It’s XOXO AD’s 12 Days of Christmas! To “stuff your stocking” before Santa arrives later in the month, we’re bringing you holiday excerpts each day, from now through December 12. Be sure to check back every day for a heartwarming, ho-ho-holiday treat!
Today’s treat is from Jane Feather’s A Holiday Gamble. Edward Vasey, otherwise known as Viscount Allenton, is journeying precariously through a snowstorm one night when his coach is overtaken by highwaymen. Robbed and stranded, Edward takes refuge at Selby Hall, where he meets a spirited beauty who’s after a hidden will. But she may steal something more—his heart.
“Thank you for the vote of confidence,” he said somewhat unsteadily. “I think I can handle Belton.”
“Yes, I’m sure you can,” Georgie said. She uncurled herself from the floor and came over to him. “And you will visit me in my attic hideaway whenever you can.” She stood on tiptoe to kiss him.
Her mouth was sweet with a lingering residue of milk and brandy, and her fire-warmed skin had the scent of woodsmoke mingling with rosewater and lavender. He held the slight frame against him, running his hands over the shape of her, committing it to memory. Then reluctantly he raised his head and stepped away from her. “Are you going now?”
She shook her head. “I must talk to Jacobs first. But come with me now and I’ll show it to you so you’ll know where to come.” She dropped her discarded nightgown over her head and shrugged into the peignoir, looking around the floor for the satin slippers she had been wearing.
She found one in a corner, the other halfway under the bed.
“How did they get all the way over there, I wonder,”she murmured with a mischievous grin as she slippedthem on her feet. “Bring the candle.” She reached for hishand. “Come.” She put a finger to her lips and led him from the room.
She took him up a dark and unpainted stairway hidden behind a door at the end of the passage. Ned held the candle aloft, casting their shadows long on the grimy walls and the steep and curving flight of stairs. At the head she opened a door that should have creaked but opened instead on well-oiled hinges.
Inside was a cavernous space filled with the bulky shapes of old furniture shrouded in dust sheets.
“Through here.” Georgiana led the way with confident steps through the obstacle course toward the back of the space. She pushed aside a chest with her hip, and a narrow door was revealed. This too opened on oiled hinges to reveal a small round chamber with a dormer window opaque with snow. A narrow cot piled high with quilts, a charcoal brazier unlit but clearly in working order, a table and chair, two oil lamps and a deep armchair completed its simple furnishings.
“See,” she said, flinging her arms wide. “Isn’t it cozy?”
“Yes, but you won’t want to be immured in here for very long,” Ned said flatly. “You have far too much energy, dear girl. You’ll go out of your mind with boredom in two days.”
She looked at him with a half smile. “I’m assuming you’ll be relieving my boredom occasionally, sir. And providing me with the opportunity for exercise several times a day.”
“What a wanton you are,” he said, gathering her into his arms, pushing up her chin with his palm. “No one would believe you were a maid but an hour since.”
“Oh, I have always been a quick learner,” she said, nibbling his bottom lip, then teasing the corner of his mouth with the tip of her tongue. “Shall we test the bed?”
“For God’s sake, Georgie, it’s nearly morning. You are far too reckless for your own or anyone’s good,” he chided, half laughing but meaning it. “The servants will be up and who knows who else.”
“Not Selby and his guests,” she said with a moue of disappointment. “They won’t show themselves until close to noon.” She sighed. “But I suppose you’re right.”
“I am,” he said firmly, turning her back to the door. “Let’s go.” He eased her forward with a hand in the small of her back, enjoying the curve of her spine, the warmth of her skin, and trying very hard not to yield to the resurgent wave of desire.
At the foot of the stairs, he gave her the candle. “Go now. I’ll follow in a few minutes.”
She turned her mouth for a farewell kiss. “I won’t appear for breakfast. Come to me this afternoon.”
“I might be too busy spying,” he teased, kissing the tip of her nose. “Hurry now.”
Georgiana slipped through the door, turned to blow him a kiss, and then was gone in a waft of silk and muslin.
On the seventh day of Christmas, XOXOAD gave to me…
And for so many more treats, check out this site for holiday fun!