The Bluestocking Belles bring you a gift, a bit of holiday fiction, some information about the holiday, and a recipe, as we will every week for seven weeks. Anthony Lockhart, Lord Stanton, and Kate Woodville are the hero and heroine from Amy Rose Bennett’s novella, Dashing Through the Snow, one of the eight novellas featured in the Bluestocking Belles’ 2016 holiday anthology, Holly and Hopeful Hearts. Today, Amy is sharing an exclusive epilogue with you all. Read on to see how Anthony and Kate are faring a year on…
Don’t forget, Holly and Hopeful Hearts is 99 cents until Sunday only, and you might want to check the stories and gifts for the last four weeks as well.
The Best Christmas Ever
December 25th, 1813
Ashcombe Village, Oxfordshire
The frost-rimed ground crunched underfoot as Anthony Lockhart, Viscount Stanton, carefully escorted his wife of almost a year, Kate, Lady Stanton, across the churchyard of St Mary’s toward their waiting carriage. The Christmas service had been lovely but Kate was more than ready to put her aching feet up onto an ottoman before a roaring fire and drink a cup of hot chocolate when they got home. Despite the fact she’d sat in a pew near a brazier, she was half-frozen. She was certain her nose, toes and fingertips were as blue as her merino wool redingote and matching bonnet.
Kate glanced back at her brother and his wife, Violet. “But it looks like snow.” The day was gray and an icy wind kept nipping at her skirts.
“Pish.” Freddie and Violet drew alongside her and Anthony. “A little snow never hurt anyone, sis. Besides,” he gently nudged Kate’s arm, “I thought you could use the extra space in the carriage.”
Anthony’s brow knit into a scowl but Kate laughed at her brother’s good-natured jibe and patted her rather large belly. “Yes, well, I can’t really argue with you about that.”
The physician had told her the babe was due any day now and that she should really be confined to her bed, but Kate wasn’t having any of it. When Anthony had tried to persuade her to stay home instead of attending the Christmas service, Kate had firmly pointed out that she was with child, not an invalid. And of course her darling Anthony had acquiesced to her wishes. Despite his stern countenance, he really was the sweetest, most generous husband a woman could wish for. She was truly blessed.
After Anthony helped her into the coach, Kate couldn’t suppress a small groan as she settled back against the squabs.
“Your back is hurting, isn’t it, my love?” Anthony said as he took a seat beside her and lay a soft wool blanket across her knees. He rapped on the carriage roof and they began to move along the frozen mud lane leading to Ashcombe Park.
Anthony’s gray eyes darkened with concern. “Perhaps you’ve overdone things—”
Her husband broke off as the carriage hit a rut and Kate gasped. Her belly had tightened and the pain in her back quite took her breath away. “Oh dear,” she murmured reaching for Anthony’s hand.
Anthony’s frown deepened. “Do you think the baby’s coming?”
Kate nodded as another agonizing twinge took hold. “Ah… yes.”
Anthony squeezed her hand gently then raised it to his lips. “Well, at least you won’t be hurling bowls of wassail punch over me this year,” he said with a small smile.
Despite her discomfort, Kate managed a laugh. “No. No, I won’t. But I think we might be going to have a rather interesting Christmas all the same.”
This time Anthony’s smile lit his eyes. The love in his gaze stole Kate’s breath all over again. “I predict it will be the best Christmas ever, my darling. You’ve made me the happiest man in the world and I cannot wait to hold our baby in my arms.”
* * *
Anthony couldn’t stop smiling. Curled up beside him in their wide tester bed lay an exhausted Kate. And in his arms, also sleeping peacefully, was their son, The Honorable Julian Anthony Frederick Lockhart.
Anthony’s gaze drifted to Kate’s face. Her unruly red-gold curls were fanned out across the white linen pillow and if he hadn’t been cradling Julian, he’d have bent down to kiss her soft, sleep-flushed cheek. His wonderful, brave wife had labored through the whole of Christmas Day until the early hours of this morning. It had not been an easy birth and Anthony thanked God and all his angels that in the end, Kate had delivered their healthy son safely into this world. And according to Dr. Curtis and the midwife, all would be well with Kate too.
The bedside clock softly chimed the hour. It was seven o’clock and Anthony was sure it wouldn’t be long before Violet and Freddie and even his stepmother, Phyllis, would all be gathered at the door, waiting admittance. He expected his stepmother’s constant companion, a sweet-natured gray tabby cat, Pearl, might even put in an appearance too.
But for now, he had Kate and his son all to himself. Anthony adjusted his position slightly in the bed and Kate stirred.
“I’m sorry I woke you, my love,” he murmured as she sat up and yawned. Her sea-green eyes might be shadowed with fatigued and her hair a wild tumult, but to him, she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.
Kate smiled sleepily and placed a gentle kiss upon his stubbled cheek. “That’s all right,” she said in a sleep-husky voice before laying her head upon his shoulder. “How’s our little man?”
“Sleeping like a baby.”
Kate poked him in the ribs and he grinned. “Shall I ring for the nurse or your maid? Would you like anything? Some hot chocolate or buttered toast? I think there might even be some wassail punch left over.”
Another poke. “No, I don’t need a thing,” Kate whispered. She reached out a finger and stroked the dark, downy hair on top of their son’s small head. “Everything I want is right here.”
“I feel the same way.” Julian yawned and stuffed his tiny fist into his mouth and Anthony thought his heart might explode with love. He kissed his wife gently on the lips. “I love you, Kate.”
She smiled back, her eyes welling with tears as she murmured, “I love you too. And if I didn’t say it yesterday, Happy Christmas.”
“Happy Christmas to you too, my darling. I’m so proud of you. And I was right.”
Kate arched a quizzical brow. “About what?”
“This is the best Christmas ever.”
All She Wants for Christmas is Amy Rose Bennett’s first Christmas novella. It was released last year in the Bluestocking Belles’ Mistletoe, Marriage, and Mayhem box set but is now available as a standalone title.
A frosty bluestocking and a hot-blooded rake. A stolen kiss and a Yuletide wedding. Sparks fly, but will hearts melt this Christmas? When confirmed bluestocking, Tessa Penrose, is thoroughly compromised at a Yuletide ball by Jasper, the Earl of Arlington, she is none too pleased to have to marry him. But not only her reputation is at stake. Can Tessa trust this disreputable rogue with a secret she will do anything to hide? One thing is certain: she dare not trust her husband with her heart.
Click on any of the following retailer links to download your free copy.
About Boxing Day
Among Regency Christmastide Traditions, the day after Christmas, or St Stephen’s Day, became known as Boxing Day because of the custom of giving presents or ‘Christmas boxes’ to charity. The gentry also presented their staff with gifts for good service during the year. Fox hunting was also a traditional Boxing Day activity for the gentry.
4 cups apple cider
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup dark rum
1/4 cup brandy
1 tablespoon orange liqueur
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
Salt to taste
1/2 lemon, thinly sliced
1/2 orange, thinly sliced
In a saucepan bring the apple cider to a boil over medium heat, add the brown sugar and cook mixture, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved.
Remove pan from heat and add the rum, brandy, orange liqueur, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, salt, and fruit slices. Heat mixture over moderate heat, stirring, 2 minutes. Pour the wassail into wine glasses and serve.
This recipe has been adapted from: La Belle Cuisine, Recipe from the Gourmet Archives
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…
An excerpt from Dashing Through the Snow
Freddie Woodville, Kate’s brother, has eloped with Violet, Lord Stanton’s sister. But when Freddie arrives at his uncle’s house on Christmas Eve, he discovers Anthony, Lord Stanton, kissing Kate beneath the mistletoe…
What the bloody devil?
Anthony broke away from Kate at the sound of Freddie Woodville’s voice. Jesus Christ and all his saints. What was he doing here?
Searing anger shot through him replacing the sweet pleasure he’d felt only seconds before. He turned, his hands sliding from Kate’s stiffening body to fist at his sides. “I might ask you the same thing, Woodville,” he growled savagely. His knuckles cracked. “Where’s Violet?”
“My wife, thank God, is still waiting in the carriage.” Freddie Woodville advanced across the chamber with sure strides. His gaze shifted to his sister who still stood in the doorway to the drawing room. “Katie, I didn’t expect to see you here. Are you all right? If Stanton has hurt you—”
“You vile bastard. I’ll have your guts for garters.” Anthony’s ire exploded in his chest and he launched himself at the blackguard. They went down onto the Turkish runner then rolled onto the freezing cold, unforgiving flagstones, both of them trying to gain the upper hand.
Anthony’s elbow connected with Woodville’s jaw but then the dog kneed him in the guts, winding him. He was vaguely aware of Kate screaming and shouting at them to stop as he rolled on top of Woodville and landed a glancing blow to the side of his head. Then to the cur’s mouth. Another male voice joined the cacophony of sound.
Then both he and Woodville were drowning in a deluge of wine. Or more precisely, wassail punch.
Coughing and spluttering they fell apart. When Anthony looked up it was to find Kate standing over him like an avenging angel, her rose-gold hair a fiery halo, her green eyes blazing. In one hand she held the empty silver wassail bowl.
“Stop it. Both of you. How dare you tear each other apart like this,” she snapped, her voice an angry lash. “It’s Christmas for heaven’s sake!”
A furious Uncle Harold stepped forward. “Now see here,” he growled. “I’ll have none of this disgraceful brawling in my house. If you want to take this outside and settle it like gentlemen, by all means d—”
“No.” Kate stamped her foot. “There will no more fighting. No brawling, no dueling, no nothing, do you hear me? I’m sick to death of both of you. Your feud is puerile. Grow up.” With that, Kate threw the wassail bowl onto the floor where it landed with a crash before she stormed across the Hall toward the vestibule and the front door. “I’m going to greet my new sister, offer her congratulations on her nuptials and wish her a merry Christmas,” she called over her shoulder. “The rest of you can join me or go rot.
Susana Ellis has always had stories in her head waiting to come out, especially when she learned to read and her imagination began to soar.
A former teacher, Susana lives in Toledo, Ohio in the summer and Florida in the winter. She is a member of the Central Florida Romance Writers and the Beau Monde chapters of RWA and Maumee Valley Romance Inc.