It's that time of year again, and I'm so thrilled that I have a holiday romance to share with my readers in 2012. His Mistletoe Bride is the final book in my Stanton Family series and it takes place over the holiday season, much of it at a tumbledown estate called Mistletoe Manor. My heroine, Phoebe, an American raised in a small Quaker village, has travelled to England to meet her estranged family. Once there, she's pitched into a number of adventures AND an unexpected marriage with Lucas, a tough-as-nails former soldier who has just come into an earldom. And the aforementioned tumbledown manor, which presents them both with a lot of challenges!
In this excerpt from His Mistletoe Bride, Phoebe and Lucas are about to arrive at their manor house, only a few hours after their wedding.
Sighing, Phoebe rummaged in her reticule for a handkerchief. Her freezing nose was beginning to drip, which meant she had to find the silly thing or be reduced to wiping her nose on her sleeve. That image almost made her snicker. The new Countess of Merritt wiping her nose on the sleeve of her expensive new pelisse, like a street urchin. It would almost be worth doing it in public someday, just to horrify the snobs of the ton.
Her maid, who had also been dozing, blinked fully awake and reached for a large bag at her feet. “Here, my lady,” Maggie said, extracting a linen handkerchief. “I was so busy seeing to your trunks that I right forgot to make sure you was properly supplied for the journey.”
With a grateful murmur, Phoebe took it from the cheerful young woman, who had previously been an upstairs maid at Stanton House. It felt extremely odd to have her own lady’s maid, but she supposed she would get used to it. No doubt a great deal faster than she would to being a countess. It was unfortunate no one had ever written a book of instructions for that particular job.
After dabbing her nose, Phoebe folded the linen into a square and stowed it in her reticule. She peered out the window again as the carriage came to a full stop. “We have not reached Mistletoe Manor, have we?”
“Don’t think so, my lady. I could lower the glass and ask, if you’d like.”
A sharp rap on the coach window startled them both. After pressing a hand to her thumping heart, Phoebe scooted across the seat and let down the glass.
Lucas had reined up by the side of the carriage and leaned down to look in at her. At the sight of his tough, handsome features, her heart thumped even harder.
“I’m sorry if I startled you,” he said. “Were you sleeping?”
“No,” she replied in a nearly breathless voice. “We were just about to put down the glass and ask if there was a problem.”
“It’s just a flock of sheep crossing the road.” His gaze flicked over her, coming to rest on her face. “Are you cold? There’s an inn only five minutes on. We could stop and warm up, if you like.”
Her nose must be as red as she had suspected. “Thank you, but I think not. I am eager to reach the manor.”
As he studied her, his mouth kicked up in a charming smile. Even in the gathering gloom she could see the build of heat in his eyes. The intensity of his gaze made her want to fidget.
“I’m eager as well, my sweet,” he said. “More than you can imagine.”
His masculine rumble brought fire rushing to her cheeks, which he seemed to find amusing. Grinning, he slid an affectionate stroke along her jawline before straightening back on his horse. “Put the window up and get under that blanket, Phoebe. I would be most unhappy if you caught a chill on our wedding night. Most unhappy.”
“Really, Lucas,” she huffed, but he had already spurred his horse ahead. She shoved the glass back up as the carriage started forward.
“Goodness, my lady,” exclaimed Maggie, vigorously fanning herself. “If you don’t mind me saying so, his lordship is such a handsome man. It’s a lucky woman you are, and that’s for sure.”
Phoebe blinked, not quite sure how to respond to such a candid pronouncement. But Lucas had been very affectionate, which was certainly an improvement on his cool, selfcontrolled behavior of the last few days.
Feeling rather better about things, Phoebe listened to Maggie’s cheerful prattle, even responding now and again. In less than half an hour, the carriage turned into a long gravel lane—one that had seen better days by the jostling that almost bounced them out of their seats—and eventually came to a halt in front of the lamp-lit entrance of a house.
As they waited for the carriage door to open, Phoebe checked that her bonnet was straight. A moment later, the footman let down the steps and Lucas handed her out. Feeling both shy and nervous, she gave him a smile, suddenly very grateful to have his protective presence at her side. She was about to enter into a strange new life with unfamiliar duties and responsibilities, including running a household considerably larger than anything she was used to.
Lucas bent to whisper in her ear. “Courage, Phoebe. I promise all will be well.”
Taking a deep breath, she nodded her reply and raised her eyes to the front of the house. The entrance blazed with light, and a number of servants clustered in the open doorway of Mistletoe Manor. The house itself, a massive shadow in the deepening dusk, loomed over them with ill-defined shapes reaching into the sky. She would have to wait for full daylight for a true picture of the building. For now, she simply had the impression of a brick sprawl, with many chimneys and a few shadowed towers.
Lucas urged her forward, his gloved hand warmly resting at the base of her spine. A rotund woman with a broad smile came bustling down the steps to greet them. “Lord Merritt, welcome home.”
“My dear, allow me to introduce you to Mistletoe Manor’s housekeeper,” Lucas said in a voice as dry as the champagne served at their wedding breakfast. “This is Mrs. Christmas. Mrs. Honor Christmas.”
Phoebe froze, wondering if Lucas was jesting. Honor Christmas at Mistletoe Manor? When she cut a quick glance to his face, his long-suffering expression told her he was not.
“Mrs. . . . Mrs. Christmas,” Phoebe stammered. “It’s an . . .honor to meet you.”
She repressed a groan at her idiotic response. She had a sinking feeling she might have already failed her first test as a countess by unintentionally insulting their housekeeper.
Readers, I'm giving away one copy today of His Mistletoe Bride. Just tell me what you're looking forward to this holiday season for a chance to win the book! Be sure to leave your email address in the comment thread.
BLAME IT ON THE MISTLETOE…
When Major Lucas Stanton inherited his earldom, he never dreamed his property would include the previous earl’s granddaughter. Phoebe Linville is a sparkling American beauty, yes, but with a talent for getting into trouble. Witness the compromising position that forced them into wedlock. Whisked away to Mistletoe Manor, his country estate, it isn’t long before she is challenging his rules—and surprising him in and out of bed…
Phoebe has no intention of bowing to Lucas’s stubbornness even though he offers all that she wants. His kisses and unexpected warmth are enticing, but Phoebe is determined to show the Earl of Merritt what real love is all about. And if that takes twelve nights of delicious seduction by a roaring fire, she’s more than willing to reveal her gifts very slowly…
Vanessa Kelly was named by Booklist, the review journal of the American Library Association, as one of the “New Stars of Historical Romance.” Her Regency-set historical romances have been nominated for awards in a number of contests, and her second book, Sex and The Single Earl, won the prestigious Maggie Medallion for Best Historical Romance. Vanessa also writes contemporary romance with her husband under the name of V.K. Sykes. You can find her on the web at www.vanessakellyauthor.com or at www.vksykes.com.
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