A Royal Guest
on Christmas Eve with Katy Madison
on Christmas Eve with Katy Madison
About The Author:
Award winning author Katy Madison has always loved stories. As a child she was always lugging around a book. At the age of eight, after having gone through over a hundred Nancy Drew mysteries, all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books—at least twice—and many others including her full weekly allotment of library books, Katy went to her mother and begged for a new book to read. Her frustrated mother handed her a romance novel. Katy fell in love with the genre. She quickly discovered where her mother hid the rest and began sneaking them out to read. She cut her eyeteeth on books by Georgetty Heyer and Mary Stewart, not to mention dozens of Barbara Cartland Regency romances.
Katy writes gothic historical romances and Regency historical romance. She also writes American-set historical romances for Harlequin under the name Kate Madison and gritty romantic suspense under the name K. T. Madison.
She lives the glamorous life of a writer, which mostly means she stays in her pajamas all day, in an older house on a tree-lined street in Kansas City, Missouri. She thinks nothing is better than curling up in front of the fireplace with a good book. Visit her on the web at www.katymadison.com
The Duke and Duchess of Trent have a long history of Christmas house parties. After his father dies, the newest duke (The hero of Compromised by Christmas) is determined to keep this tradition alive. But when the Prince of Wales asks to hold a private knighting ceremony on Christmas Eve to honor men whose covert services to the crown have proved invaluable to the kingdom what can he do but acquiesce to the royal wish. The men will be knighted in secret, but they will be able to claim their status when their services are no longer needed in the war against France. The Duke never thinks that the sprigs of mistletoe that proved so lethal to him and his stepmother might trap another family member in another Christmastime enchantment... -Katy
A Royal Guest on Christmas Eve
Tossing Her scarf
"Thomas, I'm going to kill you." Julia hiked her skirts and chased after her pesky younger brother. A pox on him.
Because she was only allowed to wear a simple white muslin round gown instead of one of her sister-in-law's divine creations, Mama had allowed her to wear a very fine Chinese shawl, which her brother had snatched off her shoulders. He raced ahead, the red silk trailing behind him like a battle pennant.
She was too old to be running through the house after Thomas, but her brother likely thought her as willing to play as she'd been before he started at Eton.
He turned down the stairs to the great hall. She whipped around following him. "Thomas, stop before you ruin it."
A gentleman in black stepped out of the shadows near the bottom of the stairs.
Her heart thumped awkwardly. Pine needles pricked her hand as she grabbed the evergreen-and-ribbon-wrapped banister to stop her flight.
Her sister-in-law and Mama had spent the last few days in a flurry of decorating the house. Everything had to be perfect for the Prince of Wales's visit this Christmas Eve.
Thomas spun around. His eyes widened and his mouth rounded. He flung the shawl over the railing where it snagged on the massive Christmas tree a good twelve feet above the ground.
He ran up the stairs past her and fled into the recesses of the house. How in the world would she retrieve her shawl from the tree?
The man, whom she had never seen before, tilted his head, slowly raked his eyes down her body then asked, "Would you like me to complement your knees or your garters?"
"Neither." She dropped the hems of her skirt and petticoat and smoothed them down. Her cheeks burned. There seemed to be a lot of people at this secret royal visit to bestow knighthoods. "Who are you?"
"You have very pretty ankles then." He bent at the waist, but his eyes never left hers. "Garrett Arden at your service, my lady."
The heat from her face flowed through her body in strange ways. Striving for nonchalance as if men remarked on her limbs all the time, she cast a glance at her snagged shawl. When she turned back he'd disappeared.
Blinking she half wondered if she'd imagined him. "Sir?"
Looking left and right, she descended the stairs. The hall was dark with the mid-winter gloom, and the footmen normally stationed by the front door must be employed getting ready to serve dinner. She circled the base of the tree looking for the mysterious man invading her home.
Like a cat, he dropped down beside her.
She nearly jumped to whatever height he had fallen from. "Goodness."
His dark eyes twinkled as he handed her the shawl and stuffed something into his pocket.
"Where did you come from?"
"My mother told me from heaven, but my father was certain I came from a much warmer locale."
He shook his head and managed to compose his features into a bland mask of mild confusion. "I've been right here all along."
She wasn't fooled.
Behind him was the cavernous fireplace, which would contain the Yule log on the morrow. Had he been on the mantel? A tiny smear on the lower part of his unmentionables gave him away. "You've sap on you."
How had he managed to get onto the mantel five feet above the hearth?
"Regrettable." He tugged down his cuffs.
The distance to where her shawl had been caught on the tree was considerable. Yards. It wouldn't do to have the tree catch fire from a stray spark. Being on the mantel would have only put him near the same height, but not close enough to reach. "How did you get my shawl down?"
"Are you not glad to have it? I could toss it back up if you think it adds to the festive look of the tree." His eyes narrowed for just a second as if he were contemplating draping it around the top.
While he looked at the tree, she studied him. His hair was dark and combed into a modest style. His cravat was a pearl gray and his waistcoat a muted blue. He'd easily blend into the shadows. Even so she couldn't help but look at him. "Are you one of Roxy's relatives?"
"Roxy?" he echoed weakly.
"The Duchess of Trent."
"Most assuredly not."
"Ah, you can answer questions with something other than a question," she murmured.
The side of his mouth lifted.
Suddenly the idea that there was mistletoe hanging in the alcove at the top of the stairs popped into her head. What would his mouth feel like on hers? She banished the thought. Her mother would be horrified and had gone to great lengths to warn her to stay clear of the mistletoe especially while his highness was in the house. Although, she was hardly likely to appeal to the prince who liked much more mature women. Was this man part of the prince's retinue? "Why are you here?"
"To be knighted." He pressed a finger to his lips. "Shh, it's a secret."
"Surely not," she said. He was too young. He appeared only a few years older than she was. "What service have you performed for the crown?"
"You are mighty inquisitive."
Footfalls on the stairs sent a frisson of disappointment through her. Their tête-à-tête would be cut short. Garrett's face blanked as if he'd scrubbed any expression from it.
"Oh, there you are, Arden," said her stepfather. "Come up to the drawing room and meet everyone."
Scully—she was never quite sure how to address her stepfather, since he'd been her brother's friend before he married Mama—started back up the stairs, then turned and stared hard at Garrett. "When did you get in?"
Garrett brushed his sleeve. "Yesterday."
How had he arrived yesterday? Surely Mama or Roxy would have told her if there was another gentleman staying in the house.
Scully rolled his eyes. "Did you come in through a door?"
Garrett's chin lifted and a smile flashed across his face in a way that stole her breath.
"Where did you sleep—never mind." Scully shook his head. "Use the doors, Arden. That's an order."
"Don't want to let my skills get rusty." Garrett's twinkling eyes suggested he was entirely unrepentant.
"Come along, both of you. We can't keep the prince waiting." Scully went back up the stairs.
Garrett nudged her chin, letting her know her jaw had dropped during the exchange.
Was Scully the one in charge? She'd thought the ceremony happening here was some trick of her brother Max's. And why would Garrett avoid doors? "Are you some kind of sneak thief?"
A hint of a smile creased around his eyes. Intelligent eyes, that a minute ago had appeared vacant. "Master spy, love." He held out his arm. "I believe we've received our marching orders."
She slid her hand into the crook of his elbow. They took the steps, her brain whirring. He paused and cocked his head at the top of the stairs. "I don't believe I've ever said that before."
"Which part?" Calling himself a spy or calling her love, which left her a bit shaky. Her gaze darted to the alcove with the sprig of mistletoe. Her heart kicked into a gallop. She wanted to appear sophisticated and aware instead of a silly schoolroom miss, but she hadn't the faintest idea how to maneuver under the mistletoe without being ridiculously obvious or far too bold.
"Claimed my occupation." He took a step and nodded toward the alcove. "Don't even think it. You are not old enough."
She tugged him to a stop. "The butcher's daughter is married and expecting and she is two months younger than me." Granted she was only sixteen, but he had the wrong impression because she'd chased after Thomas. "I am very much old enough."
He studied her his eyes narrowing. Then pell-mell he had her backed into the alcove under the mistletoe. His fingers ran down the side of her cheek. "Certain?"
She was quite certain rivers of sensation were running down her spine. Words were impossible. She nodded.
His lips twitched as if he were laughing at her.
"I owe you for the rescue of my shawl," she managed. Her words fluttered like leaves caught in the wind.
His eyes dropped to her lips. "You are still too young."
Nonetheless he bent and touched his firm lips to hers just as she was trying to gulp in air that was in short supply. Everything tingled, even her toes.
He drew back just as she was adjusting to the shock of a man's lips on hers.
She wasn't having her first kiss be a near brotherly peck.
Throwing her arms around his shoulders she bounced up on toes and drew him toward her. With a groan he bent and crushed his lips against hers. His arms came around just in time to keep her from falling as her legs turned to pudding.
Her pulse raced and secret parts of her grew warm as she pressed into him. He made a sound deep in his throat somewhere between a growl and a purr. The sound sent liquid fire through her veins. His fingers splayed on her back crushing her chest against his as he deepened the kiss.
Oh my! Nothing was brotherly about the kiss now.
Lifting his head he stared down at her. His chest heaved against hers.
Thoughts flitted in and out of her brain as if she were a nitwit. Surely, one of them had to say something. She stroked a finger along the edge of his collar. "So where did you sleep last night?"
His eyes widened. "From another woman, I'd take that as an invitation."
An invitation? She tried to work out what that meant. She bit her tingling lip as she stared at him.
"Don't tempt me, Lady Julia." He reached up a plucked a white berry from the sprig and handed it to her as he loosened his embrace. "I am entirely too good at finding my way into places I don't belong.
Goodness. Was he thinking she was asking him into her room...her bed? The idea started a buzzing deep inside her. Heat climbed up her face. "I didn't mean..." Oh heavens. "You couldn't...anyway, the third floor passage is locked at night."
His lips moved as if he fought a smile, and she stared at them.
"Now that, love, was too much of a challenge to resist."~*~*~*~
*Don't forget to stop by Ramblings From This Chick for Lecia Cornwall's Scene*
Roxana Winston's family is in dire straits. Instructed to land a wealthy husband by any means necessary, she is packed off to a holiday season house party thrown by the wealthy Duke of Trent, Maximilian St. Clair. She is determined to get herself compromised, and she needs Max to play his role as protector and demand the proper recompense for her when the time comes. But unbeknownst to everyone, Roxana has a secret plan to break free of the narrow roles for women defined by society. Her skills with the needle can be used for more than disguising her poverty; she hopes she can turn designing into a career. The last thing she needs is to fall for Max, who has a very inconvenient sense of honor and thwarts her every attempt to persuade a certain gentleman to cross the line.
While Max is amused by the lovely Miss Winston's schemes to land a wealthy husband, he is determined to protect her virtue, even when the greatest threat to it comes from him. And when he learns the reason for his guest's behavior, he is more determined then ever to give her the greatest gift of all...even if that means he has to throw his principles to the wind.
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