Can the festive ball of the Season bring these couples together in time for the holidays? A collection of Regency romances with star-crossed lovers, fast-paced plots and timeless connections ...
Cuddling under mistletoe, fine lace, snowy linen, and true love to be found in the flickering light of a hundred gas lamps. Pearler House is bedecked for the holidays and everyone is attending the event of a lifetime. Experience the joy of the season with six all-new tales of passion. Some are sweet, some are spicy, all will capture your heart. He gambles for a ticket to the ball, but might win the love of his life. When the impoverished Prussian baron came to London, little did he expect to entangle with an irritatingly beautiful Russian spy with shared targets: the wealthy hosts of a grand charity ball. While everyone is distracted with holiday preparations, can they fool the other guests by pretending to be a couple? Will they both achieve their objectives despite a series of unfortunate events before their time in London runs out? A story of espionage, strategy, and distracting kisses under the mistletoe for a holiday season like no other. High society's rules make it impossible to meet. Is their love doomed to remain a scandalous secret? She is his perfect woman in every way except social standing. While Cameron is determined to find someone to formally introduce them before they are forced apart for the holidays, Isabelle scrambles to find an honorable solution for their hidden romance. With Christmas quickly approaching, will they finally begin their public courtship during the most wonderful time of the year or will duty stand in their way? A tale of etiquette, expectations, and enduring passion. A young woman forging a career as a bareknuckled boxer. A footman looking for something more … and an overturned platter at the event of the year. Ruby knows that a career as a fighter will be harder for her than it was for her father—or at least, the man she believes is her father. As she is about to wrangle an introduction, a clumsy footman spills his tray, effectively ending her night. But the Max is determined to help her career as recompense for spilling his tray on her—and maybe see if this young lady boxer might be interested in spending a Sunday afternoon or two with him as well. Will her secret stand in the way of their second chance at love? For years widowed artist Lily has hidden herself away, because of a scandalous secret in her past. When her niece persuades her to come to London, she reluctantly agrees, only to find herself wooed by Alastair, a man she once promised to marry, but cruelly discarded. Lily’s instinct is to flee, even when her heart implores her to stay. But it soon will be Christmas, the season of joy and forgiveness, and if she stays, the magic of the Mistletoe Ball just might lead to a second chance at love. He's her brother's best friend, and he wants her for Christmas. Widowed Bryony is auctioning off the last vestiges of her old life—paintings her dead husband commissioned for his mistress. What should be a simple task takes an unexpected turn when Captain Nathaniel Davies, a retired naval officer and her brother's best friend, dares Bryony to explore her newfound freedom and join him on a holiday adventure across London. But will one scandalous evening end with a lump of coal... or will Christmas magic create a merry match of love? What’s an earl to do when his sister’s best friend becomes the one temptation he can’t resist? When Nicholas, the cold and duty-driven Earl of Chatteris, is unexpectedly kissed beneath the mistletoe at a charity ball by Pippa, his entire world is thrown into chaos. Even worse, the moment their lips part, she acts as if it never happened! Can Nicholas pretend along, or will his legendary restraint finally snap this Christmas season?
November 18, 1820, London England
The stranger desired her.
Bryony Chapman knew it to be true from the odd intuition that came with dreams. Reaching a hand out, she tried to touch his shoulder, to make him face her so she could identify him, but the air became molasses, slowing her movements.
“Hello?” The word refused to be spoken—had she lost her voice?
But he must have felt her presence behind him, because the man turned around, revealing himself to be none other than Captain Nathaniel Davies, her brother’s best friend. The man who’d occupied all of her girlhood fantasies.
“Nathaniel…” Again, no sound filled the space between them, but he smiled anyway as if happy to see her.
He desired her.
As she did him.
But then his visage transformed, morphing into a far less welcome sight. Oscar. Her dead husband.
Except it wasn’t truly him.
Garish fangs filled his mouth. A menacing gleam shone in his sunken black eyes. Hideous laughter erupted as his clawed fingers lunged forward, scratching at her hair and skin.
She tried to run away but her feet were frozen, the molasses turned to ice with no escape in sight.
“No!” Bryony shot awake from the nightmare with a yelp, sweaty tendrils of hair sticking to her forehead while her blankets lay tangled between her legs. The morning sun peeped through the closed curtains of her bedroom, and she flopped back to her pillow with a groan, leftover fear slowly abating to be replaced by frustration.
Another restless night.
Another dream turned nightmare.
All because of those cursed paintings.
One would think all vestiges of her late husband’s affairs had been eradicated years ago after his death. Once the appropriate amount of mourning time had passed, Bryony had ordered his possessions to be locked away in the attic, forever out of sight and unable to plague her with painful memories.
Until last week.
Until one industrious maid managed to find the key to an old locked closet and found five miniature paintings Oscar had commissioned for his mistress. How the man could still taunt Bryony from beyond the grave truly astounded her.
But she would have the last word this time.
Tonight, in fact.
Her evening plans, The Grand Mistletoe Assembly, provided the perfect solution for ridding her home of the paintings once and for all. They would be auctioned off for charity, and the proceeds would go to help the foundling home.
Bryony could return home free of the cursed things.
I can’t wait.
“My lady, are you alright?” Her lady’s maid, Nancy, knocked on the bedroom door before peeking inside. “I heard a shout.”
Flushing from embarrassment—this was the second time this week Nancy had caught her shouting awake after a nightmare—Bryony dragged forth an expression of calm. “A spider ran across my slippers,” she fibbed. “Or so I thought. Turns out it was just a trick of the light. Shall we prepare for breakfast?”
The girl nodded, accepting the explanation, and retrieved a morning gown from the armoire as Bryony stretched her arms high overhead before easing out of bed. “Mrs. Healy said everything’s set for this evening. She removed the wax stain with a hot coal wrapped in a rag. I’d never heard of such a thing, but it looks good as new!”
“Excellent! Please thank her for me.” Since the charity ball centered around the holiday season, Bryony thought it fitting to wear her favorite gown for the evening—an emerald masterpiece made of velvet.
Thank goodness her housekeeper's knowledge of stain removals knew no bounds.
The imperfection she’d found on the back hem yesterday had almost been enough to convince Bryony that attending the ball would be foolish.
Who knew what gossip would arise when the paintings were unveiled?
She’d weathered the lowered voices and curious stares when her mourning period ended and Society events were open to her again. Navigating another round of censure didn’t rank highly on Bryony’s list of town activities.
Carter’s attending. He can be my proxy.
No, you’re done letting Oscar—or his ghost—control your actions.
She’d attend the charity auction, head held high.
Besides, Bryony's emotions may range from disappointed to furious during the auction, but at least she’d outwardly appear put together. A fashionable benefactress. A cool-headed widow whose only concern was raising funds for orphan children, not concerning herself with nosy busybodies or exorcising another demon from her marriage.
But how many more must I slay to be free?
However many it took as penance for her ill-fated choice in a husband, she supposed.
“There. Do you need anything else, my lady?”
Briefly interrupted from her maudlin thoughts, Bryony shook her head and followed Nancy downstairs, cursing her foolish decision to marry Oscar all those years ago.
She'd fancied herself in love with the man. Handsome and close to her in age, he'd brightened every Society event and made her feel seen, beautiful. Something sorely lacking in her life.
Too chubby to be fashionable. Too mousy to be claimed a Diamond of the First Water.
Those were her attributes.
Those were not what potential suitors wanted.
Except for Oscar.
She knew better than to hope Nathaniel would suddenly declare his undying affection for her, so Oscar seemed like a reasonable substitute.
They liked each other which was more than could be said for most married couples of the ton. Her own parents excluded.
Of course, I’d be the product of a rare love match.
Seeing the affection between her mother and father had given her unrealistic expectations. Well, unrealistic once she fell in love with Nathaniel—a man out of her reach due to his friendship with her brother.
A man that became a dashing captain who could have any woman he wanted, instead of the infatuated younger sister of his best friend.
So Bryony married Oscar.
Unfortunately, the affection between them lasted as long as their honeymoon in Italy before Oscar began dallying about town with other women. Her husband preferred variety in his life, propriety and marriage vows be damned.
The breakfast room welcomed Bryony with its golden sunlight filtering through the drapes. It encouraged happy thoughts and positive emotions, items she was loath to find at the moment, stuck as she was in the past.
I'll spend the morning pitying myself, but tonight…
She would rejoice in ridding herself of the evidence of Oscar's infidelity.
Perhaps she'd even take advantage of her widow status and flirt with the bevy of attractive men sure to be in attendance at the ball.
That was the old Bryony.
Now she was Mrs. Bryony Chapman, an experienced young woman, determined to finally live life out of the shadows.
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