A Regency Holiday

A Regency Holiday
Lynn Kerstan, Allison Lane, Rebecca Hagan Lee, Alicia Rasley

October 2011 $15.95

FOUR Favorite Regency Authors
Our PriceUS$15.95
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

FOUR 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.


Rebecca Hagan Lee

Chapter One

Suffolk, England
21 December 1813

"Are you sure about this, Miss?”

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 alone.”

"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 Virgin Mary?”

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 six years.

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, Miss.”

"It can’t be helped.” She sighed. "And in any case, I don’t think Papa would object...”


"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 travel together.”

"How far do you intend to go, Miss?”

"To Buckinghamshire.”

"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.”


Chapter Two

Coventry Court
Buckinghamshire, England

"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 behalf.”

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.”

"Your point?”

"Country folk celebrate Christmas.”

"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 service, Seton?”

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 butler... Pendleton.”

"Pendry,” Deverel corrected.

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 same.”

"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 accounts—”

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 lord.”

"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 and cook.

"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.”


Chapter Three

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 her behalf.

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 holidays.”

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 return.”

"She can’t wait at the house,” the gatekeeper protested. "It’s closed. Ain’t nobody there to make her welcome.”

"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 residence.”

"But it’s Christmas.” Amy dispensed with propriety and directed her words to the gatekeeper instead of Mr. Hervey.

"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 London...”

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 stay there.”

Mincey shook his head. "Can’t.”

"Why not?” She asked.

"It’s closed.”


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 inquired.

"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 marquess.”

"Which neighborhood, Miss?” Mr. Hervey asked.

Amy gave him the street name.

Mr. Hervey heaved a sigh. "All right, Miss. So long as it’s a respectable place with respectable folks to look out for you.”










































Chapter Four

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 a party?”

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 it.

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 supper.”

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 exceptions.

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.”

"T-h-e-o-d-o-r-a...” 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.


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