Friday, December 21, 2012

Sharing a First Kiss...with Cheryl Hoyt (+Giveaway)

Sharing a First Kiss  
on Christmas Eve with Cheryl Holt

About the Author:
CHERYL HOLT is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of over thirty novels. 
She’s also a lawyer and mom, and at age forty, with two babies at home, she started a new career as a commercial fiction writer. She’d hoped to be a suspense novelist, but couldn’t sell any of her manuscripts, so she ended up taking a detour into romance where she was stunned to discover that she has a knack for writing some of the world’s greatest love stories. 
Her books have been released to wide acclaim, and she has won or been nominated for many national awards. She is particularly proud to have been named “Best Storyteller of the Year” by the trade magazine Romantic Times BOOK Reviews.
She lives and writes in Hollywood, California, and she loves to hear from fans. Visit her website at www.cherylholt.com.

Find Cheryl Online: Website | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter


I’m so excited to be included in this year’s Christmas event. For my scene, I have chosen to feature Miss Clarinda Dudley and Captain Aiden Bramwell. They have appeared as secondary characters in several of my books.
Clarinda Dudley is a recurring character in the three novels of my “Spinster’s Cure” trilogy that was released in 2010. She is a healer and white witch who travels with her brother, Phillip Dudley (aka Philippe Dubois). He is a smooth-talking con artist and swindler who sells fake love potions and tonics to unsuspecting women. Throughout Clarinda’s life, her main tasks were to keep him out of trouble, out of jail, and to curb his worst schemes. The last time readers saw Clarinda, she had parted with her brother and was house-sitting for her friend, Captain Tristan Odell, at his lovely manor house in rural Scotland.
Aiden Bramwell is the younger brother of the earl of Roxbury. He is an experienced sea captain who—much to his family’s horror—is engaged in trade. He owns several ships and is using them to build his own fortune so, when he marries, he can do so as a rich man without having to beg his older brother for money. His family is very stuffy, very snobbish, with annoying opinions about class and status and how the nobility shouldn’t interact with commoners. So Clarinda is the exact opposite of the woman he would deem suitable for anything. He made a cameo appearance in my book, DREAMS OF DESIRE, and will also appear in my long-lost book, LOVE’S PRICE, coming in 2013.
Clarinda and Aiden come from very different backgrounds and have very different personalities, which is a set up that produces a terrific hero and heroine. I’ve always thought they should cross paths and end up together with their own story and their own book. But I simply haven’t had time to write it.
In this short scene, I decided to see how they fit together as a couple. They are both in Scotland, with Clarinda living there and Aiden on holiday. They meet on Christmas Eve when he’s had a bit too much to drink and has been in a fight in a taproom.
Merry Christmas Clarinda and Aiden! - Cheryl


First Kiss on Christmas Eve
by Cheryl Holt


Clarinda Dudley stared up at the night sky, peering at the clouds that floated over the moon.  A few snowflakes drifted down.  Her cheeks and nose were red from the cold, her fingers, too, where they gripped the carriage reins.
It was Christmas Eve, and the entire world was locked in, sequestered around their fires.  She was the only one foolish enough to be out and about.
“Duty always calls,” she murmured to the silent woods.
She’d been invited to several parties, but she’d shunned the festivities, telling herself that she was happy to spend the holiday in her own parlor, by her own roaring fire.  In light of the itinerant life she’d led, traipsing after her brother, she’d thought she would enjoy the novel experience of celebrating Christmas—for the very first time—under her very own roof.
But the house was so large, the rooms so big and empty.  The servants were her sole company, and while she’d never fancied herself as being very far above any of them, she currently was.  If she tried to engage them in friendly conversation, they gaped at her as if she’d grown a second head.
Even in her little corner of rural Scotland, boundaries had to be maintained.  She was their mistress, and the servants wouldn’t let her forget it.
When a knock had sounded at the door, she’d been pacing and bored out of her mind.  It had been a relief to be summoned by a neighbor.  She’d lived in the area for six months, and her reputation as a healer and apothecary had quickly spread.  She was constantly sought after to tend fevers or stitch wounds.
And she always agreed to help.  She’d never been idle and had no idea how gently-bred young ladies could stomach their leisure hours.  Sloth drove her mad.  She liked to work and be useful, and she wouldn’t apologize for her skills or her delight in practical endeavor.  
She wondered what time it was, if it wasn’t already Christmas Day.  She wasn’t in any hurry to arrive at home.  There was naught to do but stroll through the quiet salons, listening to her footsteps echo off the high ceilings.
She missed her brother and was thinking about him so intently that she wasn’t paying attention to her surroundings.  She’d just rounded a bend, when her horse snorted and reared slightly.  His sudden movement nearly yanked her off the seat, giving her the fright of her life. 
A man was walking down the center of the road, and she pulled on the reins and steered to a stop.
“Oh, hello,” he said, as if they were on a busy street on a sunny afternoon, instead of the middle of nowhere on a snowy winter night.
“Hello,” she said, too. “You’re lucky I didn’t run you over.  Didn’t you hear me approaching?”
“No.  I’m a bit…distracted.”
“Are you all right?”
“Do you mean besides my horse being stolen, my very likely having some broken ribs, and my almost getting stabbed?”
“Stabbed!”
“Yes—with a fat, rusty knife.”
“My goodness.  Are you injured?”
“Only my pride.  I had a…misunderstanding at the taproom in the village.”
Clarinda chuckled.  “If only your pride is bruised, I’m sure you’ll survive.”
“I’m sure I will, too.”
“Seriously, though.  Are you all right?”
He glanced down his torso.  “I appear to be.”
“Would you like a ride?” she asked.
“That depends on where you’re going.”
“I’m for home—over the next hill.  Where are you going?”
“Home, too, a few hills beyond you.”
Mentally, she counted the properties down the valley, mildly curious as to which grand manor he was headed.  Several prominent families had opened their mansions for the holiday season, and with her being a friend of British sea captain, Tristan Odell, Clarinda was invited to their suppers and dances and card parties. 
When she’d initially arrived in Scotland, she’d attended every soiree, but the glamour had swiftly faded.  She didn’t like rich people, couldn’t abide their snobbish, superior ways.  She’d always lived by her wits and cunning, and she’d rapidly lost the patience required to tolerate their kind of nonsense.
In her view, wealth and foolishness went hand in hand.
“Who is your host?” she inquired.  “Lord Roxbury?”
“His mother.”
“Poor thing,” she tutted.  The Bramwells were the worst of the lot and the earl’s mother a vicious shrew.  “I’ve heard she can be quite vexing.”
  “Vexing does not begin to describe her.”
“How about that ride?” she asked again as a cold blast of wind whipped at her coat.  “You can drop me off, then proceed on to Roxbury’s.  I trust you to return my horse and vehicle tomorrow.  If you don’t, I’ll know where to find you.”
“Aren’t you afraid of me?  You’re a woman alone on a dark road and you’re…”  His voice trailed off, and he scowled.  “Why are you out here all alone?”
“I was called out on business.”
“On Christmas Eve?”
“I’m a healer.  I had to sew up a drunkard.”
“So?  Why isn’t there a footman with you?”
“I’m not some fussy London debutante in need of a chaperone.  I told all my footmen to go to bed—where any sane person should be at this hour.”
“What are you implying about the two of us?” he mockingly huffed.  “I believe you’ve defamed us both.”
“I believe I have.”
“Why would anyone be discourteous enough to drag you out on Christmas Eve?” 
“Bad behavior can happen at any time.  You’d be surprised at the trouble people can get up to in the middle of the night.”
“No, I wouldn’t.  I was just in a fight in a taproom, remember?”  He gestured to the empty spot next to her.  “What if I’m a brigand?  What if I take advantage of you?”
“In your most recent quarrel, you were nearly stabbed.”  She reached under her skirt and retrieved the small pistol she carried.  She pointed it at him, letting him have a good look down the barrel.  “If you try anything funny with me, I’ll shoot you right between the eyes.  Now are you coming with me or not?”
“How can a fellow pass up an invitation like that?”  He frowned at her pistol.  “Put that away, would you?  I’d hate to have it go off by accident.”
“If it fires, it will be because I pulled the trigger.”
“Still, if you killed me, how would my reputation survive it?”
“Oh, climb up,” she snapped.
Her firm command did the trick.  He grabbed the box and heaved himself up, wincing in pain as he settled on the narrow seat.
He was a large man, with wide shoulders and a broad chest, and he simply took up too much space. There was nowhere to move where she wasn’t touching him.  Arms, hips, thighs, they were forged fast all the way down.
“You’re favoring your side,” she said.
“I told you:  I think I broke a rib or two.”
“In the fight?”
“Yes.”
“Did you lose?”
“Me?  Lose?  Never.”
“If you won, why are your ribs broken?”
“You should have seen the other guy.”
“Yes, yes, my brawny warrior.  I’m sure you beat him to a pulp.”
“Three of them, actually.  They’ll be sorry in the morning.”
“So will you, I’m betting.”
“You could be correct.”
Grinning, he shifted toward her, just as the clouds glided away from the moon.  Silvery light shone down, casting them in a magical glow.  She could note details that hadn’t been apparent when he was standing on the ground.
He was very handsome, which she detested.  Handsome men were too vain, too confident of their impact.  Her brother, Phillip, was the prime example of a male using his attractiveness to overwhelm a female’s common sense.
Early on, Clarinda had learned to be wary.  Yet here she was, all alone and pressed together with a rogue whose face probably had women sighing all over the kingdom.
His hair was dark, too long and tied back in a ponytail with a strip of leather.  His eyes were very blue, and they twinkled with mischief.  She could feel his body’s heat, could smell masculine odors of tobacco and brandy, making her aware of him in a manner she didn’t care to be. 
“You’ve been drinking,” she mentioned.
“Yes, and I might have had a little too much.”
“You certainly did if it drove you to fight with three men.”
“I was defending a woman’s honor—I think.”
“Who was it?  A customer in the taproom?”
“Yes, her name was Mary, I believe.”
“Mary Malone?”
“Yes, that’s it.”  Clarinda laughed, and he asked, “What’s so funny?”
“She’s a trollop.  Everyone knows it. She had no honor to defend.”
“Drat it,” he muttered, and he held out his hand.  “Aiden Bramwell.  It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
She groaned.  “Bramwell?”
“Yes.”
“Brother to the earl?”
“The very one.”
“You stood there and let me insult your mother.”
“I’ll get over it.”
“Clarinda Dudley.”  She clasped his hand, and he winced again as she gave it a firm shake.
“You hurt your hand?” she inquired.
“My knuckles.  I have a mean right hook.”
“You’re a mess.”
“Yes, I am.”
She was wearing gloves, and stupidly, it crossed her mind that she wished she could have touched him skin to skin.  She had the Sight, and through physical contact, she could often discern all sorts of things she shouldn’t know.
In a previous age, she’d probably have been burned as a witch.
“You’re Captain Odell’s friend,” he said.
“Yes.  Are you acquainted?”
“Casually.  You’re staying at his house.”
“Yes.”
“You’re the rude scamp who refused my mother’s invitation to supper.”
“Well, yes, I am.”  Clarinda could have offered a dozen excuses, but she bit her tongue. 
“She was incensed by your discourtesy.”  He stuck his nose in the air, as if imitating the old hag.  “She claims you’re an ungrateful hussy who’s been lifted up above her station.  You’ve forgotten how you should act toward your betters.”
“I’ve never spent much time around my betters, so I was never told how I should act.”
He studied her in a manner that made her uncomfortable.  He seemed to see more than he should, and she glanced away.
“You don’t like her,” he murmured, as if it had never occurred to him that someone could not like his mother.  Sounding stunned, he repeated, “You don’t like my mother!”
“No, sorry,” she admitted.  She’d once nursed a Bramwell housemaid after his mother had had her whipped for insubordination. 
He nodded.  “If you don’t like my mother, and you’re bold enough to say so aloud, you might be the smartest and bravest individual who ever lived.”
“I’m sure I am.”  She laughed again. 
“You’re really a healer?  You…work?”
At the prospect, he was aghast, and she rolled her eyes.  Gad, but weren’t rich people a pain in the backside?
“Yes, I work.  Shocking, but true.”
“But you’re female,” he complained.  “It’s against the natural order.  You should have a man guiding and protecting you.”
“In the past, I had my brother, but if you’d ever met him, you’d soon learn that I’m better off guiding and protecting myself.”
“So you’re free and independent in your habits?”
“Absolutely.”
“You’ll kill my mother with your modern ways.”
“I’ll try not to.”  She motioned to his side.  “Would you like me to look at your wounds? It’s the least I can do for insulting her.”
He hemmed and hawed, then said, “Let me think about it.  I’ll see how I’m faring when we arrive at your door.” 
She picked up the reins, clicking them to urge the horse forward, and the animal took off at a slow trot.
“Would you like me to drive?” he asked.
“You’ve been drinking.  No.”
“I’m a man, and you’re a woman.  Even foxed, I’m a better driver than you are.”
“Oh, please,” she scoffed.  “Be silent, and let me get us home in peace.”
He surprised her by obeying, and she was amazed to find that a Bramwell could be so compliant and complacent.  There were three brothers, all of them brash and rude and having been reared in such posh circumstances that they felt they owned the whole bloody world.  And they did.  Sort of.
What would it be like to be him?  She’d started out with a mother who—depending on her brother’s story on any given day—had been a Russian princess or a British debutante or a traveling Gypsy. 
Her father had been an Italian count or a British earl or the Russian princess’s groom or a swashbuckling pirate or whatever fellow fit her brother’s fancy. 
She didn’t remember her mother or how they wound up on London’s cruel streets.  Phillip would never truthfully say, but they’d been shrewd and smart, and through Phillip’s conniving, they’d survived and thrived.
She wondered what Aiden Bramwell would think of her past.  She wondered which one of them had been more content as a child.  She suspected she’d had the best life.
They turned at the gate that led to her house.  The servants had left a lamp burning for her.  It was such a welcoming sight that tears welled in her eyes.  She’d never previously lived anywhere permanent, and the notion gave her unexpected joy.
She pulled the horse to a halt and tied the reins. Mr. Bramwell shifted as if to climb down, but she jumped out first and marched around to stop him.
“Don’t you move,” she scolded.
“Why not?”
“I’ll help you down.  I want to get you inside and feel those ribs of yours.”
She hadn’t realized how salacious her comment would sound, and he grinned a naughty grin.
“By all means, let’s have you feel my ribs.  While we’re at it, is there anywhere else you’re dying to touch?  I’m amenable.”
He was gazing down at her, appearing so dashing and handsome that she could barely stand to look at him.  If she’d been the type of woman who could be charmed by a rogue—which she wasn’t—she might have been weak in the knees.
Her cheeks flushed red with embarrassment.  “I’m an experienced apothecary,” she insisted.  “If I touch you, it’s all part of my job.”
“Sure it is,” he mused.  “I’m positive it has nothing to do with my manly physique.”
“Don’t flatter yourself.”
“If I’d known the end result of my fight would be your tender ministrations, I’d have allowed those brigands to land a few more punches.”
“You’re insane,” she muttered.
Behind her, the door opened and a footman, John, stepped out.  When she went out at odd hours, someone always waited up.
“I’ve brought a patient,” she explained, as she waved John over.  “Can you lift him down?”
“Certainly, Miss Dudley.” 
He came and extended a hand to Bramwell.  Bramwell grabbed hold and was eased to the ground.  They both staggered slightly, and evidently, John had been drinking, too.  Was there anyone in Scotland who wasn’t intoxicated? 
“Captain Bramwell!” John beamed.  “How nice to see you again.”
“Hello, John,” Bramwell replied.  “Nice to see you, too.”
“Are you visiting with your mother?”
“For the entire holiday.”
John was gaping as if Bramwell walked on water, as if he was the king’s champion. 
  “Shall I help you in, Captain?” he inquired.
“In Miss Dudley’s infinite medical wisdom,” Bramwell smirked, “she has declared that just my pride is bruised.  I should be able to drag myself in without assistance.”
“He was fighting,” Clarinda said.  “In the taproom in the village.” 
“Fighting!”  John chuckled.  “Then he had a better Christmas Eve than I.”
“Only a man would think so,” Clarinda grumbled.
“She claims she’s skilled at doctoring,” Bramwell said to John.  “Is she?”
“She washes her instruments,” John answered, “and she doesn’t bite.”
“High praise, indeed,” Bramwell snickered.
“Stable the horse,” Clarinda told John, disgusted with both of them, “then head for your bed.”
“You won’t need me for anything else?”
“No.  Bramwell insists he’s fit to drive.  I expect he can get himself to his mother’s once I’m through with him.”
Bramwell asked John, “Has Miss Dudley a private doctoring room?”
“No, she uses the front parlor, Captain.”
“So I’ll have her all to myself in the front parlor!”  Bramwell leaned to John and, in a conspiratorial tone, whispered, “She wants to look at my ribs.”
“Shut up, Bramwell!”  Clarinda pushed him toward the door. 
   He strutted inside as if he owned the place, and she closed the door behind him. 
As they were stomping snow off their boots and shedding their mufflers and coats, she said, “John called you Captain Bramwell.  What are you a captain of?  Are you in the army?”
“No, I’m a seafaring man.  I have my own ships.”
“Ships, plural?”
“Yes.”
“And you sail the seas?  Which ones?”
“As many as I can.”
“How lucky for you.”
“Yes, I have been lucky,” he agreed.
In the salon off to the left, a fire burned in the grate, the air cozy and warm, the servants keeping the space prepared for her return.  She’d gone overboard with her decorations, so it was strewn with holly and ribbons and candles. The sight cheered her enormously.
“Why are you smiling?” he asked, watching her.
“Because this room is so festive.  I’m happy.”
“To be home?”
“And to live here and be out of the cold and to have a safe spot to come back to when it’s late and I’m tired.”
He frowned as if he might request that she expound.  Her bald statement had hinted at a rough history, but he was too polite to question her.  She wouldn’t have responded truthfully anyway. 
She was trying to fit in in the neighborhood, but her medicinal ability had promptly set her apart.  Her past was nobody’s business but her own. 
They stepped into the parlor, and as they did, he glanced up at the garland winding around the doorframe.  There was a sprig of mistletoe at the top, and he pointed to it and grinned.
“We’re standing under the mistletoe, Miss Dudley.”
“Yes, we are.”
“You know what that means, don’t you?”
“That you think you’re supposed to kiss me?”
“Yes.”
“In your dreams.  I still have my pistol.  It’s loaded, remember?”
She spun to him, glowering, but her stern glare quickly faded. 
Out on the road, she’d realized he was handsome, but she hadn’t recognized just how handsome.  With all that long black hair and those magnificent blue eyes, he was like an angel painted on a church ceiling.  Or no.  He was a devil, all dark and dashing and dangerous.  A god’s nemesis.  An angel’s enemy.
He leaned in, pressing himself to her, but not in a forceful or frightening way.  She could have scolded and pushed him off, but to her eternal disgust, she didn’t want to.
It was a rare occasion that she let a man get so close.  When she was younger, her brother had been hideously protective, so no one had pestered her.  But as she’d matured, she’d observed too many scoundrels, had learned their heartless penchant for cruelty and vice, so she wasn’t interested in male attention.
Yet for some reason, Bramwell inspired emotions she didn’t care to suffer.
She could feel every inch of him, his broad chest, his belly and thighs and shins and feet.  She was eager to lean into him, too, to be nearer and more tightly connected.  She gripped the doorframe with her fingers, holding herself still lest she rub against him like a contented cat.  
“Would you…ah…sit on the sofa for me?”  Her voice was soft and breathless and nothing like her own.
“I’m happy right where I am.”  His smile was open and inviting, tempting her to trouble.  “How about you?  Are you happy right where you are?”
“No.”
“Liar.  You’re intrigued by me. You’re wondering what I’ll dare.  You’re wondering if you’ll like it.”
“You are so vain.”
“I admit it.  I definitely am.”
“I bet you’ve kissed girls all the way from here to China.”
“Well, to the West Indies, at least.”
“And all the way back?”
“Of course.”
She scoffed.  “Libertine.”
“Yes,” he admitted again, almost boasting.  “Guilty as charged.”
“Did they all love you when you were through?”
“Yes, each and every one.  How could they not?”
“Why should I let you do what you’ve done with every girl in the world?”
“Because you’ll like it?”
“I doubt it.”
“Let’s find out, shall we?”
“Let’s not.”
“It’s Christmas, Miss Dudley.  Live a little.”
“I don’t need to live quite that much, thank you.”
“Consider it a Christmas gift—from me to you.”
“I never accept gifts from strangers.”
“Maybe you should start.”
“Or maybe not.”
He studied her modest grey dress, her tidy brown hair pulled into a functional chignon.   
Slyly, he said, “You’ve never been kissed, have you?”
“I’ve been kissed hundreds of times,” she haughtily bragged. 
“Hundreds.  Really.”
“Yes.  Men can’t resist me.”
He laughed and laughed.  “You’re a vixen, are you?  If I kiss you, I’ll never be the same?”
“Never.”
“How can I walk away from a challenge like that?”
“How can any man?”
It dawned on her that she was flirting, when she’d had no idea that she knew how.  It had to be instinctual, an inborn feminine trait that all women possessed. 
He lowered his gaze, his hot attention focused on her mouth.  His concentration was so riveting that her innards clenched.  She was holding her breath, absolutely on pins and needles.  Would he kiss her?  Would she let him? 
They were under the mistletoe, and as he’d mentioned, it was Christmas.  He was so forward, so persuasive, and he was begging her to be indiscreet. 
Wasn’t this every girl’s dream?  She felt as if she’d been born old.  She’d never had a childhood, had never been a girl.
Why not proceed?  Why not misbehave under the mistletoe? 
“You’re very pretty, Clarinda,” he murmured.
“How kind of you to say so.”
“Close your eyes.”
“Why?” she obstinately inquired.
“You know why.”
He slipped his palms to her waist and rested them on the flare of her hips.  Almost against her will, her eyelids fluttered down.
She’d expected him to grab and maul her, to boldly roam his hands across her person.  But the touch—when it came—was soft and gentle and unbearably sweet.
Light as a butterfly, he pressed his lips to her own, and the sensation was indescribable.  She couldn’t explain it, but could only revel in the moment and wish for it to never end.
Loneliness and regret bubbled up as she recalled her prior Christmases.  There’d been no holiday table, set with the fine china.  No aunts and uncles and hoards of teasing cousins.  No Christmas goose or pudding or carols sung ‘round the tree. 
There had just been her and her brother, two siblings battling the whole world.  Why had she accepted that choice?  She could have wed and built a family for herself.  Why hadn’t she?
Much too quickly, the embrace concluded, and he drew away.
He was smiling at her with such affection that she yearned to clasp his lapels, to shake him and plead, Don’t ever leave me!  Promise you won’t!
She occasionally cast spells and practiced magic, but she performed it for others, to make them happy.  She never applied any magic to herself, yet she perceived a connection to him that was so great she seemed to have been bewitched. 
What was wrong with her? How could a single kiss be so stirring?  How could he have had such a potent effect?
“What do you say, Miss Dudley?  How was your first kiss—on Christmas Eve no less?”
“It wasn’t horrid,” she blithely claimed, desperate to compose herself, to reassert her typical aplomb.
“You minx!  You’re supposed to gush and tell me what a manly fellow I am.”
“Never in a thousand years, you bounder.  You’re too vain by half.”
“How will my poor ego survive our acquaintance?”
“It probably won’t.”
He was peering at her so intently that she could read his troubled thoughts.  Suddenly, she could see the parlor in his brother’s mansion, could see his bitter, caustic mother angry and shouting. 
“You fought at home,” she blurted out, “with your mother.  That’s why you were at the taproom.  The two of you argued, and you stomped out.”
“How did you know?” he asked, unnerved by her prescience, and she was a bit unsettled, herself.  She never allowed others to discern her most carefully shielded skill.
She shrugged.  “I can …hear it emanating from you.”
“Hear it?  Are you a witch?”
“What if I am?”
“Could you give me a charm that would change my fate?”
“Your fate seems quite grand to me.  You’re rich and powerful and entitled.  Why would you change anything?”
“What if I wanted to be happy, too?”
“Being rich and powerful isn’t enough?”
He sighed.  “I used to think so, but I’m not sure anymore.”
A poignant silence fell.  They were on the verge of sharing stories and secrets, of becoming close in ways that could never occur between them.
She waved him to the sofa.
“Why don’t you sit down, and I’ll tend your injuries?”
“Ha!”  He preened.  “One kiss and you can’t wait for me to remove my shirt.”
“Yes, please let me touch those ribs of yours.”
“I am at your service, my lady.  Let’s see how fast I can undress.”
He went to the sofa and eased himself down, and though he was laughing and half-intoxicated and trying to act as if he was fine, he couldn’t hide another wince of pain.
She didn’t imagine he needed more alcohol, but if stitches were required, an extra tipple couldn’t hurt.
“Are you a brandy drinker, Captain Bramwell?”
“Whiskey, if you have it.”
She proceeded to the sideboard, thankful for the chance to dawdle while she poured him a glass.  To her surprise, she was trembling, clear evidence of how he’d rattled her.  She poured her own glass and downed it in a single shot.
 “If your mother told you to marry someone you despised,” he pensively inquired, “would you do it?”
She glanced over at him.  “Is that why you were quarreling?”
“Yes.  She’s picked a perfectly suitable, perfectly horrid girl and demanded I propose.  Would you keep the peace and agree?”
 “I don’t have a mother,” she said, “but if she was still with me, I suppose I wouldn’t oblige her.  I’ve never been good at obeying silly orders.  I hope she’d understand.”
“I’ve always obeyed her. How do I start to disobey when I’m thirty years old?”
“You just…change,” she said.
She put his whiskey on a tray, then turned to carry it over to him.
But the oaf had dozed off, the liquor and fighting and cold weather combining to take its toll.  He’d toppled to the side, his head resting on the arm of the sofa.  Though he snored lightly, he looked young and innocent, and she could picture how he must have appeared as a boy.
She left the tray on a nearby table, then approached him.
“Captain Bramwell,” she murmured, a hand on his shoulder, but he didn’t stir.  She called his name again, but received no response.
She grabbed a knitted throw and covered him with it.  Then she linked their fingers and gave his a squeeze.
“My dashing captain,” she whispered.  “Merry Christmas to you.”
The notion of caring for him all night, of watching over him as he slept, was inordinately thrilling. She poured herself another whiskey, then went to the window to gaze out at the snowflakes drifting down.
*Don't forget to stop by Ramblings From This Chick for Stefanie Sloane's Scene*


Available Now:
The three Merriweather siblings—Lucas, Dustin, and Brittney—think they have it all. As the heirs of the Merriweather gold dynasty, they grew up rich, spoiled and entitled. Yet all the money in the world hasn’t bought them love or happiness. They lead lonely, isolated lives.
But that’s about to change. As they meet the most unlikely trio of characters—a con artist, a nosy reporter, and a wounded vet—they learn that even the most carefully-constructed world can be turned upside down. By the right person. Passion, friendship, and everlasting love can strike in the oddest places, and dreams really do come true.
Originally released as three separate novellas, Ms. Holt has bundled them under one beautiful cover for readers to cherish.
Three great stories. One great book. Seduce Me, Kiss Me, Love Me…MARRY ME! 

Cheryl  is giving away a copy of her novel, Marry Me, to one lucky commenter (US only)! Make sure to leave a meaningful comment below AND fill out the rafflecopter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
And don't forget to enter the Grand Prize Giveaway

25 comments:

  1. Oh, yes, we must see more of this couple!

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  2. I love Cheryl's books. I haven't read any of the three novellas, but look forward to reading Marry Me.

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  3. How perfectly wonderful! I must read your books now and do so hope that you continue this in another book! Please! :) Have a Merry Christmas!
    smoofrog at gmail dot com

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  4. What a delightful story of Clarinda and Aiden. I can't imagine how you do all that you do with your busy schedule, but I am looking forward to reading more about these two characters in your future novels.

    Wishing you and your family a lovely Christmas.

    Connie Fischer
    conniecape@aol.com

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  5. I loved the Merriweather series. I really like Clarinda and Aiden sotry. I hope there will be more.

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  6. thank you a lot for particiĆ¢ting in this event!!
    happy holidays

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  7. I agree. I would love to see more of this couple. They are fabulous together. Thanks for the giveaway.

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  8. Hi, Cheryl! You are a new author for me. I loved your story about Clarinda and Aiden, and I want more of it.
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Thanks for the giveaway!

    kscathy AT yahoo DOT com

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  9. You have just gotten your self a new reader~! The story was magnificent. You should really write a novel for them~ I'm already dying for more.
    Thanks so much!

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  10. Thank you for such a wonderful story....I Loved it if you ever do get to write their story I will definitely read it.

    joylynne66(at)hotmail(dot)com

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  11. Enjoyed the short story. Great banter between Aiden and Clarinda.
    bituin76 at hotmail dot com

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  12. I just love Clarinda and Aiden and I am looking forward to reading more about them in the future.

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  13. I'd love to read Marry Me. It sounds like an awesome read.
    I don't think I've read any of Cheryl's books. I've been living under a rock. :) What keeps you motivated?

    luvfuzzzeeefaces at yahoo dot com

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  14. That was a great scene; I hope you get to expand it into a book in the future.

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  15. Lovely. Clarinda and Aiden are suited for each other! Please finish their story. Merry Christmas!
    winnie968 at yahoo dot com

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  16. I have not read any Cheryl's book yet, but I have download few of her ebook, will read it soon

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  17. I love how there are three stories in one book and about one family of siblings! Great idea!

    Brittanyg@gmail.com

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  18. Sounds really good!! Thanks for the chance to win and happy holidays!

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  19. Always enjoy witty dialogue with a love story. MERRY CHRISTMAS ..HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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  20. I enjoy a family story, you not only get the relationship between the couple but to the siblings as well.

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  21. Hi Cheryl! Love you books. I only have a couple and I'm so looking forward to getting more. Thanks for the giveaway!

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  22. Your a new author to me and Marry Me sounds like a book I would really enjoy!

    Thanks so much!

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  23. I love how you bundled the three novellas together. The Merriweathers are going to be fun to read.

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  24. That short story was wonderful! I so can't wait to read this book. New author for me however I have heard of her.
    Happy Holidays,
    lorih824@yahoo.com

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