Favorite Regency Authors
-- THREE never-before-in-print Christmas novellas
-- ONE beloved classic now back in print...
and a partridge in a pear tree...
In Coventry's Christmas
, Rebecca Hagan Lee offers a charming new story. With Christmas approaching, Amabel Thurston is ordered from the family home by her father's widow and must seek the protection of her guardian, Deverel Brookfield, eight Marquess of Coventry. Unfortunately, the Devil of Coventry has little use for Christmas and even less for proper young ladies.
In the never-in-print Star of Wonder,
Lynn Kerstan brings her special brand of magic to the page when an exotic and dangerous stranger arrives to disrupt the meager Christmas of Stella Bryar, who has struggled to support the family retainers in the wake of her father's death.
Allison Lane's newest Christmas treat is A Christmas Homecoming
. When prodigal son Alex Northcote returns from a six year absence to take control of the family estate, he must run a gauntlet of possible bridges, who have all been installed for a holiday house party by his determined grandmother. Avoiding the trap would have been so much easier, if the guest list hadn't included a quiet widow, who once jilted him for another.
In the classic Home for Christmas
, Alicia Rasley gives us a Christmas with a bit of intrigue. When Verity receives an unexpected invitation from her estranged father to spend the holidays at his Cornwall estate, she accepts with delight. But, ever mindful of her father's attention to propriety, she must scramble to find a husband and "father" for her fatherless child. Could a handsome and enigmatic stranger solve all her problems?
"...a fun, light read perfect for the Christmas
season." -- Joanne Hanson, Goodreads
For those who keep the
faith. With love and gratitude.
21 December 1813
"Are you sure about this,
Amabel Thurston stood
shivering on the side of the post road that ran through the small village of
Finchley. Dark and damp, it was long before the sun broke the horizon, and she
was so cold her teeth chattered and her fingers and toes were numb. But she had
made up her mind to leave and nothing would keep her from doing so—not even the
coachman’s concern. She’d been born in Finchley and had lived there all of her
twenty years. She knew and loved every inch of it. It was home. But with Papa
gone, everything had changed.
The whispers about Squire
Lakewood paying calls upon Lady Thurston with seven months left in the lady’s
mourning period had begun weeks ago. When Amy mentioned the impropriety of her
stepmother’s actions, the woman made it quite clear that she was ill-suited for
widowhood and intended to remedy that unfortunate situation by becoming the
next Lady Lakewood as quickly as possible. Lucilla also explained Squire
Lakewood’s terms and made it quite clear that she could ill afford a
stepdaughter so near her own age as competition for the squire’s affection. The
village wasn’t large enough for the both of them.
It was time for Amy to make
her own way in the world.
Amy glanced back at
Hawthorne Abbey. She would miss the house with its gray stone walls, tall
windows, and cheery fireplaces. She would miss the smell of bread baking in the
kitchen, her father’s study with its wonderful nooks and crannies, the
bookshelves filled with lovely old books and ancient parchment scrolls, and her
cozy little bedroom tucked beneath the eaves with its window seat overlooking
the back garden. Her heart broke at the thought of abandoning to her
stepmother’s care the house in which Amy had been born—especially during her
favorite time of year, but her father’s house belonged to his widow now and his
widow had ordered her out of it. There was nothing Amy could do except leave
her home and everything she’d ever known and loved behind and move on. She must
find another home, another place to belong.
She finally answered the
driver’s question. "Quite sure, Mr. Hervey.”
Alfred Hervey, who had been
driving The Royal Post Stagecoach since Amy was a girl, glanced around. "What
about Lady Thurston?”
"She won’t be accompanying
me.” Amy straightened her shoulders and lifted her chin a notch higher.
Mr. Hervey drew back at
that, surprised that a well-bred young lady, daughter of a renowned King’s
College scholar, would venture out without maid or chaperone. "I knew your
father, Miss. I carried him back and to from Finchley to Cambridge more times
than I can count, and I don’t like the idea of Sir Gregory’s daughter traveling
"It’s all right, Mr.
Hervey,” Amy said, firmly. "I’m going to spend Christmas with my guardian.”
Mr. Hervey looked alarmed.
"You won’t be home for the holidays?”
Amy shook her head.
"Who’s going to be the
Amy fought to keep from
giving in to the fit of hysteria rising in her chest. While she was worrying
about her future, Mr. Hervey was worrying about the Christmas pageant. She did
her best to hide the fact that she was scared to death of leaving Finchley and
striking out on her own, headed for the unknown. The only thing keeping panic
at bay was the knowledge that her Papa had complete trust in the man he’d
chosen for her guardian—a good man with a wife and family who had promised to
welcome Amy with open arms and provide for her as his own in the event of her
father’s death. Taking a deep breath to steady her nerves, Amy answered, "I
suggested Janet Beasley have the honor.”
"Janet Beasley is twelve.”
"I was only a little older
when I took on the role,” Amy pointed out. "And I couldn’t be the Virgin Mary
forever.” She had helped the vicar of St. Luke’s Church organize the Christmas
Eve nativity play and had acted the role of the Virgin Mary in it for the past
Mr. Hervey nodded in
understanding. "That’s true, but Janet will take some getting used to. And the
idea of you traveling without chaperone or companion doesn’t sit well with me,
"It can’t be helped.” She
sighed. "And in any case, I don’t think Papa would
"I’ll be traveling with you.
So I shan’t be alone. You’ll be driving. And even if no one else takes passage,
there will still be two of us. We shall serve as each other’s companion and
"How far do you intend to
"That’s a long way. A day and
a half. Maybe two. And it won’t be comfortable. The weather’s miserable. The
rain’s liable to turn to sleet by afternoon, and I’ll be collecting passengers
in the next village. Every seat is taken. The best I can offer you is a place
up here beside me.”
Grabbing her valise, Amy
hefted it up and thrust it toward the driver. "I’ll take it.”
"My lord, the staff have
asked if they might make preparations and display candles and greenery this year.
Or perhaps, a log for the fire...”
Deverel Brookfield, eighth
Marquess of Coventry, looked up from the annual account books, fixed his gaze
on Seton, who stood in front of the massive oak desk dominating the study and
frowned. "You disturbed me to ask about greenery?”
Dev despised the annual
review of the estate accounts. He considered the chore a necessary evil because
deciphering his land steward’s spidery handwriting and checking the sums took
his utmost concentration. But only a fool allowed his man of business—even a
trusted man of business—to operate unchecked.
"I’m afraid so, my lord.”
Seton tried to look apologetic, but failed in the attempt and maintained his
usual impassive mien. "The staff asked me to intercede with you on their
Dev gave his butler a sharp
look. "And the purpose of this intercession?”
"It’s Christmas, my lord.”
Seton nodded. "It generally
occurs this time of year. Every year, my lord.”
Dev lost count of the sums
he was adding and slapped his palm against the account book in frustration.
Once again, he had let the season slip up on him unawares. He should have
remembered that he’d been reviewing the account books this time last year when
Christmastide intruded. "Blister it!”
"My lord, the staff here at
Coventry Court are composed of mostly country folk.”
"Country folk celebrate
"I do not.”
"Understood, my lord.”
"Which is why you took it
upon yourself to intercede on behalf of the staff of Coventry
Court...” Deverel glanced at the mantel clock, then
fixed his stare on his butler’s unreadable expression. "...
at a quarter to eleven in the morning.”
"I am the head of the staff,
my lord. It’s my duty to bring staff concerns to your attention once again. And
I daren’t wait any longer, as it is the shortest day of the year and the staff
must have time to prepare.”
"How long have you been in
The butler thought for a
moment. "Thirty-two years, my lord.”
Deverel frowned. "How long
have you been in my service?”
"Five years this past April,
my lord. I assumed the role after the passing of your previous
Pendry had been with the
Brookfield family for as long as Deverel had been alive. Even longer. He’d
begun as a young man in service to Deverel’s grandfather, had stayed to serve
Deverel’s father, and extended his service to Dev. Pendry had been as much a
part of Coventry Court and Brookfield Manor as Deverel himself and had given
him loyal service and unwavering support until his dying day. After five years,
Deverel still missed him.
"Pendry,” Seton repeated. "I
beg your pardon, my lord.”
Deverel nodded. "In the five
years you’ve been in my service, have you ever known me to pay any heed to the
folderol made over Christmas?”
"No, my lord.”
"Have I given you any reason
to think I’ve changed my opinion?”
"Indeed not, my lord.”
"But you inquired just the
"I owe it to the staff, my
lord. They look forward to the season’s festivities.”
Deverel closed the account
book and locked the padlock attached to the buckle at the end of the leather
tabs before dropping the key into his waistcoat pocket. He pushed his chair
away from his desk and stood up. "No greenery or candles this year or any year
and no Yule log.” He looked Seton in the eyes. "Understood?”
"Yes, Lord Coventry.”
Deverel picked up the
account book and secured it in the wall safe behind a Gainsborough landscape
his father had talked the artist into selling. Removing a leather pouch full of
gold and silver coins, he weighed it in his hand, and offered it to Seton.
"Here. Consider this reimbursement.”
"For what, my lord?”
"For the coins I know you’ve
been squirreling away from...”
Glancing at the locked,
leather-bound ledger Lord Coventry shoved into the safe, Seton drew himself up
to his full height. "My lord, I would never presume to borrow from household
Deverel cut him off with a
wave of his hand. "I never suggested you would. Or you would not remain in my
employ. But I’ve no doubt that you would borrow from your own personal
wages in order to provide the staff with gifts for Boxing Day.”
Seton looked affronted. "My
wages are mine to do with as I see fit, my lord.”
"Yes, they are,” Deverel
agreed. "Now, take the pouch.”
Seton accepted Lord
Coventry’s offering. "Thank you, my lord.”
Deverel ignored his butler’s
thanks. "Have you enough boxes?”
"Of course, my lord.”
Deverel gave a quick nod of
his head. "Keep some coin for yourself, then double the usual amount and
furlough the staff until the end of the holiday.”
"I don’t understand, my
"Close the house and send
everyone home for the duration. Let them display their greenery and candles and
light Yule logs elsewhere. The staff cannot be disappointed by the lack of
greenery and candles or puddings and cakes and punch and sweetmeats if I supply
them with paid leave to celebrate somewhere other than Coventry Court.” Having
already sent his valet, Kennedy, to the Lake District for his annual holiday,
Deverel did his best to convince his butler and the rest of the staff to do
likewise. "Surely, you and Mrs. Trent and Cook would appreciate some time off.”
Deverel named the two other primary members of his household, the housekeeper
"Of course, my lord. I have
a brother in Cornwall I’ve been meaning to visit, and just the other day, Mrs.
Trent remarked that she would enjoy seeing her daughter and grandchildren in
Brighton. And Cook has a sister in the next village...”
Seton might have rambled on,
but Deverel interrupted. "Then it’s settled.”
Seton frowned. "But, my
lord, what about you? What will you do for help during the holidays?”
"Don’t worry about me.”
Deverel shot his butler a wicked grin. "I’ve a standing appointment to keep at
a certain house in London, and Kennedy’s already packed my bags.”
Two days later
"Halt! Who goes there?” a
man challenged from the second floor window of the stone gatehouse attached to
the gate guarding the entrance to the county seat of the Marquess of Coventry.
"Alfred Hervey, driver of
The Royal Post Stagecoach. Service from Cambridge to London. Who are you?”
"Shadrack Mincey, gatekeeper
to the Marquess of Coventry at Coventry Court.”
Mr. Hervey drew the coach as
close as possible to the gatehouse. "Well, Mr. Mincey,” he announced to the
wizened little man poking his head through the open casement, "I’ve a passenger
here who has come to call on your marquess.”
"Do you see his standard
flying?” The gatekeeper demanded.
"I didn’t know the marquess
flew a standard,” Mr. Hervey retorted. "So I didn’t know to look. And it
wouldn’t have done me any good if I had known.” He glared at the gatekeeper.
"Who can see a standard in this muck at this distance?”
The gatekeeper considered
the question before replying. "No matter. His lordship is not in residence.”
"The gentleman is not at
home.” Mr. Hervey turned to Amy and repeated the gatekeeper’s pronouncement
even though she was seated beside him atop the coach and was clearly able to
hear the exchange. She was a young lady, and young ladies did not speak to
strangers—even gatekeepers—when a male companion was available to intercede on
Accepting the coachman’s
role as intermediary, Amy asked, "When does he expect the marquess to return?”
"When do you expect the
marquess to return?” Mr. Hervey inquired.
"Not until after the
Amy bit back a groan.
Mr. Hervey frowned at her.
"I thought he was expecting you.”
Hiding her crossed fingers
in the folds of her traveling cape, Amy looked the kindly coachman in the eye
and prayed he’d believe her harmless fib. "I thought so, too, Mr. Hervey. I
can’t think what might have gone wrong, unless the letter announcing my visit
and the intended date of my arrival went awry.” She stiffened her spine and
raised her chin a notch higher. "But, I’ve arrived nonetheless, and I see no
reason why I should go back when I can simply wait here for his return.”
Mr. Hervey nodded. As much
as he liked Miss Thurston and appreciated her company, he was relieved at the
prospect of delivering her safely to her destination. "The young miss is
expected. Open the gates. She’s decided to wait at the house for the marquess’s
"She can’t wait at the
house,” the gatekeeper protested. "It’s closed. Ain’t nobody there to make her
"What?” Amy gasped.
"The house is closed. The staff
are on holiday. Ain’t nobody here but me, the head groom, and a couple of
stable boys who come in to tend the horses twice a day. Nobody else in
"But it’s Christmas.” Amy
dispensed with propriety and directed her words to the gatekeeper instead of
"Not at Coventry Court. His
lordship don’t keep the old traditions.”
"At all?” Amy couldn’t hide
her disappointment or shock. Christmas was old-fashioned, and she had heard
that the Prince Regent’s friends and a great many members of the tonconsidered the traditions surrounding the holiday too unsophisticated and
rustic for modern life, but she found the idea of ignoring Christmas and all
its lovely old customs appalling.
The gatekeeper shrugged. "I
ain’t privy to whether or not his lordship observes the holiday in London. That
ain’t my concern. I’m only privy to what goes on at Coventry Court, and I tell
you that you cannot stay in an empty house without the staff or his lordship to
look out for you.”
Mr. Hervey nodded in
agreement, furrowed his forehead in concern, and looked down at Amy. "We’ll
change horses and put up at the coaching inn in Northfell for a bit before we
head home to Finchley.”
"I’m not going home.”
"You can’t stay here, Miss,”
Mr. Hervey told her.
"Nor can I go home,” Amy
countered. "Not with my stepmother keeping company with Squire Lakewood.”
"What do you plan to do?”
"After we change horses and
put up at the coaching inn in Northfell, we’ll travel on to London.”
"London?” Mr. Hervey said
the name as if he’d never heard it before and began shaking his head. "Oh no,
Miss. I can’t take you to London.”
Amy gave him a reassuring
smile. "Of course you can, Mr. Hervey. We’ll get a change of horses and in a
few hours we’ll follow the post road right through the city gates.
"To where, Miss?” Mr. Hervey
demanded. "’Cause I ain’t leaving you alone in no inn in London.”
She looked up at the
gatekeeper. "I’m sure Lord Coventry must have a residence in
Mincey nodded. "That he
does, Miss. The gatekeeper nodded. I’m told he has a right fine townhouse just
off Park Lane.”
Amy beamed. "Wonderful. I’ll
Mincey shook his head.
"Why not?” She asked.
The gatekeeper nodded.
"Until Parliament opens and the Season begins. Ain’t no reason to keep it open
when his lordship always retires to Coventry Court at the end of the Season.
Except for the Christmas holidays when he returns to London.”
"And stays where?” She
"With friends, Miss.”
"Good.” Amy rubbed her hands
together. "If you’ll give me the address, I’ll contact him there.”
"Can’t,” Mincey said. "I
don’t know the address or the name of his lordship’s London friends.”
Mr. Hervey cleared his
throat. "That settles it, Miss. We’re going back to Finchley.”
"You may go back to
Finchley,” Amy said. "I am going on to London.”
"But, Miss,” the driver
protested. "I can’t leave you in London by yourself. It wouldn’t be proper.”
"No need to worry, Mr.
Hervey. I’ve my own connections in London and a place to stay which I’m told is
in a most respectable neighborhood. I can stay there until I locate the
"Which neighborhood, Miss?”
Mr. Hervey asked.
Amy gave him the street
Mr. Hervey heaved a sigh.
"All right, Miss. So long as it’s a respectable place with respectable folks to
look out for you.”
The air surrounding the tidy
ivy-covered red brick townhouse located at Number Forty-seven Portman Square in
London was charged with excitement. The red front door sported a wreath made of
fresh evergreen branches. An evergreen garland wrapped the lamp post beside the
walk and was tied with a large red satin bow. The halls inside the house were
decked with holly boughs and balls of mistletoe, and the rooms were lit with
tapers scented with bayberry and spice. It was Christmas Eve, and the "Devil of
Coventry” had come for his traditional twelve nights of revelry.
The sound of pianoforte
music drifted upstairs along with a chorus of male and female voices and the
occasional burst of raucous laughter. Upstairs, Lord Devil lay sprawled upon
Madame Theodora’s elegant four-poster, bare-chested, but with the covers pulled
modestly up to his waist.
"I left Buckinghamshire to
get away from all the Christmas foolery. Why didn’t you tell me you were having
Seated at her dressing
table, Theodora met his gaze in the mirror. "You left Buckinghamshire so you
wouldn’t be alone.”
She studied the young lord
before applying a light dusting of powder on her face and across the tops of
her breasts. At six and twenty, Deverel Brookfield was the epitome of young
male beauty—sleek, long-limbed muscles, broad shoulders, sculpted chest and
torso—reclining lazily among the pillows. Michelangelo would have wept at the
sight of him. He was at once beautiful and completely masculine. Theo would
have liked nothing better than to spend an hour or two enjoying her randy young
Adonis, but she had a business to run and guests to welcome. She wove a
ruby-red ribbon through her pale blond hair, then stood up and paraded across
the room to retrieve her clothing.
"And you know I always give
a party on Christmas Eve. It’s tradition.”
He watched as Theodora
walked from dressing table to screen and back again. She wasn’t a young woman
any more, but she was still a beautiful one and she knew how to use her body.
"I don’t recall your other parties having so many guests or being this loud.”
Theo glanced over her
shoulder. "We usually have hours to spend together before my guests
arrive. We usually couple, then drink and dine, and couple some more—”
"And sleep and eat
and...” He considered using the vernacular instead of
the euphemism because he knew she liked the way he said it, but Dev changed his
mind. "Couple some more. We haven’t coupled at all.”
Theo laughed. "The price you
pay for arriving late.”
He shrugged his shoulders.
"I had account books to review before I could depart. And for the price I pay,
you should make an exception and skip the party downstairs.”
"I could, but I won’t.”
"Even for me?”
"Even for you.” She might
have felt self-conscious with any other young buck a dozen years her junior,
but not Lord Coventry. He didn’t notice her flaws—the flesh that sagged the
tiniest bit, the little laugh lines at the corners of her eyes and lips. He
still found her beautiful and swore that she would always be beautiful to him.
She wanted to believe him,
but time had a way of changing things. Theodora knew she wouldn’t hold his
affection much longer.
A dozen years ago, the young
lord’s butler, Mr. Pendry, had brought him to her for tutelage. He had heard,
he said, that hers was the place where gentlemen of discretion found suitable
female companionship, where a young marquess might acquire the tender skills
necessary to woo a bride and beget an heir. Theo tousled her short blond curls.
She’d been teaching him the art of seduction ever since.
Over the years he’d become
an expert at it. A true student of the art. There was no rushing Lord Coventry.
He was a man who liked to take his time. Her young ladies adored him, naming
him Lord Devil because he was so devilishly clever and inventive in bed. They
all wanted to entertain him. So much so that they argued over who would grace
his bed first every time he visited, even though they knew that, eventually, he
would make time for all of them. He was the finest, most considerate lover any
of them had ever had, and Theo was quite proud of having taught him the myriad
ways to pleasure a woman.
Still, she worried about
him. He gave and received it, but he gave far more than he seemed to get. He
possessed remarkable control in the bedchamber. Theo had yet to see him lose
She knew he was fond of her
and of the other girls, but no one had ever touched his heart. And after years
of practicing the art of lovemaking, the young Marquess of Coventry had yet to
woo a bride. Not that he would ever find one here in a house of pleasure. But
he enjoyed practicing his skills—especially during the Yuletide season—and
Theodora usually enjoyed indulging him.
But not tonight.
She was his first and
favorite bedmate, but she’d learned to put business before pleasure, and the
party downstairs was business.
"Now, be a gentleman and let
me get dressed. I’m pressed for time as it is.”
He gave a dramatic sigh. "If
you’re not going to join me in bed, how about feeding me? I’m hungry.”
Theodora stepped into a
crimson silk evening gown trimmed in white ermine, pulled it onto her
shoulders, and fastened the bodice that displayed her bosom to perfection. She
slid her feet into matching slippers, pulled on her gloves, and picked up her
lace fan. Ruby drop earrings played peek-a-boo with her curls, but she
refrained from wearing other jewelry. It was Christmas. The season of giving.
There was no need to discourage her admirers from lavishing her with expensive
trinkets by exhibiting previous gifts from her extensive collection. Men always
liked to think they were first. And Theo saw no reason to disabuse them of the
idea that her naked bosom should be adorned by precious and semi-precious gems.
She blew him a kiss and
reached for the doorknob. "I’ll bring your supper to you as soon as I can.”
"How long will that take?”
he grumbled, knowing he sounded like a spoiled child. But Theodora only
allotted him one night in her bed, and he preferred not to waste a moment of it.
She shrugged her shoulders
and her bosom came dangerously close to spilling out of her dress. "I daren’t
hazard a guess.” She hesitated. "But there’s a sumptuous repast downstairs if
you’d care to escort me.”
He shook his head.
"You might enjoy it.”
He recognized the spark of
hope in her eyes and hated to disappoint her, but there were some things he
just couldn’t do. Even for her. Christmas gatherings were one of them. "No.”
The spark he’d seen in her
eyes flickered and disappeared as Theodora gave a nod of acceptance.
Feeling like an ungrateful
lout for dashing her hope, Deverel suggested an alternative. "If you want to
stay and entertain your guests, you can always send one of the girls up with my
Theo shook her head. "And
have you coax her into my bed? Not on your life, my lord.”
"As you wish.” He shifted
his weight in order to call her bluff and roll out of bed. "I’ll go to mine.”
"We agreed you’d spend one
full night in mine.”
"You can have all twelve of
them as far as I’m concerned,” he offered, honoring their agreement by settling
back against the pillows once again. "Variety can’t compare with you.”
It was very gallant of him
to say so, and Theo knew he meant it. But she’d not forgotten the damage
unwittingly inflicted upon her business three Christmases before when she’d
indulged Lord Coventry’s desire for unrestricted access to her for the duration
of the holiday season.
Her regular clients had been
upset and insulted by the amount of time she’d devoted to the young lord. They
had resented her lack of attention to them, and her girls had been sullen and
indignant throughout the twelve-day period. It had taken her weeks to soothe
injured feelings and set things to rights.
Theodora had learned her
lesson. She would never again engage in any activity that might endanger her
livelihood like that. She didn’t open her doors to everyone. Her clientele was
wealthy and highly exclusive. They paid as much for discretion as for
pleasure, and she could not afford to alienate them.
Business before pleasure. No
Not even for her finest
pupil, the devilishly handsome, wickedly talented Marquess of Coventry. No
matter how flattered or how tempted she was. No matter how much he offered.
"You agreed to the
conditions, my lord, and rules are rules.”
He gave her a sinful grin.
"You made the rules, Theo. You can alter them.”
"Not without upsetting the
girls and the routine upon which my business depends.” She made a face at him.
"You obviously don’t remember what happened the last time.”
He enunciated each letter of her name, imparting deeper meaning to each one.
Theo was unmoved. "I can’t
change the rules at this late date. The girls have already drawn lots for you.”
Deverel clamped his jaw shut
and sunk his fist in one of Theo’s fine goose down pillows. Three Christmases
ago he’d believed Theo cared more for him than she cared for her business.
Tonight, she’d made sure he knew better.