Enchantment touches a tall gray house in Grosvenor Square. The legend of Lady Winterson’s Christmas ball promises true love and happiness to one lucky couple. Four short tales.
1 1803 – The Seduction of a Duchess by Shana Galen
Rowena Harcourt, Duchess of Valère, never forgot the handsome footman who helped her escape the French Revolution. For fourteen years, Gabriel Lamarque has loved Rowena. Now at Lady Winterson’s Christmas ball, has fate finally given him a chance to win her hand?
2 1818 – One Kiss for Christmas by Vanessa Kelly
Nigel Dash is London’s most reliable gentleman, a reputation he never minded until he fell in love with beautiful Amelia Easton. Amelia sees Nigel as a dependable friend, not a dashing suitor. At Lady Winterson’s Christmas ball, Nigel vows to change Amelia’s mind by sweeping her off her feet.
3 1825 – His Christmas Cinderella by Anna Campbell
At the season’s most glittering ball, a girl who has never dared to dream of forever after discovers a Christmas miracle.
4 1830 – The Last First Kiss by Kate Noble
Susannah Westforth always loved Sebastian Beckett, but he only sees her as a friend. When Sebastian takes his Grand Tour, Susannah transforms herself into a woman he must notice. Now Sebastian is back, just in time for Lady Winterson’s Christmas ball and to see his little Susie, all grown up.
This book may contain explicit intimate scenes, so if you are not 18+ then I probably wouldn’t recommend it for younger readers.
I’ve never read a book complied with mini novella’s by various authors but I saw it was a freebie on Amazon, so I thought why not? I thoroughly enjoyed it and how the stories were quick and got to the meaty good stuff without delay. Out of the four stories, ‘One Kiss for Christmas’ by Vanessa Kelly and ‘The Last First Kiss’ by Kate Noble were my favorites due to the witty humor and dialog between the characters. It had me chuckling to myself throughout the book. However, I did enjoy the other two stories — ‘The Seduction of a Duchess’ by Shana Galen and ‘His Christmas Cinderella’ by Anna Campbell, they just weren’t as humorous as the others. Humor between the characters is what mainly sells a book to me most of the time, not that I don’t enjoy a serious suspenseful romance novel every now and then, I jut happen to prefer those two over the other two stories in this book, lets just say they just worked for me. After finishing this book, I will say I am highly interested in reading more individual books by these authors.
“Quelque chose vous dérangez, Your Grace?” Gabriel asked, watching her look nervously about the room. He didn’t remember her being a nervous woman. She had always been calm and serene. And beautiful, so incredibly beautiful. No doubt his presence here had unnerved her. Her attention snapped back to him, and he felt his heart thud slowly in his chest, the way it had all of those years ago whenever she looked at him. “I am not used to dancing, that is all,” she said. Her voice sounded more British than he remembered, but then she’d always spoken in French when he’d known her before. He had not even known English then. He’d been a young man, and she the mistress of a large chateau, the beautiful wife to a powerful and wealthy duke. She was a duchess, but more than that she was a kind woman. It was her kindness that slayed him. She’d cared enough about a nobody like him to tutor him in reading. He’d been poor and illiterate, but she told him he had a future. And then she’d given him one with her patient instruction. How many hours had he watched her mouth form words, her delicate fingers trace writing on the page, the firelight limn her hair until it glowed blue-black? The arch of her brow, the curve of her cheek, the tilt of her chin—he knew her face as well as his own. How could he have not fallen in love with her? “Not used to dancing? That is a tragedy. You should dance often, and with a man who worships the ground where you tread.” Her lovely blue eyes widened. “If I were to wait for a man like that, sir, I would never dance.” The music began and they came together, touching palms. “You are dancing with one such man now, madam,” he said and then stepped back.
“Oh, Amy,” Gwen exclaimed, “I was waiting forever for you and Father Christmas. I’ve missed all the fun and I’ve had to hold this wretched onion to my ear for the last half hour. I don’t think it’s helped the ache one bit.” She waved the offending object under Nigel’s nose. “Good Lord,” he said. “That’s ghastly. No child should be subjected to such hideous torture.” When Gwen giggled, Nigel wisely tapped the side of his nose. “I think it’s time to do away with it, don’t you agree, Miss Gwen?” “Yes!” She bounced on the bed again. “Someone is clearly feeling better,” Amelia said. “All the more reason to get rid of the beastly thing,” Nigel said, taking the onion. When he strode to the window, Gwen tumbled out of bed to follow, impatiently squirming when Amelia insisted she put on her robe and slippers. By the time they joined Nigel he’d raised the sash, letting in a blast of winter air. “Father Christmas, what are you doing?” Gwen asked. “Getting rid of this barbaric vegetable. Never could stand the blasted things, anyway.” He tossed it out the window. Gwen shrieked with laughter, and she and Amelia crowded next to Nigel to peer down to the street. A man in a greatcoat was bending down to retrieve his hat from the ground, where it had apparently been knocked by the onion. He looked up and began to berate them in a loud voice. Both Amelia and Gwen burst into hoots. “Hush,” Nigel said, pulling them inside. “If he hears us laughing, he’ll pound on the door and demand to see your aunt. Then we’ll be in a tremendous pickle.” “But you’re Father Christmas,” Gwen said. You can do anything you want.” Nigel appeared much struck. “Very true, my dear. If the bounder challenges our right to hurl vegetables, I’ll run him through with a stake of Christmas holly.” “Who knew Father Christmas was so desperate a character,” Amelia said, trying to control her laughter.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” he said. “I’m glad we got the chance to see it.” “It reminds me of the country. Of home.” He heard the wistful note in her voice. “Gwen misses it, too. She wishes you could all be home for Christmas at Easton Manner.” He turned toward her, leaning against the window frame. She’d never really noticed it before, but his shoulders were quite nicely broad. “Is that what you’d like for Christmas too, Amelia? To be home with your family?” She thought for a moment, then decided to tell the truth. “No, I would like not to have to marry Lord Broadmore.” The sudden intensity in Nigel’s gaze set her already pounding heart tripping over itself. “Then why should you?” he asked in a low voice. She returned her gaze to the snowy square, avoiding his eye. “I suspect you already know the answer—my unfortunate reputation. Besides, my parents approve of Broadmore and are eager to see us married. In their eyes, he will make the perfect husband.” His hand came to her arm and gently turned her to face him. “Amelia, no true friend would think less of you for ending your previous engagements. They were simply mistakes you learned from.” “I’ve been called a heartless jilt by more than one person, you know,” she said, trying to make a joke of a label that had wounded her deeply. “They were wrong,” he said, looking stern. “But tell me why your parents are so eager for you to marry Broadmore. We both know he’s an unrepentant ass.” His blunt speech surprised a laugh out of her. “True, but an ass with a title and several magnificent estates. Papa is determined that I marry as well as possible.” She grimaced. “He says a girl of my looks and fortune deserves the very best.” Nigel smiled. “Your father is correct, but not for those reasons. You do have a very pretty face and your fortune is enviable, but those are not the best part of you.” She had to force the words from her tight throat. “What is?” He took her hand, intertwining their fingers. The breath whooshed out of her lungs and she clutched his hand in a convulsive grip. “It’s your heart, Amelia. Your lovely, kind heart,” he said with a smile that melted her from the inside out. “And now that you’ve told me what you don’t want for Christmas, tell me what you do want.” When Amelia thought of all the obstacles facing them, her courage almost failed. But it was Christmas, the time for wishes and dreams to come true. “I want to marry a kind, loving man who will be a good husband and father. A man who will see me as I truly am, and not as a decorative knick-knack and a means for plumping up his bank account.” Nigel gently cupped her chin with his free hand. “My sweet girl that is only what you deserve.” She stared at him, mesmerized. “And what do you want for Christmas, Mr. Dash?” she finally whispered. His lips parted in a devastatingly tender smile. “A kiss, Amelia. One kiss for Christmas.” She felt her mouth curl up in a silly grin. “Only one?” He let out a husky laugh. “To start.” Then he bent and gently, carefully—as if he didn’t want to frighten her—brushed a kiss across her lips.
“If I may be so bold, sir,” the butler spoke up, causing Sebastian to start. Good lord, he hadn’t even realized he was still there. “I could not help but notice that you seemed to have quarreled with Miss Westforth.” Sebastian grunted in response. “She is your old friend from home.” The butler shrugged. “She will forgive you. Of course, may I suggest that you beg forgiveness as soon as possible? That seems the smoothest way to go about these things. Especially when you know someone as well as you know Miss Westforth.” “That’s just it!” Sebastian cried, with more vehemence than he realized he’d felt. “I do know Susie – Miss Westforth. And that fashionable creature is not her!” The Susie Sebastian knew would have laughed at a crowd of men vying for her attention. She would have rather been reading or working on puzzles or… “She is acting foolish, and I simply point this out, and I am told off for it. She’s dancing with Parkhurst and… and laughing with him, for God’s sake!” “Mr. Parkhurst is perhaps not the most humor-inducing young man here,” the butler agreed solemnly. “But how is Miss Westforth’s dancing and laughing different from any other young lady’s actions tonight?” “It’s…. it just is.” Sebastian said stubbornly. “And her dress… it’s unseemly!” “Actually, I have it on good authority that Miss Westforth’s gown is of the highest fashion and appropriate modesty for a young lady of nineteen.” Nineteen . God, hadn’t she just been sixteen and all bony angles? “How do you know all this?” Sebastian grumbled after a time. “About Miss Westforth’s gown… and how we are old friends, come to think of it.” The butler simply shrugged. “I am Philbert, sir. I know everything.” “Did you know that she tried to kiss me, then?” Sebastian mumbled, kicking his boot against the grey stone balustrade. Philbert’s mouth crooked up. “In the ballroom? How very forward.” “No, not now. She told me she tried to kiss me before.” “Before…?” “Before I went away. But apparently I wasn’t paying attention, and she ended up kissing a log.” “And were you?” Philbert asked. Sebastian’s eyebrow went up, not understanding. “Were you not paying attention,” he clarified. “Or did you know she tried to kiss you?” Sebastian felt another shift in the world beneath his feet. Smaller this time, but so, so important. Something clicking into place. “No. I suppose I did know. I just pretended it hadn’t happened.” He’d seen it. Just out of the corner of his eye, but he’d seen it. Three years ago, after a long run on their horses, breathless, her cheeks flushed and lovely. Sitting nearly leg to leg with him on that felled tree. And his heart had skipped a beat. A rush of… something had him standing before her lips could touch his cheek. “Why did you pretend it hadn’t happened?” Philbert asked quietly. “Because it would have changed things,” Sebastian answered in kind. “Change happens no matter what.” The butler cleared his throat. “And by the time she tried to kiss you, the change had already occurred. At least for Miss Westforth.” Philbert looked wistful for a moment. Then… “If I may impart some hard-earned wisdom, sir?” Sebastian nodded, but kept his eyes out into the darkness of Lady Winterson’s snowy garden. “There is a kind of love that does not happen all at once. It happens in increments. In inches. It takes a lifetime to grow. And invariably, for the people falling, it is difficult to recognize, because they are so close to each other. They cannot see the changes as they occur.” But then Sebastian had gone away. For three years. And coming home, all the changes that had taken place without him smacked him in the face, leaving him bereft. “Also invariably, one person will discover their true feelings before the other,” the butler continued. “And that person has a choice to make. Either they can alter the rules and start playing a different game… or they can be tortured. Wait for years and years on mere hope.” He paused, as if the words stuck in his throat. “I admire your Miss Westforth for choosing the former. It is the path others have been too cowardly to take.” Those words hung in the air, falling lightly to the ground like the snow. Settling into truth. “I… no,” Sebastian found himself saying. “Susannah may have had a… a crush on me, and I am deeply fond of her. But she’s not in love with me. And… I’m not in love with her,” Sebastian denied, shaking his head. “I can’t be. It’s… it’s Susannah. My little Susie.” Philbert shrugged. “That very well may be. But then perhaps it is worthwhile asking, why does her dancing and laughing with other gentlemen upset you so much?” “Because…” Sebastian tried, defensive. “Because she’s Susannah.” My Susannah . The words flashed through his mind, unbidden. And it was true. She had always been his Susannah. His friend. When he was young, he should have been more keen to rabble around with the young men in the village, or go shooting with his father, or any other more masculine pursuit… but no. He had always wanted to seek out Susie. To go for a ride with her. To spend the day playing cards with her by the fire. And the way she looked at him had made him feel… golden. But it had been more than that. He’d liked to hear her laugh. To know what she found amusing. To be himself with her. But now… now other men were making her laugh. Discovering her smiles. She could become someone else’s Susannah. He may not know if he was in love. But he knew for certain he did not want that to happen. A flash of conviction raced through him. And it wouldn’t, if he had anything to say about the matter.
“Do you think Mr. Beckett’s found her by now?” she finally asked, her voice a squeak. The war of her wanting to hold onto the moment and her need to fill the painful silence finally came to a head. “My lady…” Philbert began. “I only ask because I thought it might be useful to have the band play another waltz in a song or two, help them along.” “My lady, I…” “He likely has found her. After all, youth has the advantage of speed and vigor. And impatience.” “Lucy.” She stopped. Her heart stopped. And then, something else fluttered to life. Not new, no… simply dormant. It had been waiting. Waiting for years. No, the way things were could not last, she realized. But perhaps… perhaps she did not want them to. Perhaps, they could brush it aside and make way for something better. And that one little word – her name on his lips – thrilled her with the thought that it was not only possible, but worthwhile. “I know you heard me,” Philbert said at last. His rigid butler’s posture came undone. He looked nervous… and young. But then again, hope always made one young. “I… yes, I did.” “And you have nothing to say?” he replied, waiting. But Lucy did not know what to say. Her heart fluttered in her chest, her body rooted to the spot for fear of flying away. After a moment, Philbert’s shoulders sagged. “I see. I will tender my resignation, my lady, as soon as a replacement can be found.” “Wait!” she cried. “I do have something to say, if you will allow me a moment.” He blinked, but said nothing, giving her a short nod of acquiescence. And then she did the only thing she could. The brave thing. She took three short steps, rose on her tiptoes, and pulled his head toward hers. The kiss rocked both of them, a kiss of too many feelings long growing and long denied. When they finally broke apart, he held her back by the shoulders, searching her face. Needing answers. “Is this real?” he whispered. “Yes,” she breathed. “I’m old, Lucy. I have no time for games.” “You forget, Philbert, I am old too.” He toyed with a graying curl at her temple. “Never,” he whispered. “You will always be the bright-eyed young woman who, after interviewing me, told me that my job hung on my ability to hang Christmas garland.” “And you will always be the man who I hired because he could reach the top of the library shelves without a ladder.” “And because I had excellent references.” “Pish – every butler has excellent references. You had the advantage of height.” She slapped his chest at his smirk. “You jest, but that was the criteria I used, and I have never made a better decision in my life.” “I cannot fault you, then.”
“What did you say?” “You heard me.” “I heard what you said.” She was shivering, despite the warmth of his body so near to hers. “But it makes no sense.” His grip on her shoulders softened to a caress. “Campion, you must know I want to marry you.” She frowned. “Why on earth would I know that?” His sigh this time was long-suffering. “I told you I loved you.” “Even in Croxley, there are disreputable young men with wild oats to sow. When a fellow wants to tumble a woman, he tells her that he loves her.” Her tone was dull. “It’s part of the game.” “What a cynic you are, my darling,” he said with a huff of derisive amusement. “And while some men might do that, I don’t.” “Why should I think you any different from every other rake in London?” “Come, Campion, I don’t believe you mean that. You know I’m different. If you didn’t know I’m different, you’d never have given yourself to me.” His voice developed an edge. “Even if you imagined I was trifling with you at first, you must know by now that you have my heart. If you don’t, then for a clever woman, you haven’t been very clever. I’m not a fickle man, nor do I take what we did lightly. I’m utterly in love with you. I’ve hardly kept it a secret.” “I was trying so hard not to lose my head,” she said unsteadily. His proposal echoed through her mind like a thousand clashing cymbals. Had he really asked her to marry him? To the invisible stars, she’d whispered a wish for Lachlan to love her forever. Could they have granted her request? “And in the process, you tortured me with endless uncertainty. You’ve never told me you loved me.”