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?
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October 01, 2011
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Excerpt from A Regency Holiday by Lynn Kerstan
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?"
"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 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."
"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."