary heart. Perhaps she would freeze before she could drown.
The bridge was as famous as she was, a dubious honor. The fastest way between London and the poorest boroughs to the south, the city’s whores frequently threw themselves off of it as they returned home from long days servicing the wealthier streets in rented gowns and sagging feathers. It got them all, in the end. Perhaps it was not the easiest way to go, but it was there. Living the way they did, all that silver had to look tempting from time to time.
What was an actress but a whore? Her father, a playwright, loved his quill to distraction but had nothing but disdain for the painted players who brought his words to life. The last time she had spoken to him, he’d asked her that very question and Charlotte, in her wisdom, had asked him why he had married one.
“Prescient as ever, Father,” she addressed his memory, straddling the railing of the bridge, the only barrier between her sort and their inevitable end. She didn’t want to die, but what choice did she have? Cast out by her lover and sacked by her theater, she had no family, no income, no future. All she had was an expanding belly and a week to vacate her ex-lover’s rooms.
“A week until Christmas,” she muttered. “Prick.”
She didn’t kid herself she’d be able to get back onstage after the baby came. After ten good years of drawing crowds, she was already being replaced by younger, fresher women, actresses from the country who couldn’t enunciate if she took their jaws into her own hands and moved their lips herself, but didn’t London love a new face? She’d passed for twenty-two for years now, but it was only a matter of time until someone remembered she’d been nineteen ten years ago. Christ.
Before long, she’d be little more than a buttock broker’s bunter. If her child survived, it would be destined for the workhouse.
That was not something she could abide.
“Wesley Thomas Cheltenham Sneed,” she seethed, searching her overdeveloped imagination for a curse befitting the man who had abandoned her, noble by birth if not character.
She let out a long sigh. There was no point to it.
She had met his betrothed. He deserved precisely what he was getting.
The sound of wheels popping over the stones startled her and she gripped the edge, struggling to keep her balance. Oddly enough, she didn’t much care for the idea of falling in.
She clung to her perch as the coach passed, hoping the darkness would shield her from prying eyes. What would it matter if they saw her, really? She was just another Drury Lane Vestal succumbing to the inevitable, after all.
Her jaw clenched in protest at her morose line of thought. She didn’t really believe that, did she?
The wheels stopped.
Charlotte turned as she heard her name.
The coach was old and cumbersome but meticulously maintained, set high above the street on wheels the size of card tables. Unadorned but for a coat of lacquer, it was dark as the team of blacks that idled before it. The door stood open and a man leaned out, his youthful appearance illuminated by the glass-encased lantern swinging from a hook on the side.
He regarded her with an expression caught somewhere between confusion and terror. “Might I be of assistance?”
The Bluestocking and the Barbarian, by Jude Knight
“We did not decorate in here on Christmas Eve, since we had so much else to do, so I am putting up Christmas decorations. See? The evergreen is a symbol of life in this most holy season. And the holly, have you heard the song about the holly?”
Sophia sang for him, in a light alto, all the verses his father had taught them when he was a tiny child. This European holly was not precisely the same as the holly he had grown up with, but it was similar. For the pleasure of hearing her voice, he kept his counsel.
She went on to explain the other Christmas customs, not just the foliage and ribbons and other materials used in the decorations, but the pudding that had been served at Christmas dinner, the Yule logs burning in various fireplaces around the house, and the boxes that the duchess had delivered the previous day to poor families around the district.
“Cedrica and I, and several of the other ladies, were her deputies,” Sophia explained. “It was wonderful to see the happy little faces of the children, James.”
James had stayed back from the hunt organized for the men in the hopes of spending time with Sophia, and had found out about the charity expedition too late to offer his services. “I am sorry that I missed it,” he said sincerely.
He noted one glaring omission in her descriptions. “Just a decoration,” she had told him, mendaciously, when he asked about the kissing boughs.
And now pretending to be ignorant of these English Christmas customs was about to pay off. One day, when she was safely his wife, he might admit to Sophia that he and the whole gala had hung on his father’s tales of an English Christmas, that his mother and her maids had decorated high and low, and his father had led the troops out to find a fitting Yule log to carry home in triumph on Christmas Eve. A harder job in his dry mountains than in this green land.
But this was not the time for that story. Not when Sophia was relaxed and about to pass under a kissing bough that retained its full complement of mistletoe berries.
James suppressed a grin. “Look,” he said, at the opportune time, pointing up. “My kaka—my Papa—told me about these.”
She stopped, as he had intended, and with a single stride, he had reached her, wrapped her in his arms, and captured the lips that had been haunting his dreams this past three months.
And she kissed him back. For a moment… for one long glorious moment, while time stood still and the world ceased to exist, Sophia Belvoir kissed him back.
Christmas Kisses, by Nicole Zoltack
Jasper did his best to not scowl. “I think that those who would lie to sell papers should be hanged.”
Her eyes widened, and she took a step back on the rock.
He held out his hand to help her down. “I do not care for the likes of The Teatime Tattler especially. It grates me that—”
“Have you read Aunt Augusta’s column? She gives ladies and gentlemen hope and advice about love and more. I, myself, find it a kind read. Surely even you can find no fault with it.”
He scoffed. “Every week, Aunt Augusta repeats herself. ‘Love will find a way.’ ‘Love is worth the wait.’ She oversimplifies love.”
“So you think love is complicated?”
Belatedly, he realized their hands were still clasped, and he released his hold on her. “Matters of the heart are complicated, trying…very difficult.”
“It sounds like there might be a story there,” she said with a teasing smile.
He couldn’t tell her, wouldn’t, but for a brief moment, he did consider it. Why bother? It was trying to move on as it was, and he was having difficulty doing so. Talking about it would not help, and of all people, why should he tell her?
For once, though, conversation with her did not feel forced or awkward.
A sudden gust of wind blew a few papers from Lady Anna’s hand. Laughing, they chased each one down, and when they captured them all, Jasper held out a hand to secure them for her. They stood far too close together—their chaperone seemed to be missing—and he stared down at her. He couldn’t understand why she hid herself away from gatherings, like he did. If she went to all the balls and gatherings, she would be betrothed herself. She was a fine, beautiful lady…
An Open Heart, by Caroline Warfield
“Your father is sending gold to Wellington.” Adam replied, running a hand across the back of his neck. “The government is temporarily unable to fund their war in Spain.”
She rose on the balls of her feet. “Papa can arrange this?” Pride and excitement pushed other emotions away.
“With the help of his contacts in France, yes. We’re taking it across the Pyrenees.”
Esther knew better than to ask how they would arrange it. Cousins across Europe would be involved. One thought overrode all others. “It will be dangerous.”
He looked for a moment as if he wouldn’t answer. His face when he did touched her heart. “Probably, but the viscount and I will watch out for each other. You aren’t to worry about me, Esther.”
At the use of her name, Esther smiled. She ought to correct him for presuming, but in truth, it pleased her. For a moment, they looked at each other in perfect harmony.
“Be careful,” she whispered.
The moment grew awkward, and Esther thought she should say something. “You’re going to safeguard Papa’s interests?” she asked.
He nodded. “And the viscount will safeguard England’s.”
“They don’t trust you because you’re French.”
“They don’t trust me because I’m Jewish,” he replied bitterly.
“Viscount Rochlin looked friendly enough.”
“Looks can deceive, Miss Baumann. You shouldn’t trust them either. Your father should not be encouraging your association with these aristocrats.”
“Why ever not? The duchess is kindness itself, and a number of my schoolmates will be there. It is my first ball and—”
“—I don’t understand how your father could send you to that school. Your parents are entirely too secular in their outlook. The Talmud suggests—”
“I wouldn’t know what your precious books suggest. I’m excluded from that kind of learning.” There. She had given voice to her greatest resentment. Let him make what he would out of that.
“Leave my mother out of this. My mother taught me what I need to know about Shabbat and the holy days. And who are you to criticize?”
Adam colored, red blotches staining his cheeks. “Of course I have no right. I had hoped before I left—”
Esther felt light-headed for a moment. Had he spoken to Papa? Breath rushed back into her lungs, but she raised her chin. “What is it you hoped, Mr. Halevy?”
Adam’s eyes softened, and Ether found herself leaning slightly toward him. A moment later, he stiffened and took a step back.
“My wife will respect our traditions and keep a traditional home,” he announced.
“I wish you luck finding such a paragon, Mr. Halevy,” Esther responded, pulling herself up as tall as she could. “My home will respect tradition and the people we meet.” When he simply glared at her outburst, she went on, “And my daughters will know as much about our faith as you do!”
“Good luck to you in that endeavor, Miss Baumann,” he said with a jerky nod. He tapped his hat on his head with more force than needed.
Dashing Through the Snow, by Amy Rose Bennett
Kate nearly laughed out loud when she chanced a glance at Lord Stanton’s face. His Lordship was not pleased at the turn of events, judging by the clearly visible scowl furrowing his brow just above his mask and the muscle working in his jaw. She imagined the short black spikes of his cropped a la Caesar hairstyle were actually bristling like the spines of a disgruntled hedgehog. She hoped Freddie monopolized Miss Violet Lockhart for at least another dance or two. It would serve the pompous Lord Stanton right.
To her astonishment, he suddenly turned his attention to her and bowed. “Miss Woodville,” he grated out between clenched teeth, “Would you also care to dance?”
Kate raised an eyebrow. She ought to refuse him—he was obviously only asking her so he could keep an eye on his sister and Freddie—but a wicked part of her thought it might irk him more if she accepted. “How could I resist such a charming invitation? Of course. I would love to, Lord Stanton.”
She took his arm—as hard as forged iron with tension—and accompanied him out onto the floor where a large number of other couples had gathered. Kate looked about but could not see hide nor hair of her brother and Violet. Neither could she see anyone taking up the requisite positions for dancing a quadrille, a cotillion, a reel, or another type of country dance.
Oh no. Kate’s heart clenched with horror as pairs of men and women drew very close to each other in holds as intimate as a lover’s embrace. The next dance couldn’t possibly be a slow-turning waltz, could it? She’d learned the steps under the tutelage of Mrs. Brooke’s Academy’s ancient dance master but she’d never danced it with someone as imposing as Lord Stanton. And certainly not in a public place.
Oh, dear Lord, it was a waltz. Before Kate had time to even think about voicing a protest, Lord Stanton had slipped his large hands beneath her elbows. He drew her so close, she could smell the spicy notes of his expensive cologne, the starch of his pristine white shirt, even the slightly musky scent of the man himself. She closed her eyes and tried to slow her breathing which had grown fast and shallow. Had Lord Stanton noticed she was trembling?
Indeed he had because his warm breath brushed against her ear as he murmured, “There’s no need to be nervous, Miss Woodville. I won’t bite.”
Kate grasped Lord Stanton’s broad, superfine clad shoulders beneath the black satin of his cape as the music swelled. “That’s not what I am afraid of.” Heavens, even her voice shook. She swallowed before continuing. “I’m not a very… experienced dancer. I know the steps but have never had to put them into practice on an occasion like this.” With a man like you.
When she looked up into Lord Stanton’s masked face, she was surprised to find he was smiling at her. The expression in his eyes had softened. “Relax if you can and follow my lead,” he said in a low voice. “Are you ready?”
Kate inhaled a deep, steadying breath and nodded. “Ready.”