For last year’s Christmas story contribution, which I reposted a few weeks ago, I took you to modern-day Copenhagen to see how Nicky O spent his Christmas. (Hint: there were Danish Christmas hearts, a potential murder charge, and a very hot night with his married lover.) Ahem. This year’s installment, with a mischievous dowager duchess and a reluctant widower earl in 1870’s England, an excerpt from a future novella, seems downright tame by comparison. But there is that pesky little matter of the mistletoe…
Bennett Fairbank, Earl of Sandalwood, stood in front of the newly-stoked hearth in the study of his son-in-law’s country house and hoped very hard he had not allowed his beloved daughter Lucinda to marry badly. He’d been about to ask her about the inattentiveness and slowness of the servants in her new home when the maid had finally arrived with tea service.
“I’m so sorry.” Lucinda reached for his hands as soon as the maid had left the room and finally stood still long enough for Bennett to kiss her cheek. “We’ve had to hire so many new staff so quickly, what with fifteen guests arriving for the weekend, and Christmas preparations well underway.”
“I’d have thought your husband would have had a full staff ready for his new bride.”
Lucinda squeezed his hands. “Daddy, don’t—”
“Lady Lucinda, here you are!” A familiar voice grated on Bennett’s ears.
The Dowager Duchess of Bridgehampton sailed into the room, bringing with her a blast of cold air from the hallway that reminded Bennett of the long icicles hanging from the eaves, one more task unattended. He might have to take the new servants in hand himself.
“I’m perfectly fine,” the duchess told his daughter, and Bennett realized he’d missed the conversation. “You go see to His and Her Grace.”
Lucinda flashed a smile and dropped a quick curtsy before flying out of the room as fast as the duchess had flown in, ruining yet another chance for him to have a private word with his daughter.
“Uh-hm.” At the sound of the duchess’s throat clearing, Bennett glanced at her. The woman had ensconced herself on the black leather settee, her fitted green gown with its waves of ruffles on the skirt flowing around her like an emerald sea.
Bennett shook his head slightly, wondering when he’d last been distracted by the color of a lady’s gown and realizing it matched the green of her eyes and, more perplexingly, why these unbidden thoughts had come to him now, just as he was considering taking his leave to find Lucinda.
This time Bennett caught sight of the duchess’s face. Those dress-matching eyes bored into him and her mouth was set in a slight scowl, as it usually was when he was in her company. Continue reading