Dominic, Viscount Alderley’s family are looking to him to marry an heiress, but only his downtrodden, compassionate second cousin Pippa seems able to ignore his scars...
A Winter Night’s Tale – Deborah Hale
This year’s festivities for Christabel and her young son will be sparse and cold – or so she thinks. When the man she’s loved and lost returns, offering her warmth, comfort and a true family Christmas, she can’t resist!
A Twelfth Night Tale – Diane Gaston
One impulsive night of love changed Elizabeth’s life forever. Now, ten years later, Elizabeth and Zachary meet again. Will their second Twelfth Night together see their happiness reborn?
USA - November 2006
UK - November 2007
Australia - TBA
He discovered a scene of near bedlam. What looked like every indoor servant and a fair sprinkling of gardeners and grooms were crowded into the Hall laughing and joking as they hung greenery everywhere. With a queer pang he saw that Richard’s portrait was garlanded with rosemary. His own sported a complete frame of holly and all the old weapons over the fireplace dripped with bay leaves. The rather tatty boar’s head by the stairs was well and truly bedecked with bays and rosemary he saw with a grin, and ivy trailed everywhere, great swathes hanging in festoons from every available projection.
In the midst of all this Pippa was perched at the top of a ladder steadied by his valet Briggs, carefully affixing the kissing bough to the chandelier in the middle of the hall. He noted that the usual candles in the chandelier had been changed for red ones.
He looked up at Pippa. Her tawny curls framed her face in soft tendrils, one tumbling over her brow, so that his fingers itched to push it back. Her face was flushed, and her eyes sparkled with laughter at something Briggs was saying.
‘Oh, nonsense, Briggs!’
Briggs grinned up at her. ‘Aye. Tis tradition, Miss Pippa. Her that puts the kissing bough up has to be kissed when she comes down. Just to make sure it works!’
Pippa blushed. ‘Briggs! You old scoundrel! You just made that up!’
‘I’ve not the least doubt of that,’ said Dominic, strolling forward to stand by the ladder. He suppressed a grin at the startled squeak and wide-eyed stare she gave him. ‘Are you coming down from there?’ he asked in a deliberately neutral voice. Aside to Briggs he murmured, ‘My privilege, I think?’ He felt distinctly feudal. Droit de seigneur and all.
Briggs grinned. ‘Always happy to defer to an expert, my lord.’
Dominic choked, but held up his hand to Pippa, who placed hers in it. His fingers closed in gentle possession. In this way, he thought, his intentions would be signalled to everyone. Unmistakably. He reached up and plucked a berry.
Hesitantly, Pippa came down, aware that her treacherous heart was pounding. Despite plucking that berry which supposedly meant he could claim kisses as long as it lasted, he wouldn’t really kiss her. Not... not a proper kiss. Just a peck on the cheek. Or maybe very quickly on the lips.
Simply, easily, he swung her off the second bottom rung of the ladder and Pippa’s feet touched ground, only, for the second time in two days, to find herself in Dominic’s arms. This time with a full and delighted audience.
Her breath hitched at the look on his face. Heated. Intent. ‘I’m... I’m sure it works beautifully!’ she said hurriedly.
‘I don’t doubt it,’ he murmured, with a smile that ought to have been illegal. Her lungs seized as he drew her into his heat and strength. Closer until her breasts touched him, and he bent his head slowly. Possessively.
His mouth brushed over hers lightly. Again and again. Wonder held her captive. She trembled, waves of heat and longing washing through her at the caress of his lips. So this was a kiss...
His lips settled over hers and firmed, their gentle movement weaving sensuous enchantment, a beguilement she had never dreamed of.
This was a kiss.
She had never known that a kiss could melt every bone in a girl’s body to warm honey until all she could do was cling. Never known that a man’s arms could both protect and imprison – nor that she could feel ravished and yet utterly safe.
She had known nothing...
‘Goodness me, Dominic!’ came an amused voice. ‘Are you testing the kissing bough or something?’
Dominic broke the kiss to a volley of applause, unsure whether to murder his sister, or thank her. Given the audience and the smoking state of his own control, he suspected the latter was in order. Althea stood in the entrance to the hall with her sons and husband, their arms full of greenery. Her eyes glinted with laughter.
Rafe’s brows had practically disappeared into his hat and he was regarding Dominic with mingled understanding and disapproval.
Dominic stood shaken at the violence of his response. As kisses went, that had to be the most chaste he had ever given, or received. And yet his body had hardened to iron, his blood hammering. He dragged in a breath. Physical desire. No more. Surely. He knew about desire; wanting a woman. But this – this was shatteringly different. He didn’t simply want a woman; he wanted Pippa. Just Pippa.
He stared down at her. The greeny brown eyes were dazed, her lips rosy soft and – desire kicked sharply – moist from his kisses.
Their eyes locked and Pippa’s face flamed as she pulled herself free.
‘I... I think the kissing bough is quite... adequate,’ she said.
Adequate? Dominic shot a glance upward at the wreathed greenery. The damn thing was lethal!