Yuletide Gems—A Regency Novella Duet
Part of the Holiday Anthology series
Two heartwarming holiday tales of true love set in a place where happily ever afters abound–the library, of course!
Worth More Than Rubies – by Grace Burrowes
All the Duke of Dunfallon wants this holiday season is a respite from the machinations of the matchmakers. When pursued by a particularly determined would-be duchess, he ducks into the West Bartholomew Street Lending Library. Librarian Emerald Armstrong sees a dapper gent in a bit of a hurry and mistakes Dunfallon for a curate overdue for his assignation with West Bart’s theological collection.
Dunfallon is intrigued by Emmie’s love of books, her disdain for society’s games, and her ferocious generosity of spirit toward all of the library’s patrons. She has no patience with posturing, and thus he takes the risk of admitting his true identity. To his surprise, Emmie doesn’t mind all that much that he’s a duke—some things cannot be helped—but she is far less willing to keep silent about Dunfallon’s other secret, the one he has been guarding from even his fellow peers.
If an honest woman is worth more than rubies, what will a duke sacrifice to earn her love?
Diamond in the Rough — by Christi Caldwell
Abbadon clawed his way free of a life of poverty and crime thanks to the refuge he found at the Royal Colonade Library, and he’s determined to help other people find their escapes as well—in the pages of the library’s books. He issues Diamond a challenge: Spend a fortnight exploring the volumes on the library’s shelves; if after two weeks, she still wants to prevent her sister from visiting, he won’t interfere.
Abbadon soon realizes that beneath Diamond’s icy veneer beats the heart of a loyal, loving, and passionate woman, and Diamond comes to see that Abbadon’s devotion to books is a respect for truth and learning. A former guttersnipe and a duke’s daughter aren’t the stuff of matches made in Mayfair, but perhaps happily ever afters aren’t just for fairytales!
NOTE: This duet will be released on Sept. 27, 2022, through library channels (and for our international readers, through Kobo). Readers wishing to purchase the story directly can do so from either authors’ website. Wide-retail distribution for these stories is planned for the 2023 holiday season, when next year’s new duet takes its turn as a library exclusive!
Enjoy An Excerpt
Worth More than Rubies
By Grace Burrowes
“Must ye be so gracious to every dowager, beldame, and debutante we pass?” Tertius Dundee, eleventh Duke of Dunfallon, kept his voice down. A duke did not shout on a public walkway, particularly if he was determined to elude the notice of the ladies.
“Yes, I must.” Nicholas Haddonfield, Earl of Bellefonte replied. “My governess pounded gentlemanly deportment into my hard little head before I was in the schoolroom, and the ladies enjoy my overtures. Besides, Yuletide approaches and the season brings out my natural good cheer.”
“Ye can afford good cheer,” Dunfallon retorted. “Ye are married.”
“And happily so, thank the Deity and my darling countess.” Bellefonte tipped his hat again and beamed his signature smile to a pair of widows swaddled in fur muffs and wool scarves. Because his lordship stood better than six and a half feet tall and sported a head of shining blond curls, his gallantry was like a beacon across Mayfair, summoning the admiring glances of any female with eyes to behold him.
“Remind me,” Dunfallon said, “that the next time we meet for breakfast at the club, we arrive separately.”
“Nonsense. A brisk stroll works up the appetite.”
“Don’t ye dare even think—”
This time, Bellefonte made a sweeping gesture out of removing his hat before a roving band of well dressed young ladies.
“Enjoy your shopping!” he called. “Remember that I have been a very good boy this year!”
A chorus of tittering and simpering followed from the young ladies, from their chaperones, and from the maids trailing after them. Across the street, a woman attired in a white velvet cloak stopped to gawk at the spectacle Bellefonte created. Her companion, sensibly attired in blue, smiled indulgently.
“What sort of fool wears a white cloak in London?” Bellefonte asked, settling his hat on his head, then taking it off again and tipping it to the ladies across the street. “The fabric will be gray before she’s bought her first pair of dancing slippers.”
The day was brisk but sunny. A shiver nonetheless passed over Dunfallon’s nape. “That wee princess is Miss Minerva Peasegill, accompanied by her mama. Miss Peasegill turned down three proposals during the Season and two during the Little Season, to hear her mama tell it. Stop lollygagging and get on wi’ ye.”
“She’s pretty enough,” Bellefonte said, budging not one inch, “if you like the delicate porcelain look. Still, white isn’t very practical. I like a practical woman. My countess, for example—”
“Move yer lordly arse, Bellefonte, or s’help me, I’ll… God hae mercy, they’re coming this way.”
Dunfallon’s best hope lay in the fact that Bellefonte, being as tall as a lighthouse, held the ladies’ attention. Dunfallon himself could steal away unseen if he moved with the speed and stealth of a border reiver intent on mischief beneath the quarter moon.
The chronic congestion of London’s fashionable streets prevented the ladies from charging across the thoroughfare. That gave Dunfallon a few moments to assess the surrounds. If he ducked into a shop, the ladies might well follow. If he simply loped off down the walkway, they would also give chase, hallooing and you-hooing like hounds on the scent.
Where was a gentleman’s club when a duke needed safety from the matrimonial press gang?
His gaze lit on a modest two-story building tucked between a coffee shop and a milliner’s. No gloves, boots, or fans were displayed in the windows. No porters loitered outside prepared to bear purchases home for any shoppers.
A solicitor’s establishment, perhaps, or… The sign on the lamp post swung in the chilly breeze: W. Bart. St. Lending Library. All welcome.
“Excuse me,” Dunfallon said. “Find another companion for breakfast, Bellefonte. Please delay the ladies as long as you can.”
Bellefonte’s smile because less genial and more piratical. “They’ll ambush you in the churchyard, at the house parties, and at the Yuletide open houses. Mistletoe was invented by spinsters, you know.”
“Or by clever bachelors, among whom I hope to number for a good many years.” Dunfallon moved off with the pedestrians thronging the walkway, not too quickly, and by the time he’d reached the lending library, Miss Peasegill’s signature “Halloo! Halloo, my lord!” was ringing out behind him.
My lord, not Your Grace, meaning Dunfallon had eluded capture—this time.
The library, thank the heavenly ministers, was open. Dunfallon slipped inside with the same relief he’d felt when he’d eluded French patrols or Spanish bandits. He remained by the doorway, a trickle of shame blending with his relief.
Miss Peasegill was merely a young lady in search of a tiara. She’d been raised with pursuit of that sole objective in mind, and now she had a handful of months left to achieve her goal. If she failed, and ended up wedded to some cit’s spotty son, she would be forever classed among the unfortunates who did not take.
Dunfallon well knew what it was to be judged inadequate. He considered returning to Bellefonte’s side, but the sheer abundance of books on display caught his eye. As the second spare, he’d learned to appreciate the company of books. His old tutor, MacAlpin, had believed that a boy who read widely was a boy well armed against life’s challenges.
Papa had thought that a boy buried in books was a boy who never gave his parents any trouble, which for the first sixteen years of Dunfallon’s life had been his sole ambition.
Windows two stories tall filled the library with light, and the air was gently scented with bound books and lemon oil. A double-sided hearth took up the center of the main room, a fat white cat lounged on the mantel, and a mezzanine level ringed the premises on three sides. Book shelves lined the walls and stood in rows on the opposite side of the hearth. The fourth side of the balcony level looked to be some sort of enclosed office, or perhaps a room for literary rarities.
A second fireplace was set against the back wall, and a pair of older gents nodded in wingchairs before the blaze. One of them had a lapful of knitting, the other drowsed under the open pages of a newspaper.
The library had an air of peace and repose, precisely the sort of refuge Dunfallon sought. Not as dark as a gentlemen’s club, not as elegant as the ducal townhouse. Just right, for a bachelor seeking respite from marital doom.
A woman emerged from between two bookcases. She held a bound tome in her hands, and was attired from head to foot in gray save for a sprig of prickly holly pinned to her lapel. No cap, dark hair tidily bunned at her nape, and only the slightest of welcoming smiles.
The very best sort of woman, one who looked to have no use for tiaras or dukes. Pretty green eyes though, and a direct gaze.
“Good morning and welcome to West Bartholomew Street Lending Library. I am Miss Emerald Armstrong.”
“Miss.” Dunfallon’s bow would have been the envy of Bellefonte’s adoring throng. “A pleasant day to ye.”
“Are you Mrs. MacInnes’s nephew? If so, Mr. Dunn, you are somewhat over-dressed for the occasion. You can start on the sweeping, and make up in vigor what you lack in punctuality. The children will be here at nine of the clock, and you’ll want to haul up several buckets of coal before they arrive. They offer to help, you see, and then the job takes four times as long because a deal of handwashing becomes necessary. Dirty hands and library books are no sort of combination.”
Her voice was precise and laced with a brisk hint of humor. She apparently looked forward to the arrival of the children, and for that alone, Dunfallon decided to do a bit of sweeping.
“And where would the broom be, Miss Armstrong?”
“Come,” she said, setting the book on a table. “I’ll show you around and if you have questions you must ask. A library is a temple to the curious mind, according to my late father, and we cannot find answers if we don’t ask questions.”
She might have been quoting old MacAlpin. Dunfallon hung his cloak on a peg and followed the lady down a set of steps into a whitewashed half-basement made into a sort of parlor. The hearth along the back wall had been lit down here too, and sunken windows added some light.
“The cleaning supplies are here,” she said, opening a tall cupboard. “The coal chute is through that door. Mind you wipe your feet before you go upstairs. We send over to the chop shop for a nooning, and I told your aunt that we can provide you a meal in return for your labors. Nothing fancy, but one does not work at one’s best without sustenance. You are free to leave after the mid-day meal, or you may use West Bart’s as your study. I cannot promise quiet, but we do keep the place warm, and we have a Welsh Bible you can consult.”
“A Welsh Bible?” Who was Mr. Dunn and why would he need a Welsh Bible? “Miss Armstrong, I’m afraid there’s been a slight misunderstanding.”
She bustled up the curving steps. “No misunderstanding. Your aunt has arranged a curate’s post in Swansea for you, but you don’t speak the language. If you work here in the morning on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, you may use our Welsh primers and Bible to learn something of Welsh in the afternoons. Come spring, I will not have spent the coldest months hauling coal and sweeping mud for a pleasant change, and you will be somewhat better prepared for your first post.”
“First impressions do matter,” Dunfallon said, “but—”
The front door swung open. “Miss Helen! I’m here!” A dirty little boy beamed great good cheer at the librarian while letting in a gust of frigid air.
“And I’m that glad to see you, Matthew,” Miss Armstrong replied. “Please do close the door and wipe your feet. You are the first to arrive, so you will choose our story.”
“Who’s that?” Matthew said, turning a jaundiced perusal on Dunfallon. “Ain’t seen him afore. Did he remember to wipe ’em great big feet?”
“Dun—Mr. Dunn, at your service.” Did one bow to a cheeky boy? Dunfallon supposed not, because nobody had bowed to him when he’d been a cheeky boy. “I’m to assist Miss Armstrong with general duties as assigned, and yes, I did most conscientiously wipe my feet.”
“Ye’re a dogsbody for Miss?” Matthew asked, as Miss Armstrong took the boy’s cap from his head. “Lucky bloke. I’ll show you have to sweep the hearth if you like. I know what story I want.”
Miss Armstrong slapped the cap against the nearest bookcase, sending a cloud of dust wafting across the morning sunbeams.
“You’ll want one of Mr. Dingle’s tales,” she said. “Winter is bearing down hard, so I suspect you want the one about the hot soup and the icy bridge.”
“That story makes me hungry,” Matthew said, “but ’em’s clever kittens, Miss Armstrong. I always like to hear the stories about the clever kittens. They’re my favorites.”
More children arrived, and Tertius Dane MacManus MacTavish Dundee, eleventh Duke of Dunfallon, ducked down the steps and busied himself hauling up eight buckets of coal—as much as the coal bin would hold. He then swept the library from top to bottom under Matthew’s careful supervision.
Matthew abandoned him for the dusting portion of the program—thank the celestial intercessors—because the time had come for Miss Armstrong to read the Tale of the Icy Bridge. A dozen ill-clothed and malodorous urchins listened raptly to her rendering of the story, as did the fat white cat dozing on her lap.
As did one reluctantly fascinated duke.
Read on for an excerpt from Diamond in the Rough, by Christi Caldwell!
In a world where women were largely powerless, one might expect the daughter of a duke, and also, goddaughter of the King and Queen of England, had some power. At the very least, power over her own life.
The world, however, would be wrong.
As the Duke of Devonshire’s daughter, Lady Diamond Glain Carmichael discovered almost at the onset of her life—that was, the earliest remembrances she carried—how little say she had over her life.
The subjects taught by her governesses.
The pastimes she must learn and adopt as hers.
The food she ate.
Even…the books she read. Certain topics and studies and authors were deemed appropriate.
Diamond had grasped long ago the expectations placed on a duke’s offspring. Unfortunately, her younger sister, Opal, had not.
“You are being ridiculous,” Opal whispered, stomping her foot in a noiseless way.
That attempt at silence, proved Opal may have gathered more than Diamond had credited. It didn’t change anything.
“No,” Diamond said calmly, threading the tip of her needle through the fabric of her embroidery frame. She paused to assess her work, angling the scrap of fabric. “I am being rational. That is entirely different and eminently better.”
“I shan’t ever become you, Diamond. Never, ever, ever.” With every reiteration of that word, Opal stamped her foot for emphasis. “Ever!”
Alas, she would. At thirteen, however, Opal just had not realized it.
Diamond had been seven when her father had entered the art room and discovered the canvas she’d been painting upon included her own interpretation of Susana and the Elders. Instead of a young woman being spied upon by her elders, she’d incorporated her late mother’s image upon the canvas.
The duke had stormed the room, grabbed the canvas, and into the hearth it had gone.
On that day, the governess whom she’d loved, a woman who’d encouraged Diamond, even at that young age to think bigger, to dream of more, had been sacked. Her replacement had a sterner, colder, pinch-mouthed woman, who’d been unafraid to wield a switch to Diamond’s knuckles when Diamond’s drawing subjects proved inappropriate.
Soon, Opal would realize the limitations placed upon them. Eventually.
The girl had simply managed to escape the certainty of her future this long. But ultimately, she’d discover what Diamond had, and what all women ultimately did—their voices weren’t their own. Neither were their interests and passions. In the end, first their fathers, and then their husbands dictated who a woman must be.
To resist was futile.
A small hand waggled before Diamond’s face, and she went briefly cross-eyed as she concentrated on those paint-stained fingers.
“Hullo? You’re not even listening to me, Diamond. Why have you heard a word I’ve said?”
“On the contrary,” Diamond angled her frame and resumed her sewing. “I’ve heard everything you’ve said. It’s why I’m now ignoring—”
Opal yanked the wood frame from away, hid it behind her back, and glared at Diamond. “Do you know, you are incapable of feeling anything?”
Opal’s charge struck deep within Diamond’s heart. “I am capable of making safe decisions,” Diamond said, keeping her features perfectly even.
“Safe,” Opal pulled a face. “Bah, how dull and how very boring.”
“Dull and boring essentially mean the same—”
“It is a circulating library,” Opal entreated. “A circulating library. Why can’t I go?”
“Because you have books here,” Diamond replied calmly. “Ones—”
“Ones hand-picked by father, and boring and dull—”
“Which both still mean the same thing.”
Opal clasped her hands against her small chest and her eyes took on a faraway, romantic glimmer. “But not all books are the same. These books, Diamond, they are…magical,” she whispered that latter word with an awed-reverence one might bestow upon a newly discovered land, or rare gemstone.
“Magic doesn’t exist,” Diamond said, both gently and firmly, as she cast a watchful look at the doorway. “And certainly not in the horror stories you read,” she whispered.
Opal dropped her arms to her side and glared. “They are magnificent, and clever and you would judge them.”
“Father will judge them. And when he does, gone they will be. You are better off not indulging in them—”
“Reading is not an indulgence.”
Opal scrambled onto the sofa, and going up on her knees beside Diamond, gripped her with desperate hands. “Look at me and tell me there’s nothing that’s ever brought you joy the way my books do. Because I don’t believe it.”
Diamond met Opal’s gaze steadily. “I was seven when I…” learned “…accepted my lot for what it is. You would do well to remember that pastimes like reading or painting, or whatever it is… they aren’t worth…” Losing loved ones over.
Opal sank back on her haunches. “No wonder you find yourself called Princesse de Glace,” she said, and had those words been shouted, with Opal glowering and stomping, that would have been easier than this…quiet acceptance.
Yes, the world—even Opal—believed Diamond so flawless, so unfeeling, so perfect, that even after two Seasons she’d not found a man worthy of her. What they didn’t know was how very lonely her life was, and how those assumptions had kept her from making friends in Polite Society still hurt. What hurt more, however, was having people ripped from her life. The mother who’d been banished by their father for daring to teach his daughter to be a free spirit. Her governess.
“Did you hear me?” Opal demanded. “I called you the Ice Princess. You have nothing to say to me calling you names?”
“There are certainly worse things than being referred to as a princess,” Diamond lied. That title cast upon her hurt, whether spoken in English or the French form as written in the papers.
Opal went motionless,, sadness filling her blue eyes. “You are unbearable, Diamond, and I will never, ever become you.” Somehow the somberness with which the younger girl spoke sent an even greater spiral of hurt through Diamond.
“Never, ever, ever.”
Diamond cocked her head. “You forgot one of your ‘evers’.”
Opal’s eyes bulged, and with a piercing shriek she tossed her arms up.
Diamond should have expected her tenacious sister was not done. “I know I’ll not do anything scandalous and I’d advise you to learn that important lesson, and fast.”
“Why?” Opal asked with unexpected calm.
Diamond tipped her head in an accidental mimicry of her sister’s early befuddlement. “I don’t…”
“Why are you so determined to be the flawless lady?”
It was a question never been put to her. Diamond found her voice once more. “Because it is the way.”
Fire blazed in Opal’s eyes. “Yes, well it is a stupid way.”
And within Opal’s expressive gaze, Diamond saw herself long, long ago. Back when she’d believed she’d always be as free-spirited as her mother and possess a zest for life. But then, she’d only been a small child. Opal had retained hold of her spirit far longer. Odd to both resent and envy the smaller girl.
Setting aside her frame, Diamond stood, moving close to Opal. She rested a hand on her sister’s shoulder. “It is the only way there is, Opal,” she said quietly. “You’d be wise to learn that now.” To spare herself from the inevitable hurt that came when ladies failed to conform to those expectations placed upon them.
“It is only a book,” Opal entreated, and this version of Opal, so desperate for her books, threatened to wear Diamond down.
“You know His Grace will not countenance it.” The books in question, were horror stories, tales of grizzly death and murder.
“He’s a curmudgeon. Either way, he barely knows we’re alive.”
Yes, that much was true. Except… “Barely or not, he knows, and when he finds out—”
“If,” Opal shot back.
“When,” Diamond corrected. Because invariably the duke discovered all. “He will burn your books, and fire your governess for daring to encourage your reading such books.” And Diamond not have that for her sister.
Opal’s cheeks went pale.
Good. At last, Diamond had managed to penetrate her sister’s stubborn spirit, and seemingly unflagging determination to visit the circulating library.
Opal had managed to retain as her governess a woman who genuinely cared about her, and nurtured her soul and spirit. Diamond knew first-hand how precarious that gift was…and just how quickly the duke would take it away.
Opal balled and unballed her hands into fists at her side. “If he burns my books, then at least I’ll have had the joy of reading them, and will carry the memories of what I read, for all of time.”
With that, Opal did something Diamond never recalled the younger girl doing before: She turned ever so quietly, made a slow, silent march from the parlor, and closed the door not with a bang, but with a small, nearly inaudible click.
Yuletide Gems will be available through most public libraries by about October 1, for purchase through the Kobo ebook store for our international readers, and through the websites of both Grace Burrowes and Christi Caldwell.
End of Excerpt
This book will begin shipping in Fall 2022
Yuletide Gems—A Regency Novella Duet is available in the following formats:
Grace Burrowes Publishing
September 27, 2022
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