Beginning today and every week for the next seven weeks, the Bluestocking Belles bring you a bit of fiction, some holiday customs, a recipe and a gift. We begin with Jude Knight’s lovely pair from The Bluestocking and the Barbarian, her contribution to the Belle’s anthology, Holly and Hopeful Hearts. She gives us a peek at how they are doing a year later.
Christmas at Winds’ Gate
25th December, 1813
He had no time for the pleasantries of Christmas greetings or even the congratulations the villagers no doubt thought to offer. James had managed to tear himself away from the house for long enough to attend the Christmas service in the little parish church in the village of Wingatt, but he whispered his apologies to his sister Rosemary before the vicar began the final blessing, slipped past the inn-keeper’s wife with a smile and a nod, and made his escape.
The zigzag path from the valley floor was too narrow and too steep for carriages, but quicker than the more gradual climb of the carriage way that curved around behind the steep bluff to enter the grounds of the mansion from the south. James would not wait, but took the first three steps towards his father’s ducal seat at a bound. He was weary, running of nervous energy, and would doubtless sleep part of the afternoon, after he had eaten and seen his wife.
The bluff was one of the pair after which the village and the mansion were named. Winds’ Gate. All the winds that blew whistled and moaned their way through the gap. The westerlies, in particular, howled down from the mountains, channelling along the ravine that led to the pass that the original Winds’ Gate was built to protect. The narrow passage of the exit between the cliffs on either side compressed the winds still further, until they burst free to buffet the kinder country beyond.
By the time he turned the fourth sharp corner of the path, and stopped for a moment to take a deep breath, the congregation was leaving the church, looking as small as the toy soldiers he and Drew had carved and painted for Thomas, the youngest of his brothers. The box of soldiers waited in his suite to be brought out for gift giving that afternoon, along with presents for all the other members of the family gathered to celebrate the birth of the Christ child and the end of a most eventful year. Dresses of oriental silk for his sisters, cousins, and aunts. A Damascene knife for his father and another for Drew. A new saddle for Barney, who at 16 was too old for soldiers.
He had already given his wife his gift for her: a parure of rubies and diamonds. Necklace, earrings, brooch, bracelet, and tiara, made with stones he had purchased himself in the markets of Baghdad. But nothing was as precious as the gift she had presented to him.
He and Sophia had not been Earl and Countess of Sutton on Christmas Day last year. Indeed, had one of the people at the Duchess of Haverford’s house party told him they’d be wed not six days later, he would have been dubious. Delighted, but dubious.
But they’d been married before his grandfather died a few minutes before the new year. And look at them now. Grinning, he began the climb with renewed energy. The family was still chattering in the churchyard. He’d been right to leave without them.
The slope gentled, and Winds’ Gate sprawled before him, the Norman keep brooding at one end, the Tudor manor tucked neatly against it. Stuart towers and Georgian additions, including his grandfather’s Gothic follies, more than trebled the size of the older buildings, making it both grand and disjointed, like the work of giant children with wild imaginations and coloured wooden blocks in myriad shapes.
He approached a side door, festooned with garlands like every other door in the house. He had been busy yesterday while the rest of the family and many of the servants decorated, but he swore they had not missed a surface, except for his own bed chamber where they were not allowed. He had missed the Christmas bonfire, too, being otherwise occupied.
Letting himself into the house, he reached up to snap off a twig of mistletoe. Not that the lack of it would prevent him from kissing his darling wife, but traditions must be maintained after all.
Most of the servants were still returning from the Christmas service. James passed no one on the stair he used to ascend to the suite traditionally allocated to the heir and his wife. But inside the suite, he walked into a quiet hum of activity: two maids, his sister Ruth and his Aunt Grace all bustled busily between the sitting room and the inner bed chamber.
They greeted him with smiles, and stood aside so he could enter, and in moments he was holding the mistletoe over Sophia, kissing her gently then dropping his head to kiss his Christmas gift, the child at her breast; his new little daughter, Lady Mary Elizabeth Joy Winderfield.
An Assyrian Christmas
James grew up in the Kopat-Dag mountains, son of an English lord and a Persian lady. He and his family followed Chaldean Christmas traditions, as James explains in The Bluestocking and the Barbarian, which is part of the Bluestocking Belles’ holiday box set Holly and Hopeful Hearts.
Lady Felicity had clearly been thinking about the conversation the previous evening. “You mentioned presents for the children, Lord Elfingham. How many children do you have?”
Cheeky young woman. James laughed. “None, my lady, and no wife, either. But I have two brothers yet in the schoolroom, and nieces and nephews, nine of them when we left the mountains, but it will be ten now. The oldest, Zahrina, can read the story of the Nativity at the Christmas Eve bonfire, which makes me feel my years.”
Lady Sophia must have heard the wistful note in his voice. “You miss them.”
“I do, Lady Sophia, especially at festivals such as these. My family has been split in two, and though our love will bridge the distance with prayers and letters, we may never meet again this side of eternity.”
“Tell me about the Christmas Eve bonfire,” Felicity demanded.
James obediently described the festivities: the whole household gathered in the courtyard with candles while a child read the age-old story, the kindling of the bonfire, and the carrying of the light into the house to herald the beginning of the Christmas festivities.
“Then after the church service on Christmas Day, we return home to a feast,” James explained. “We have fasted from all animal products for the whole of December, my ladies, so our Christmas dinner includes dishes made with lamb and chicken, and how we relish them after the fast!”
Jude’s gift for our readers is a free copy of the novella that was part of last year’s box set, Gingerbread Bride.
She ran to save herself from an unwanted marriage, and to find family who would care. Her childhood hero escorted her to her aunt, and couldn’t forget her.
Just click on the link, select buy, and enter the code NY59Y. (Valid to 30 November)
This is the recipe I used for the bride on the cover. It also works well for gingerbread houses.
2/3rd cup molasses
2/3rd cup packed dark-brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
12 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons baking soda (not traditional — but improves the texture)
220 gms butter (2 sticks or 8 oz)
3 1/2 cups of flour (more if needed)
1 large egg, beaten.
- Put molasses, sugar, and spices in a pot and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve. Boil for two minutes and then take off heat.
- Add baking soda and stir until it froths up.
- Add butter and stir until it melts.
- Add one third of the flour and mix.
- Add egg and rest of the flour, and mix until the mixture is smooth and not tacky.
- Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead until you have a good dough. It should not stick to your hands when ready. Add more flour, a little at a time, if you need to.
- Divide the dough in half.
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
- For each half, roll out the dough to your desired thickness — thinner dough will be less robust but crisper.
- Transfer to a baking sheet and chill till firm.
- Cut into shapes and remove scraps.
- Rechill your baking sheet of shapes.
- Bake until golden.
- Let shapes cool completely on the baking sheets.
- Ice with royal icing, with fondant icing cut with the same shape cutters, or with a combination.
When the Duchess of Haverford sends out invitations to a Yuletide house party and a New Year’s Eve ball at her country estate, Hollystone Hall, those who respond know that Her Grace intends to raise money for her favorite cause and promote whatever marriages she can. Eight assorted heroes and heroines set out with their pocketbooks firmly clutched and hearts in protective custody. Or are they?
25% of proceeds will go the The Malala Fund for girls’ education, a cause dear to the Duchess of Haverford’s Heart. At 570+ pages it includes eight all-new novellas, diverse characters, and something for everyone’s taste.
DECEMBER SPECIAL REDUCED TO .99 THIS MONTH ONLY.
Buy Links for Holly and Hopeful Hearts
Amazon US: http://ow.ly/INwa3049Ey3
Amazon UK: http://ow.ly/ZMuH3049ELM
Amazon Australia: http://ow.ly/TczG3049EQ2
Amazon Canada: http://ow.ly/IERm3049EYM
Barnes & Noble: http://ow.ly/LqCI304jGuS
About the Stories
A Suitable Husband, by Jude Knight
As the Duchess of Haverford’s companion, Cedrica Grenford is not treated as a poor relation and is encouraged to mingle with Her Grace’s guests. Surely she can find a suitable husband amongst the gentlemen gathered for the duchess’s house party. Above stairs or possibly below.
Valuing Vanessa, by Susana Ellis
Facing a dim future as a spinster under her mother’s thumb, Vanessa Sedgely makes a practical decision to attach an amiable gentleman who will not try to rule her life.
A Kiss for Charity, by Sherry Ewing
Young widow Grace, Lady de Courtenay, has no idea how a close encounter with a rake at a masquerade ball would make her yearn for love again. Can she learn to forgive Lord Nicholas Lacey and set aside their differences to let love into her heart?
Artemis, by Jessica Cale
Actress Charlotte Halfpenny is in trouble. Pregnant, abandoned by her lover, and out of a job, Charlotte faces eviction two weeks before Christmas. When the reclusive Earl of Somerton makes her an outrageous offer, she has no choice but to accept. Could he be the man of her dreams, or is the nightmare just beginning?
The Bluestocking and the Barbarian, by Jude Knight
James must marry to please his grandfather, the duke, and to win social acceptance for himself and his father’s other foreign-born children. But only Lady Sophia Belvoir makes his heart sing, and to win her he must invite himself to spend Christmas at the home of his father’s greatest enemy.
Christmas Kisses, by Nicole Zoltack
Louisa Wycliff, Dowager Countess of Exeter wants only for her darling daughter, Anna, to find a man she can love and marry. Appallingly, Anna has her sights on a scoundrel of a duke who chases after every skirt he sees. Anna truly thinks the dashing duke cares for her, but her mother has her doubts.
An Open Heart, by Caroline Warfield
Esther Baumann longs for a loving husband who will help her create a home where they will teach their children to value the traditions of their people, but she wants a man who is also open to new ideas and happy to make friends outside their narrow circle. Is it so unreasonable to ask for toe curling passion as well?
Dashing Through the Snow, by Amy Rose Bennett
Headstrong bluestocking, Miss Kate Woodville, never thought her Christmas would be spent racing across England with a viscount hell-bent on vengeance. She certainly never expected to find love…
Jude Knight writes stories to transport you to another time, another place, where you can enjoy adventure and romance, thrill to trials and challenges, uncover secrets and solve mysteries, and delight in a happy ending.
A late starter, she now has the wind in her sails and a head full of strong determined heroines, heroes with the sense to appreciate them, and villains you’ll love to loathe.
Website and Blog: http://www.judeknightauthor.com/