Novella Excerpts

Aidan left the dress shop. He had a pur­pose now.

He intend­ed to find Lady Laris­sa tonight. It was impor­tant to see if he noticed anoth­er suit­or pay­ing par­tic­u­lar atten­tion to her. Despite the tremen­dous pres­sure he was under to find a bride before the ball end­ed, he was an hon­or­able man. He would not wish to infringe where anoth­er man had already plant­ed his flag, so to speak. If he deter­mined that the lady favored no gen­tle­man in par­tic­u­lar, he would seek her out. He only hoped her maid hadn’t poi­soned her against him. By the ser­vant chastis­ing her mis­tress and telling Lady Laris­sa she shouldn’t talk to the likes of him, Aidan wor­ried that the maid knew he was a Sin­ning Flynn.

Because of the time con­straint placed upon him, Aidan would have to be blunter than usu­al if he did pur­sue Lady Larissa.

It boiled down to how open-mind­ed she could be. He would need to see if she could set aside the gos­sip sur­round­ing the Sin­ning Fly­nns long enough to get to know him before pass­ing judgment.

And if she could?

Aidan would ask for her hand in mar­riage by the end of the Stag Ball—because he want­ed Larkhaven bad­ly enough to wed a stranger in order to pos­sess it.

Eliz­a­beth sat next to Philip, cradling the infant in the crook of her left arm, so the babe faced him.

She is fine-look­ing,” he com­pli­ment­ed, star­ing at Lady Eliz­a­beth, see­ing how comfortable—and right—she looked with a child in her arms.

He wished he were the one to give her a babe.

The thought shocked him. Appalled him. He knew this woman was not meant for him. He need­ed to ban­ish such fool­ish thoughts.

Would you care to hold Lily, Your Grace?”

What?” he asked, star­tled by the thought.

She leaned toward him. “Here, take her. You will see what a lit­tle love my niece is.”

Sud­den­ly, Philip held a babe in his arms. He was dumb­found­ed. She was a tiny thing, with long lash­es and the small­est of mouths. She opened her eyes and stared at him with inter­est. A rush of warmth flood­ed him.

Then the babe smiled up at him.

Oh, do you see that? She’s smil­ing. Lily is smil­ing at His Grace.” Lady Eliz­a­beth looked at him. “From the look on your face, Your Grace, I think Lily has made her first fem­i­nine conquest.”

In awe, he took a fin­ger and stroked the babe’s cheek. She cooed at him and raised a small fist, cap­tur­ing his small­est fin­ger with her tiny ones. Her hand was so small, so del­i­cate­ly formed.

Philip real­ized in that moment two things about him­self. One, that he want­ed chil­dren des­per­ate­ly and would be the father to them which he nev­er had. The second?

That he was capa­ble of love.

Luke read the title aloud. “Mirth With­out Mis­chief.

Car­o­line had men­tioned this book to Luke, wish­ing to locate a copy since she had one pre­vi­ous­ly when she had lived in Boston with her Aunt Evie. She had told him about The Twelve Days of Christ­mas, her favorite tale in the col­lec­tion, which was a chant about the many gifts a lover pre­sent­ed to his sweetheart.

Ever since she had talked about the book, Luke had been on the look­out for it.

Not a word to Lady May­field,” he warned. “I plan to give this to her on Christ­mas Day this year. I think I will even teach the chant she has men­tioned to our chil­dren so that they might per­form it for her. She said chil­dren in Boston used to mem­o­rize and say the rhyme dur­ing the holidays.”

I will wrap it—and your oth­er volume—up, my lord. You can retrieve it from my desk before you leave today.”

Thank you, Stinch. It will mean a great deal to Lady May­field. I will be sure she knows you are the one who found it.”

Luke left the manager’s office, want­i­ng not only to give Car­o­line the vol­ume on Christ­mas Day, but also think­ing he might need to find her­self a present for each of those twelve days of Christmas.

He would turn them into twelve days of love.

Ash­lyn Bak­er, Duchess of Gil­ford, awoke nes­tled in the arms of her hus­band. Reid had become her world in such a short time. He was loy­al, gen­er­ous, and fierce­ly pro­tec­tive of those he loved.

Espe­cial­ly the child she carried.

Ash­lyn stroked his arm. Soon, his lips caressed her nape and his hands roamed her body, send­ing waves of heat through her. She didn’t think she would ever grow tired of this man’s ten­der touch.

After they made love, he held her close, nuz­zling her neck.

You need for Ander­son to shave you,” she told him, refer­ring to his valet.

Are my whiskers scratch­ing you, love?” he asked, concerned.

A bit. But Ander­son will have you clean-shaven in no time.”

Reid sighed. “That means I would have to leave this bed. I am not sure I like that idea.” His arms tight­ened about her. “You feel too good. Per­haps I shall clear my sched­ule today and remain in bed to con­tin­u­al­ly make love to my beau­ti­ful wife.”

Oh!” she said, star­tled by the sud­den, unex­pect­ed flut­ter­ing in her belly.

What’s wrong?” her hus­band asked, turn­ing her to face him.

She smiled. “It is what I have been wait­ing for. The baby is moving.”

He placed his hand along­side the swell of her bel­ly. “This is tru­ly hap­pen­ing, isn’t it? We are going to be parents.”

Many times over, I hope.”

He kissed her, long and deep, and love flowed between them.

Break­ing the kiss, he said, “We bet­ter ready our­selves for the day. I can’t have an army of boys invade our bed­cham­ber in search of their headmistress.”



Did this bridge have some­thing to do with Anne?

Quick­ly, she hur­ried from the woods and toward the bridge. Anne watched Iris approach. As she drew near, she could see Anne was translu­cent. Iris could see the bridge behind Anne.

She reached the ghost and said, “I know you are a ghost, Anne. Does this bridge have any­thing to do with why you returned to Glanbury?”

Anne point­ed as she slow­ly dissipated.

Where, Anne?” demand­ed Iris. “Am I to cross the bridge?”

But the ghost had van­ished. She would have to seek the answers on her own.

Iris stepped onto the bridge and walked across it slow­ly, look­ing at the planks of wood below her feet. The sides. The handrail. Where once she had scam­pered across it with­out any thought, this time she moved slow­ly and delib­er­ate­ly. Her patience was reward­ed when she reached the very cen­ter of the bridge.

Atop the handrail, some­one had carved a heart. With­in the heart were the ini­tials EdB and below it an A.

Could this A be for Anne? And who was EdB?

Anne meant for Iris to find this clue. Though she hadn’t the fog­gi­est notion what it meant, Iris knew it might be the key to unlock why Anne roamed Glan­bury hun­dreds of years after her death.

She would dis­cuss this with Crispin tonight. He had always had a love for his­to­ry and she seemed to remem­ber he knew quite a bit about his ances­tors. Maybe he could help her dis­cov­er who EdB was.

And help Anne find peace.

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Mrs. Dove-Lyon said, “You have one hour in which you may get to know one anoth­er. In that time, you will also share a sin­gle kiss. At the end of the hour, you should know if you suit one anoth­er or not.”

A kiss?

Emma had nev­er been kissed. Ever. The thought of shar­ing a kiss with Lord Z flus­tered her. She could feel her cheeks heating.

She felt Lord Z’s eyes upon her, which caused her face to flame fur­ther. All thoughts of con­ver­sa­tion fled as she inhaled the sub­tle spice of his cologne. He was broad­er than he’d appeared from a dis­tance and took up too much space. He was much too close for her to think.

Tell me some­thing about your­self,” she said.

I am an only son of a peer. I adore my niece and nephews. Hav­ing chil­dren is part of the rea­son I am here tonight.” He smiled rue­ful­ly. “And I seek a bride with a large dowry.”

Many young women mak­ing their come-out pos­sess one.”

They were all so young. So green. I am thir­ty, Lady A, and felt old enough to be their father. I long for a woman I can con­verse with. One who wants to be a good wife and moth­er and yet remain her own per­son, inter­est­ed in all man­ner of ideas.”

Lord Z squeezed her hand. “Fam­i­ly is very impor­tant to me. Are you open to this possibility?”

It is the only rea­son I seek a hus­band,” Emma said. “I have longed for children.”

He smiled and it was as if the sun had come out from behind the clouds. It filled her with a warmth she’d nev­er known.

Do you have any­thing else you wish to ask of me, Lady A?”

She didn’t. Her heart told her he would be her choice.

No, Lord Z.”

Then I sup­pose we must accom­plish the task Mrs. Dove-Lyon assigned to us.”

Emma’s pulse quickened.

May I kiss you, Lady A?”

Adam guid­ed his horse in front of hers and they reached the water quick­ly. He dis­mount­ed and then went to aid Thea. He cap­tured her waist, his hands span­ning it, and brought her to the ground.

And didn’t let go.

They con­tin­ued gaz­ing at each word­less­ly, some­thing pass­ing between them that he might nev­er be able to explain.

Then she said, “I’ve missed rid­ing. Remind me nev­er to break my leg again.”

I’ve oth­er things to remind you of, Thea,” he said, his voice husky and low. “Impor­tant things.”

She licked her lips ner­vous­ly. “What, Your Grace?”


He bent and touched his lips to hers. His fin­gers tight­ened on her waist. Her palms flat­tened against his chest. He pressed soft kiss­es against her mouth, his thumbs stroking her ribs. She sighed.

Adam longed to taste her. He urged her mouth open and his tongue swept inside.

Her fin­gers clutched his waist­coat. She whimpered—and he delved deep­er, doing more than mere­ly sam­pling. She tast­ed divine. Like the best sweet he’d ever indulged in, though a thou­sand times bet­ter. Her tongue met his and begin teas­ing it as she kissed him back. His hands moved to her slen­der back and trav­eled the length of it, up and down, as they con­tin­ued to kiss. And kiss. And kiss. Adam had nev­er known a kiss such as this. One that caused his heart to beat rapid­ly. That filled him with a gid­di­ness that made him want to shout with joy. A kiss that told him every­thing he need­ed to know.

He want­ed this woman in his life. Now. Forever.

Derek couldn’t take her. She belonged to anoth­er, even if her hus­band had no inter­est in her. By law, Amelia could nev­er be his. Kiss­ing her now was mad­ness and would only result in heart­break for them both.

Break­ing the kiss, he touched his fore­head to hers. They both breathed quick­ly, almost pant­i­ng. He inhaled her per­fume as he brought her flush against him, feel­ing her breasts press­ing against his chest. What he wouldn’t give to erase the mis­takes he’d made, know­ing she’d rushed into Trumbull’s arms mere­ly because Derek had cast her aside. He would have to live with that the rest of his life. See her unhap­pi­ness as the years unwound. Watch her grow old and bit­ter, nev­er ful­filled with chil­dren, much less have a lov­ing hus­band and safe home.



I know you are not only a man of prin­ci­ple but very kind­heart­ed because you brought Diana back into your family.”

He lift­ed his head from hers. “I loved her. Father ban­ish­ing her from Ester­ley nev­er meant I stopped lov­ing her. I brought Diana home as soon as I could.”

Amelia stud­ied him, a slight frown creas­ing her brow. “I know it’s ask­ing a lot. I’m not ask­ing for love. I’m just so lone­ly, Derek. I was hop­ing you would agree … to become my lover. For just one night.”

I’d like to see you beyond tea, Diana,” he said, his voice low as his gaze sought hers.

You … would you like … to go for a dri­ve after tea?”

That would be nice—but I can think of some­thing even nicer.”

Oliv­er cupped the nape of her neck and saw her eyes widen. The iris­es dark­ened. He didn’t say any­thing, giv­ing her time to refuse his advance if she wished.

And antic­i­pate what would come if she didn’t.

Her tongue dart­ed out and moist­ened her lips. She didn’t say no. He took that as an encour­ag­ing sign.

I’m going to kiss you, Diana. Do you want this as much as I do?” he asked softly.

Yes,” she whis­pered. “Maybe even more than you.”

He sensed the cur­rent that ran between them as his fin­gers tight­ened slight­ly. His thumb stroked her neck and final­ly stopped where her pulse flut­tered wildly.

I promise you won’t for­get this first kiss between us.”

Oh, I for­got my retic­ule in Walton’s office,” Car­o­line told Luke, wor­ry­ing her bot­tom lip.

He couldn’t under­stand why women even car­ried them, much less why Car­o­line fret­ted, espe­cial­ly since they’d be back at Evie’s tomor­row morn­ing. “Do you need it?”

A blush tint­ing her porce­lain cheeks. “Actu­al­ly, I do. I’d ordered a … spe­cial book. It came in and I slipped it inside my reticule.”

He cap­tured her waist, his thumbs mas­sag­ing her ribcage. He loved watch­ing her eyes go large and the hitch in her breath. “How special?”

It was … some­thing I thought … we might look at tonight. Togeth­er,” she demurred.

He low­ered his face till his lips were hov­er­ing above hers. “It’s naughty?”

Yes,” she said, the cor­ners of her mouth turn­ing up. “Rachel told me about it.”

He chuck­led. “Leave it to my sis­ter to find some­thing like that.”

Rachel said it’s very inter­est­ing. And there are all kinds of things to … try out.”

Luke’s lips touched hers and he took his time leisure­ly explor­ing her mouth, enjoy­ing those lit­tle nois­es that came from the back of her throat. He broke the kiss.

Then I bet­ter go back and retrieve it. We’ve only tonight to our­selves to enjoy total peace and qui­et till the mon­sters return tomorrow.”

Car­o­line swat­ted him play­ful­ly. “They are not,” she protest­ed. “They are the sweet­est of chil­dren and you love them dearly.”

I do love them dear­ly,” he agreed, nuz­zling her neck. “And I adore their mama even more.”

Just as Ferand reached where two hall­ways inter­sect­ed, a fig­ure round­ed the cor­ner at blaz­ing speed and crashed into him. Instinc­tive­ly, Ferand grabbed on to someone’s elbows and looked down.

His gaze met the deep, green eyes of Elia de Wolfe.

Come back!” a voice called from a distance.

Lady Elia cursed under her breath. She removed a scroll hid­den inside her kir­tle and slammed it against his chest.

Take it!” she hissed.

Ferand released one of her elbows and accept­ed the small scroll. The seal remained affixed. On it was a head of a wolf. He assumed it was a mis­sive to her from a fam­i­ly mem­ber, most like­ly her father.

Hide it,” she com­mand­ed as the foot­steps grew louder.

She pulled on him, lead­ing him around the cor­ner. “Promise me you will not read it.”

He saw the pan­ic welling in her face and how she fought against it.

I won’t.” Ferand slid it inside his tunic.

Lady Elia!” The voice came closer.

God’s Bones,” she mur­mured. Look­ing around, she pulled Ferand toward a near­by alcove and pushed him par­tial­ly in it.

Kiss me,” she ordered. “And make it look like the kiss of your life.”

Ferand need­ed no fur­ther invitation.

Geof­frey said, “I have some­thing for you this Christ­mas Day.”

Sur­prise filled Merryn’s face. “Me? That wasn’t necessary.”

It was to me.”

He stood and went into their bed­cham­ber, fetch­ing the pair of ear­rings he’d had the vil­lage jew­el­er craft. He wrapped his fin­gers around his palm so they couldn’t be seen and returned to the solar, wrap­ping his arms around his wife’s waist and pulling her close.

Do you remem­ber what I gave you on our wed­ding night?” he asked.

You gave me a brooch from France. I wear it every day.” She fin­gered the piece rest­ing on her breast.

I told you the sap­phire stones remind­ed me of your eyes.”

Mer­ryn smiled. “I remem­ber. I remem­ber every­thing about that night.”

He brought one arm between them and opened his hand, palm up. “These also are the deep blue of your eyes.”

Oh, Geof­frey!” She stared at the ear­rings. “They’re lovely.”

Put them on,” he urged.

His wife took one and fas­tened it to her ear­lobe and then did the same with the other.

They match your eyes,” he told her. “I’ve nev­er seen eyes as blue as yours.” Geof­frey cupped her cheek. “This Christ­mas is the first of many we will spend togeth­er, Merryn.”

He brushed the back of his fin­gers against her bel­ly. “Next Christ­mas, our fam­i­ly will grow by one. I hope more chil­dren are to come.”

I love you so much, Geoffrey.”

I will always love you, Mer­ryn. For­ev­er and ever.”

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Stand­ing before him was a woman of incan­des­cent beauty.

Her hair drew Godwin’s eyes. It spilled about her shoul­ders and down past her waist. It was as if it had been lit afire and burned with all of the shades found in flames. He itched to run his fin­gers through the silken waves. Vibrant, green eyes dom­i­nat­ed her oval face, though pink, full lips tempt­ed him to kiss her before he spoke to her.

Push­ing that notion aside, he asked, “What’s your name, pet?”

Her eyes nar­rowed in dis­plea­sure. “What is yours?” she coun­tered, rais­ing her chin a notch.

Beau­ti­ful and brave. A lethal combination.

God­win couldn’t help but chuck­le at her dar­ing, a mere slip of a woman stand­ing up to a pirate. “I am Cap­tain God­win Trenoweth of Poseidon’s Legion. Some even call me God of the Seas.”

Her nose crin­kled in dis­gust. “Oh. A pirate. I’ve heard of them. They take what isn’t theirs.”

He closed the dis­tance between them. “They do,” he con­firmed. “Your name, my lady? I’ve told you mine.”

She hes­i­tat­ed a moment and then said, “Melisent Winchester.”

God­win knew the king had been known as Hen­ry of Win­ches­ter before he took his Plan­ta­genet throne. Clever of her to use that sur­name. She also wore some­thing shape­less of undyed wool, a gray, col­or­less thing that was no bet­ter than a sack cov­er­ing her, instead of the fin­ery that a princess would wear.

Idly, he won­dered what lay beneath the sack.