Christmas in Duke Street
Book in the Holiday Anthology series
Four fabulous Christmas stories from Shana Galen, Miranda Neville, Carolyn Jewel, and Grace.
Christmas in London is a busy time at the little bookshop in Duke Street, for love, literature, and shopping. Four couples come and go and discover that happy ever after makes the perfect Christmas gift. A new anthology from the bestselling authors of Christmas in the Duke’s Arms and Dancing in the Duke’s Arms.
Featuring Graces’s novella, “The Appeal of Christmas:”
Hazel Hooper is the daughter of barrister Gervaise Stoneleigh’s old mentor, and over the years has become Gervaise’s reliable sounding board, conscience, and chess opponent. While Gervaise abhors the Yuletide holidays, he most assuredly does not abhor Hazel, though lately he’s been distracted by an unsigned love letter he came across at their favorite bookshop…
Enjoy An Excerpt
Read a Scene from The Appeal of Christmas
Barrister Gervaise Stoneleigh has come to On The Shelf bookshop in search of reading that will ease him past the nonsense of yet another holiday season, when his friend and neighbor Hazel Hooper arrives, intent on a different agenda…
The shop’s doorbell tinkled as a gust of cold air riffled the paper in Gervaise’s hand.
“Mr. Stoneleigh, hello.”
Hazel Hooper stood near the door, snow dusting the hood of her cape, her hems damp. The cape was brown, her scarf was an incongruous red, and her gloves—
“I despair of you, Hazel Hooper,” Gervaise said, folding up the letter and tucking it into an inner pocket. “You are abroad on a winter evening without benefit of proper gloves. What would your papa say?”
“Papa wouldn’t have noticed if I’d worn chain mail and a tiara. Have you seen Annabelle?”
Gervaise was a competent barrister, and as such he relied on a mind well suited to analytical thinking. Hazel’s response tweaked the tail of his instincts rather than his intellect, however. He’d known her forever, since he’d been a mere youth, learning the law under her father’s tutelage.
“Annabelle has stepped into the back room. She said she’d be right back. What’s amiss Hazel?”
For even Hazel, who cared nothing for convention, would not normally have come out of doors without gloves or a muff on a winter night.
“Nothing’s amiss.” Hazel plucked off her spectacles, for predictably, the warmth of the shop had caused them to fog.
Gervaise took the eyeglasses from her, produced a handkerchief and wiped each lens clean.
“Something is wrong,” he retorted, returning the spectacles to their owner. “You haven’t yet reminded me to find Christmas tokens for Peter and Daisy.”
Gervaise didn’t particularly enjoy his sister’s company, but his niece and nephew were interesting little people, and he was their only uncle. Christmas was an inexcusable lot of bother, but an uncle’s responsibilities were not to be shirked, not even his Yuletide responsibilities.
“I bought them each a book last week,” Hazel said. “I’ve been meaning to send the books over to you.”
Hazel threw herself into Yuletide nonsense with all the determination and sincerity of a veteran criminal begging the court for mercy prior to transportation. She decorated, she baked, she gave tokens to the servants and sprinkled half days around like biscuit crumbs cast onto the walkway for the birds. She exhausted herself on Boxing Day, and observed every absurd New Year’s tradition ever to inflict itself on British society.
Watching the snow melt on the fringes of her worn scarf, Gervaise realized that he’d…. missed her. Missed her sharp wit, interesting chess, and liberal politics.
“Are you standing there in hopes I’ll take pity on you, sir?” Hazel asked.
She had finally focused on Gervaise, and let go of whatever errand had sent her pelting through the cold to On the Shelf.
Hazel had blue eyes and auburn hair, a combination that had unsettled Gervaise until he’d realized auburn hair generally went with green or brown eyes. Hazel turned those blue eyes on him now, and more than their color, their clarity of focus struck him. She had an earnest quality, a directness that disconcerted as it endeared. She was like a child or an elderly woman, both blunt and kind, artless and insightful.
“What do you mean, take pity on me, Miss Hooper? If you’ve already procured books for Daisy and Peter, what pity is there left to take?”
With one bare, reddened finger, Hazel pointed upward, to the darkened rafters crossing the shop’s ceiling.
Gervaise tipped his head back. Immediately above him hung a bunch of wilting mistletoe, pale green leaves and white berries dangling over his head like a noose.
Hazel had become accustomed to Gervaise hiding for the month of December. He hid in his work, in his library, in his legal tomes. Last year, he’d gone clear to Yorkshire in an attempt to ignore the holidays, and quite possibly, Hazel herself.
In January, he’d showed up in her parlor, muttering darkly about old friends with new wives, about amorous rabbits and the price of coal, though Gervaise Stoneleigh, foremost barrister in the realm, could afford to heat half of London.
Hazel suspected he did provide heat for many a poor household, and hope as well.
A year ago, Hazel had at least had a note from him. “Off to Yorkshire on a case. Please look in on Mallachan if you have time. G.”
Not Sincerely, G. Not Best wishes, G. Most assuredly not Love, G.
He stood beneath the mistletoe, so good-looking that even after ten years of close acquaintance, Hazel still wanted to shield her eyes at the sight of him. Dark hair, darker eyes, and features cast in the mold of a righteous angel. Aquiline nose well suited to peering down, sharp facial bones such as a fasting saint would be proud of, enough height to intimidate criminals and judges alike, though Gervaise often considered criminals and judges of a piece.
Gervaise also had enough height that Hazel herself, whom he referred to as under-tall, could not have kissed him on the cheek without his cooperation.
He took a step to the left. “I will never understand why every modicum of sense must go begging at Christmas along with the drunken carolers. Kissing beneath a sprig of poisonous shrubbery must be the most ridiculous tradition of all.”
“You’re growing worse,” Hazel said, marching up to him. “You’ve always been ill-natured around the holidays, but mistletoe’s provenance goes back to Norse legend and beyond. The goddess Frigga declared that all who stand beneath the mistletoe are safe from harm, though they might be kissed. Are you really so uncomfortable over a few kisses, Gervaise?”
He’d kissed Hazel on any number of occasions, maddeningly harmless pecks on the cheek or the brow. She did not have time to bait him now, but somebody needed to tease or bully him out of his holiday megrims, and for years, that somebody had been Hazel.
He drew himself up, as if preparing to deliver one of his closing arguments. Hazel frequently observed him in court, and his rhetoric could bring tears to the eyes of hanging judges, and inspire accused felons to hope.
“I make no objection to kisses,” Gervaise said. “In the right company, I might even venture an interest in kisses. This annual farce of feasting and imbibing to excess, of proclaiming goodwill to all, while ignoring the child starving on the church steps, that I cannot abide.”
Hazel climbed one step up the ladder, so she was eye-to-eye with the pride of the Middle Temple.
“No sermons, Gervaise. Please, not in front of the books. I need to find Annabelle, and you apparently need to find a book.”
He always needed to find a book, though Hazel had her own theories about what Gervaise Stoneleigh was truly in search of when he spent hours with Virgil and Seneca.
“Arguing again, you two?” Mrs. Merriweather asked, as she parted the curtain separating the bookshop from the family’s office and makeshift parlor. “Bad form with the holidays upon us, if you ask me. My, that snow hasn’t let up in the least, has it?”
“No, it has not,” Gervaise said, reaching past Hazel to take down a slim volume. “The naughty earl will come with me, and he and I will walk the naughty Miss Hooper home. This will allow me a greater opportunity to scold her for not wearing gloves, and she can explain more Norse mythology to me.”
So oblivious was Gervaise Stoneleigh to Hazel’s person, so indifferent, that when he reached over her head to fetch down his book of verse—Gervaise was partial to the rascally Earl of Rochester—Hazel was fleetingly pressed between Gervaise’s chest and the shelf that held morality pamphlets and sermons.
Gervaise’s scent was both familiar and marvelous, as if Hazel stood in the middle of a pine forest, downwind from a honeysuckle hedge, with lavender blooming somewhere nearby.
Then the heat, scent and masculine contour of him were gone, and Mrs. Merriweather was cyphering under her breath as she wrote up the sale of the book of poems.
Even from the back, Gervaise was attractive. Broad shoulders, erect posture, Bond Street tailoring finished to perfection, dark hair a tad longer than was strictly tidy. Hazel might have fallen in love with those looks, though her pride would not allow it.
Handsome looks could disguise a mercenary heart.
If she were to fall in love with a man—and approximately ten minutes after meeting Gervaise, she’d done exactly that—then she had pride enough not to fall in love with something so shallow as his appearance.
“Take these,” Gervaise said, shoving his gloves at her when she’d abandoned the ladder. “I can’t have your death from a lung fever on my conscience. Mallachan would glower at me for the next age, and shed on my best waistcoat in judgment.”
Mallachan shed on anything and everything he was pleased to shed on.
“Keep your gloves,” Hazel retorted, tucking her hands into her pockets. “I’m not a delicate flower, and we don’t have far to go.”
Gervaise tried staring down his nose at her, which was entertaining, and then he held the door open, and allowed Hazel to sweep out of the shop before him.
“I have never met a creature as stubborn as you,” he said, falling in step beside her. “You realize you are at risk for becoming eccentric?”
“I passed eccentric by the time I was twenty. How was court?” The question was guaranteed to keep Gervaise fuming and recollecting and strategizing for most of the distance to Hazel’s door. Gervaise, unlike some barristers, took his work seriously, and chose his clients based on merit rather than ability to pay. This had the paradoxical result of creating demand for his services among the most wealthy, and he’d even been asked to consult on trials held in the House of Lords.
For Gervaise Stoneleigh would not represent a party unless he was reasonably sure the party was innocent. Charges were occasionally withdrawn, simply because Gervaise took the case.
Gervaise worked relentlessly on such cases, amassing evidence, preparing arguments, and interrogating witnesses ’round the clock. He toiled with the same zeal if his client was a Haymarket streetwalker or a widowed countess.
“You did not purchase a book,” he said when they were two streets from Hazel’s door. “Did you think to buy me a book for Christmas, and then change your plans when you found me at the shop? I’ve told you not to buy me gifts. Every year, I remind you that I have no patience with—”
“Hush,” Hazel said, linking arms with him, though that meant her right hand was exposed to the chilly air. “I’ve bought you nothing for Christmas. You’ve no holiday spirit, and don’t deserve any gifts. I’ll get a little something for Mallachan, and there’s nothing you can say to that.”
“Suppose not,” Gervaise replied, his gloved fingers resting over Hazel’s knuckles. His steps slowed, now that he’d summarized the day’s legal battles for her. He really ought to be a judge, though he was too good a barrister to succumb to that temptation. “How are you getting on, Hazel?”
He wasn’t asking about the decorating, which had been done within twenty-four hours of making the Christmas pudding, nor was he inquiring generally about Hazel’s health, which was reliably sound.
“I manage,” Hazel said. “I still miss him, though. You?”
“I recall your papa fondly, of course. Have you ever considered traveling at the holidays?”
“And miss the pleasure of watching you grouch your way to the New Year?” She’d spoken a little too brightly, for Gervaise studied her by the light of a street lamp.
The snow was coming down at the softly relentless pace that muffled sound, and meant significant accumulation was likely. Hazel’s memories of Gervaise were like the snowfall, gossamer soft taken individually, a significant weight considered as a whole. Deceptively attractive too, when viewed from behind a cozy parlor window, but nasty cold to slog through alone on a winter night.
“Your Papa was most inconsiderate, dying at Yuletide,” Gervaise said, taking off his scarf. He shook it, then grasped both of Hazel’s hands, and wrapped the scarf around them like a warm, soft muff. “I left you alone last year. I’m sorry for that, but it couldn’t be helped.”
“You needn’t look after me,” Hazel said, though Gervaise was a caretaker in a barrister’s robes.
He took her by the arm, and led her in the direction of her home. “You look after me, so you’ll have to bear with my fumbling attempt at reciprocity. Friends do that, you know.”
Friends. Never had such a benign word left Hazel feeling so hopeless. “Does my friend feel up to a game of chess tonight? We can play in the library, which bears not even a wreath in the window to remark the season.”
“You’ll beat me,” Gervaise said. “I’m not at my best after the day I’ve had. You’ve yet to tell me what sent you to the bookshop, Hazel. I’m a barrister, and getting answers to my questions is my stock in trade.”
“You’re my friend. Respecting a lady’s privacy is a good friend’s stock in trade, so I suggest you be about it.”
Gervaise was the most intelligent person Hazel knew, smarter even than Papa had been, for Gervaise was quick like a lawyer and shrewd like a successful criminal, too. He’d known something more pressing than finding yet another Christmas gift had sent her out into a snowstorm after dark.
But he was her friend—drat and blast him—and thus he escorted Hazel the rest of the way to her door in silence.
Gervaise walked along beside Hazel, the snow turning a dirty city clean as if by magic, while the letter he’d found glowed in his awareness like a candle in a window.
To me, you are already distinguished, you will always be dashing…
What sort of fellow earned sentiments like that?
What sort of lady put them on paper and conveyed them in writing to her swain?
Hazel slipped a bit in the snow, stumbling into Gervaise.
“You aren’t usually so unsteady,” he said, righting her. She was a tidy bundle of female, even wearing a winter cloak.
“I can usually keep up with you,” she retorted, sliding her hands free of the scarf Gervaise had wrapped about them, “but the snow slows me down, and I’d prefer to have my hands at my sides in uncertain footing. You needn’t accompany me the rest of the way, Gervaise.”
Keep up with him?
Hazel was smiling at him earnestly, holding his scarf out like a flag to be passed in a relay race.
“Tell me to slow down, Hazel.” For Gervaise had marched along, sparing no thought for the woman who’d so often walked at his side.
“You’d soon resume arguing your case,” she said, folding up the scarf, “and nothing would do then but a bayonet charge upon the evils of incompetent judges, and even if I asked you to slow down, we’d soon be racing along once more. You are an invigorating escort, Gervaise.”
Hazel was panting a little, her breath coming in frosty puffs.
Gervaise longed to get home and study his unsigned letter, but the thought of Hazel nearly falling into the snow because of his inconsideration demanded that he make reparation.
“I find myself in need of a chess game, after all,” he said, resuming their walk at a more decorous pace. “I trust you’ll indulge me?”
“One game,” Hazel said, as they turned onto her street.
Was she trying to get rid of him? The notion was unsettling, for if Gervaise enjoyed a reliable welcome anywhere, it was at Hazel’s door. That door bore a fragrant wreath of pine, and the entrance hall was adorned with beribboned candles and bows affixed to the first floor balustrade.
“You haven’t put the wreaths in the windows yet,” Gervaise observed as Driech, the Hooper butler, took his overcoat. “Greetings, Driech. How is the gout?”
Driech hadn’t been young when Gervaise had first made his acquaintance more than a decade ago, and while the butler’s eyebrows grew bushier with the passing years, his reply to Gervaise’s question was unchanged.
“The gout is tolerable, sir, thank you for asking.”
Hazel draped Gervaise’s scarf on a hook. “Sandwiches in the library, if you please, Dreich, and syllabub a half hour thereafter. Mr. Stoneleigh is in want of a chess lesson.”
“Of course, ma’am.” Dreich bowed, maybe a little more slowly than usual.
Ten years from now, Dreich would be very old indeed. Who would wait by Hazel’s door then? Who would ensure the fire in her library was always lit on a cold evening?
“Come along,” Hazel said, while Gervaise tried to recall when, exactly, he’d begun allowing himself long evenings in Hazel’s company, as if they were two old relics, decades of informality between them.
“I know my way to the library,” Gervaise said, “but now who’s in a hurry?”
“I am. I’ll trounce you, see that you eat enough to get you home, and then have the rest of my evening to myself. I have gifts to wrap.”
Hazel wrapped her tokens in pretty cloth, and the recipients were usually as pleased to have a length of lovely fabric as to have the gift itself.
Gervaise held the door for her, though he had nearly to dive for the door latch, so intent was Hazel on her destination. He lit the sconces, while Hazel, in a routine they’d settled into years ago, used a second spill to light candles on the card table and end tables.
“Whose turn is it to open?” Gervaise asked, as a knock sounded at the door.
“Yours. Come in.”
Dreich tottered in, an enormous tea tray in his hands. “Cook was worried about you ma’am, the hour had grown so late.”
Dreich had worried, in other words. Did Hazel know her staff fretted over her? And what had been so important that she’d braved the nasty weather to go to the bookshop?
Those thoughts plagued Gervaise throughout the chess game, and doubtless contributed to his defeat, though he’d given Hazel enough of a challenge to appease good form. She’d learned chess from her father, and brought a ferocity to her play that Gervaise saved for his courtroom appearances.
“Shall I send a footman with you?” Hazel asked, escorting Gervaise to the front door. “The weather is beastly, and half the street lamps have likely gone out.”
Their back gates opened onto the same alley. Gervaise could find his way between their houses blindfolded in a howling storm.
“I’ll manage, my dear. My thanks for a pleasant game.”
The foyer was shadowed, Hazel having sent Driech off to bed directly after he’d delivered the syllabubs. A branch of candles glowed against the frosted window as Hazel held Gervaise’s coat for him.
He didn’t want to leave her. The notion was peculiar and unsettling. The oncoming holidays, charging at Gervaise like a complicated case of premeditated homicide, already had him unsettled enough.
“Next time,” Hazel said, passing Gervais his gloves, “you’ll trounce me. You weren’t concentrating.”
He’d been thinking of his letter, and of how Hazel’s red hair and blue eyes had at some point become a very attractive combination, to him at least. They suited her, as this house full of holiday decorations and aging retainers did not. Why hadn’t her papa at least insisted she have a companion?
Ah, her papa. Who’d had the very bad form to die over the holidays.
“I miss your papa,” Gervaise said, though he’d planned to wish Hazel a simple goodnight. “Nobody could argue me into a taking the way Phineas Hooper could, nobody could find the weaknesses in my cases as he did. I owe him much, and still feel his loss.”
“He was proud of you,” Hazel replied, taking Gervaise’s scarf down from its hook. “He told me often you were his pride and joy.”
Hazel looped the scarf around Gervaise’s neck and tossed one end over his shoulder. They were alone, parting at the end of an evening as they had countless times before. The foyer was all dancing shadows as the chill breeze from the snowy night found its way to the candles on the windowsill.
“Then the infallible Phineas Hooper blundered in at least one regard,” Gervaise said. “He placed the bleatings of a mere fledgling barrister over the accomplishments of a daughter as devoted, as she was kind, as she was quick.”
Hazel’s expression underwent a change, from the confident, pleasant young woman—she was still young, by God—whom Gervaise had known for years, to a lady fleetingly bewildered.
He and Hazel did not flatter each other, something Gervaise treasured about her, but when had that come to mean they could not offer each other sincere compliments?
“Thank you, Gervaise. You’ve given me a Christmas token despite all intention to the contrary.”
He hadn’t given her enough. Gervaise endured that realization, as he recalled Hazel nearly falling in the snow, in a silent effort to keep up with him on the way home.
Hazel listening attentively as he maundered on about theft and attempted arson.
Hazel wanting privacy, then graciously agreeing to a game of chess, when Gervaise had abruptly changed his mind.
He had not distinguished himself with her of late, and dashing out the door would not serve. Hazel was wearing a paisley silk shawl, and that could not be much protection against the chill of the foyer.
He drew her into his embrace, and again, he had a sense he’d bewildered his friend. “You must promise me something, Hazel Hooper.”
Her arms slid about his waist, tentatively, her grasp loose. “What?”
“When you miss your papa, you must speak to me of him. My memories of Phineas are uniformly cheering, and if you’d like to share them with me, I’m happy to listen.”
A great sigh went out of the small woman in Gervaise’s arms. She braced her forehead against his chest, as if marshalling her patience.
“I don’t want your belated condolences, Gervaise. I had your sympathy and appreciated it when Papa died. I’m simply tired, and a bit anxious about all that remains to do between now and the new year.”
He could feel the tension in her, because he’d presumed to offer affection, when at some point, they’d apparently agreed that affection wasn’t to be part of their friendship.
Just as they’d agreed that Hazel was to listen to him prose on endlessly about his frustrations and woes, while he was never to have Hazel’s confidences in return.
They were to walk at the pace he established.
They were to play chess when he was in need of a game.
The barrister in him railed against such unfairness, and thus he sought a means of apologizing without further embarrassing Hazel, for she was anything but comfortable in his arms.
These thoughts passed through Gervaise’s mind in the time it took the candles to waver, and the shadows on the ceiling to dance. In the light cast by the flames, Gervaise’s gaze fell on the mistletoe hanging from the unlit chandelier above.
“You want a happy Christmas,” Gervaise said, “and I have placed us squarely beneath the mistletoe, my dear. I suppose that means you must endure a kiss of seasonal good cheer from me.”
He bent his head and kissed her. Hazel was apparently so surprised at his overture, that she raised her gaze to his, and thus when he was bending, she was raising, and what might have been a kiss on the cheek turned into a soft, unexpected meeting—and even a bit of clinging—of lips.
Read a Scene from A Seduction in Winter by Carolyn Jewel
Lord Wrathell has returned to England to take his place as heir to a dukedom, but years of serving in India have left him ill-prepared to cope with English winters. Honora Baynard, daughter of Wrathell’s portraitist, chances upon his lordship out and about on a cold winter’s day… She’s sheltered and scarred, he’s an artist and a duke’s heir. Can he show her by Christmas that love can be theirs to share?
“Good day,” Honoria said to the clerk, who came to his feet when she and Wrathell entered. Gilman stayed by the door, dangling Honora’s still-wet package from the bookshop.
“Good day to you, madam. Sir.” The shopkeeper bowed to them both, but his attention was on Wrathell. His lordship’s clothes might not be adequate for the season but tailors in India were as skilled as English ones. “How may I assist you?”
Honora patted his arm. “My companion is in need of a warm scarf. Several of them, actually. My father and I were here recently, and I quite admired them. You have them still, I hope.”
“Indeed.” He gestured in the direction of the items.
Wrathell walked to the fire at the other end of the shop and held out his hands. Heat soaked into the bits of him closest to the source. His toes tingled, then hurt as the heat penetrated his boots. He sighed at this evidence that he must retire his favorite boots in favor of footwear better suited to the climate.
Honora had gone to the display. “One white,” she said. She handed the shopkeeper something he supposed was a scarf. “Wrathell, come here would you?”
The clerk’s desultory manner came to an end, and Wrathell found himself the subject of a second assessing look. This reaction to his title was so new to him that he continued to be taken aback when it happened. He held his hands closer to the fire. “Can’t you bring them here?”
She looked over her shoulder at him. No one was more serious than she, even in the matter of scarves. “No. I must confirm that this gray matches your eyes.”
He approached, amused and flattered that she took the selection of a scarf so seriously. “Is it warm?” he asked the clerk. “For that is my chief requirement, that this thing be warm. I don’t give a fig for the color.”
“You will later,” she said.
“Our very best woven silk, my lord. Kept close to your body you will not find a warmer material than this.” He clasped his hands and rubbed them. “Put good English wool over that, and you will never suffer the slightest coldness of your neck or throat were there a blizzard.” He picked up another scarf. “We carry only the very finest wool. Hand combed and spun, knitted by the most gifted women in Nottinghamshire. They work exclusively for me, my lord. There are no finer scarves anywhere in the kingdom.”
“I’ll take the one on top.” He pointed. “A woolen one, too. That one there.” He grinned at Honora. “We are done shopping.”
In scathing tones he had never yet heard from her, she said, “We most certainly are not.” The clerk had reached for the top scarf as directed, but Honora lifted her head. “My dear sir, you do him no favors by acceding to his uninformed whims.”
“Sir,” she said to the clerk. “Consider this. Whom will he blame when at home he sees that the color does not suit him in the least?”
“A fair point, miss.”
“Correctness is often excellent. He’ll have one white, a blue, dark blue, please. Do come here, Wrathell.”
When he had, she held a scarf to his cheek. He enjoyed the fuss.
“Ah,” the clerk said. “A very close match for his eyes. What exquisite taste you have, miss.”
Wrathell wound the fabric another time around his neck. “I don’t care what it’s made of, or what color it is, or whether it matches my eyes. I require only that it be warm.”
“I guarantee you that, milord.” The clerk bowed. “You are welcome to take this one with you. If for some reason you do not find it satisfactory return it at your leisure.”
“This will do.” Honora handed over a scarf of scarlet wool. “A matching number in wool. Burgundy and that striped one to start.”
“I’ve only got one neck.”
She was all crisp business. “One neck to be clad for morning calls, afternoon calls, luncheons, dinners, and formal engagements. You have here a start, my lord, but nothing like what you ought to have on hand. Ask your valet. He’ll not gainsay me.”
“My valet is Indian and as unfamiliar as I with dressing for a London winter.”
That got her attention away from selecting him a scarf for every day of winter yet to come. “May I recommend that you buy him one or two as well? Perhaps for all your native staff. They too must suffer from the cold.”
She was right. The servants he’d brought with him from Bombay were even less able to deal with winter than he was. He nodded to the clerk. “A selection of woolen scarves. A dozen should do.”
The clerk beamed at him. “Shall I send them to Marrable House, my lord?”
“No.” He set one of his new cards on the counter top so the bill could be sent to him for payment. All but one of the scarves were set aside for later delivery. Honora handed him the scarlet one, and he put it around his neck.
Outside the shop, still in the recess of the doorway, she examined him, veil lifted for the purpose. She adjusted the scarf. “That wasn’t difficult at all now, was it?”
He wanted to sketch her. To capture in paint all the contradictions of her. Her beauty. Her sadness. The wit that lived in her eyes. “You’ve taken very good care of me, Honora.”
“Someone must.” She patted his chest.
He caught her hand in his and pointed up with the other. “Look.”
“What?” But she saw what he did. The proprietor of the shop had not only hung a wreath on the door, he had suspended a sprig of mistletoe from the ceiling.
He brought her close, and before he could think the better of it, he kissed her. He kissed her until Gilman coughed discreetly.
Read a Scene from A Prince in her Stocking by Shana Galen
Cassandra Ashbrooke frequents On the Shelf bookshop to get away from the tedium of proper widowhood. She strikes up an acquaintance with another patron, Mr. Glen, whose threadbare finery can’t disguise a regal bearing, leonine eyes, and a slight accent. He confides that he’s a dispossessed prince in disguise, and the secret to regaining his throne lies somewhere among the bookstore’s tomes. Cass believes him, but would rather find the secret to possessing his heart…
Cass found the prince one shelf over from where she had seen him last. He was on one of the lower ladder rungs, a volume in one hand. His fingers were blurs as he flipped the pages. He didn’t seem to be reading, though his attention was fixed on each and every page. Finally, he closed the book and replaced it on the shelf. She would have needed to be two rungs higher on the ladder to reach that shelf, but he accessed it easily.
As though sensing her gaze on him, he turned her way. His beautiful golden brown eyes warmed but did not seem surprised. At his look, she felt rather warm herself, and she loosened the scarf at her neck.
“Lady Ashbrooke.” He nodded. “How good to see you again. Am I in your way?” He spoke formally—as he should, considering they hardly knew each other—but she still had the sense he did so for the benefit of anyone listening.
“Not at all. I saw you browsing and thought I would say hello.” Dear Lord. Now she had nothing else to say, and he was still looking at her with those eyes that made her face heat until she thought she might explode. “Uh, hello,” she said with a wan smile.
“Hello.” His voice was deep and velvet soft, and was it her imagination, or had his gaze dipped to take in her body? It must have been her imagination. Men did not look at her in that way.
She could think of nothing else to say, and when an uncomfortable silence descended, she cleared her throat, hoping he would fill it.
“I should be going.”
“Good day to you.”
She turned to walk away and simply could not do it. Stop being a ninny, Cass! She clenched her hands into fists and turned back. “Unless I can be of some assistance?”
His look was veiled and impossible to read. It was probably some sort of technique all the royals were required to master so they might better negotiate treaties or whatnot. She was behaving in a most abominably forward manner, but he was a man. If he did not want her company, he could tell her easily enough.
She bit her tongue, praying he would not be too unkind.
“I’d like that,” he said.
“Of course. I’m so sorry to trouble—”
He was smiling at her. He hadn’t dismissed her at all. He’d invited her to help him. Her heart thumped so hard she could not manage to take a breath. Perhaps she hadn’t heard him correctly.
“Did you say you would like my help?”
He nodded. “Very much, but I don’t want to keep you if you have another engagement.”
She shook her head violently. “No. I don’t! I have nothing else to do. I’ll help you in any way I can. I’ll do whatever you ask.” Now her cheeks heated for quite another reason.
His gaze seemed to darken, and she feared he would comment on the double meaning of the remark she’d just made. Part of her hoped he’d take the double meaning, though she hadn’t meant it that way.
Instead, he reached for the next book on the top shelf and handed it to her. He was far too much the gentleman to remark on her ill-advised choice of words.
“It would make my search go faster if you looked through this book.”
She longed to ask what he searched for, but this was neither the time nor the place for questions, not to mention she’d used all of hers already.
“What do I do?”
He moved beside her and opened the book. His hand brushed hers as he did so, and she became aware of the warmth of his body and the scent of sandalwood. She swallowed and forced herself to breathe slowly lest she begin to pant.
“I want you to turn every single page and examine it.” He spoke softly, his voice low enough that only she could hear. She held the book with both hands now, and his arm slid against hers as he pointed to the open page. “I’m looking for any loose pages or papers slipped inside.” He indicated the shelves nearby, most of them filled with unbound books.
“I see.” Her voice was but a breathless whisper. “Just the bound books?”
“No. All of them. To be certain.” He turned the page, the action bringing his biceps briefly in contact with her breast. Heat surged through her, and she couldn’t help but gasp at the shock of sensation. Surely he hadn’t even noticed. He had on a coat and she a dress with several layers under it. He couldn’t have known he touched her where no man but a husband should.
“If you find anything, show me,” he said, withdrawing. He pulled his hand back, and this time he did not touch her. Her face was likely as red as a tomato, and she did not dare to look at him.
“I can do that.”
From the corner of her eye, she saw him take down another volume. She had also noted the kissing bough someone had hung from the ceiling. Evergreens and mistletoe seemed to stare down at her, daring her to kiss the man she desired. Cass swallowed and looked away. At the window, a gentleman who looked every bit the Corinthian stood and pretended to read a novel, while watching the street. The romantic in her liked to think he was watching for the woman he loved. With a sigh and a refusal to spare the kissing bough another glance, she went back to her employment, working beside the prince in silence for at least a quarter of an hour. She turned every single page and scanned it carefully, but her thoughts were not on her task. Her thoughts were on the prince, and they had drifted into forbidden territory.
In her mind the two of them stood in the library of a royal palace. She was dressed as a princess in silks and satins, the likes of which she had worn only during the most choice events of her brief Season. She reached up to remove a book from a bookshelf, and her arms glittered with jewels. She’d barely opened the book when the prince put his arms around her tiny waist. This was only a daydream, so of course she had a tiny waist and such perfect vision that she didn’t require her spectacles.
He murmured something seductive in her ear, and she shivered with anticipation. Finally, his mouth lowered to graze her bare shoulder. At the same time, the hand on her waist inched higher to cup her breast. His mouth continued to worship the skin of her neck, and his other hand slid to the juncture of her thighs.
Cass opened her eyes, momentarily disoriented to realize she was not in the palace library but inside On the Shelf.
“Are you well?”
The prince watched her with concern in his narrowed eyes.
“Perfectly. Why?” She realized she’d closed the book and, wanting something to occupy her hands, replaced it on the shelf.
“You were standing quite still with your eyes closed and one hand pressed to your abdomen. Your breathing had grown rather rapid—”
Cass felt her cheeks heat in mortification. “Did you have a library in the palace at Glynaven?”
His brows rose slightly, an indication she’d surprised him with her question. She’d surprised herself.
“Are we playing three questions again, Lady Ashbrooke?”
“Yes.” It might not be wise to play the game with him again, but neither had it been wise to approach him today. Besides, she was past the point of acting wisely. She had the rest of her long, lonely life to behave wisely.
He gave her a slow smile, which should have made her question what he would ask her in return. Instead, she rather hoped it would be something scandalous. At that thought, she peered about them. They were the only patrons in On the Shelf at the moment and at the back of the shop, away from the clerks and the doorway. Business was slow today, and Cass heard only the shopgirl humming to herself as she dusted the volumes in the window.
The prince leaned one shoulder against the shelf, tucking the book he held under his arm. “We had a magnificent library.”
“What was it like?” she asked, leaning close because he spoke softly so the shopgirl would not hear.
“That’s two questions.”
She nodded, not caring.
“The chamber was domed, and the cupola was painted by famed Renaissance artists from Glynaven—mythical images of satyrs and wood nymphs and enchanted forests. In the daytime, the library shone with light from the tall windows spaced throughout. If the lawn was not lit with lanterns at night, one could see all the stars from those windows. I used to sit for hours on the red velvet chaise longues and read. Of course, my younger sisters thought it most diverting to sneak up to the second level, squeeze behind a pillar, and spy on me. They must have been exceedingly desperate for entertainment to find watching me read of any interest.”
Cass smiled, imagining the girls tiptoeing and giggling as their older brother pretended not to notice them. She’d never had any siblings and had often been so lonely that a chance to spy on an older brother would have been welcomed.
“And now it’s my turn,” the prince said. “What is your name—your Christian name?”
Cass smothered a smile. He did care about her. He would not have wondered such a question if she didn’t hold any interest for him. “My name is Cassandra, but everyone calls me Cass.”
He nodded slowly. “Cassandra, the cursed princess of Troy.”
Cass ducked her head. “I do not think my parents are great readers. I believe they just liked the name. And I have no great gift of prophecy, though I imagine if I did, no one would believe me either.” Fortunately, her head was bowed, and she did not have to look at him when she spoke. She feared she’d revealed too much.
“I have another question,” he said quietly, so quietly she had to lean closer to hear his voice. She again caught the scent of sandalwood and took a shaky breath.
“I suppose it’s only fair. I asked two in a row.” She glanced up at him, saw his lion’s gaze on her, and darted her eyes back to the worn boards beneath her feet.
“What were you daydreaming about?”
She froze. The object of the game was honesty, and she could not reveal the subject of her fantasy. She began to shake her head.
“Tell me, Cassandra.” The sound of her name on his tongue made her breath catch.
“I cannot,” she whispered. “It is too”—mortifying—“personal.”
“I answered your questions, and remember, you have another yet to ask. You can ask me anything you want, and I’ll answer.”
His voice was so seductive and so low that it rumbled through her, bringing warm spirals of pleasure with it. She could not tell him what she’d been thinking, and she also knew she didn’t have the willpower to deny him anything.