We know it’s only September, but it’s not too early to think about Christmas. Today we feature excerpts from Christmas in America, a new anthology filled with America’s rich history and Christmas traditions from four of your favorite historical romance authors: Donna Thorland, Joanna Shupe, Piper Huguley, and Holly Bush.
“Christmas at Mount Holly” by Donna Thorland
The Jerseys, December 23rd, 1776 – The American Revolution is on the brink of total collapse. The Rebels have lost New York, the Continental Army has endured a disastrous retreat through New Jersey, and Washington is about to lose what remains when enlistments expire on New Year’s Eve. The cause needs a miracle, but Christmas is a time for wonders: as Angela Ferrers—the woman known to history as the Widow of Mount Holly—will discover when she sets a honey trap for Hessian Colonel Count Carl Emil Urich von Donop, only to find herself ensnared in mutual attraction.
She had been many things before she had become Angela Ferrers. Daughter, lover, wife, mother, widow. And then it had all ended, not in that terrible sweeping of the board, when all her pieces had been taken, but in a single, focused act of revenge that had severed her old life from her new.
For a time it had been necessary to become someone else, and becoming other people was a skilled trade. She had apprenticed herself to the first lady of the London stage, learned how to transform her appearance with little more than posture and expression from ingénue to crone, from aristocrat to orange seller. Adopting and discarding so many guises and disguises had taught her to see through the pretenses of others and realize that almost everyone wore a mask—most just didn’t realize it.
Like the handsome young jaeger captain with his velvet eye-patch and flawlessly cut uniform. He probably spent the better part of his pay dressing the part of the dashing officer. Her younger self would have been quite taken with him, with the way he entered the room, bowing low and sweeping his coat behind him with a flourish—as trim and graceful as a dancing master—and looking intently into her eyes.
“May I present,” said Ewald, in his studied English, “the Colonel Count Carl Emil Ulrich Von Donop of Hesse-Cassel.”
“Miracle on Ladies’ Mile” by Joanna Shupe
New York, 1895 – After losing his beloved wife, department store owner Alexander Armstrong seems incapable of anything other than work, despite his ache to be a better father to his daughter. When the pair encounters Grace, a charming shop girl designing the store’s Christmas window displays, he struggles to accept that perhaps miracles do happen in the most unlikely of places…
“There’s no one watching us now,” she whispered, rising up on her toes and placing a bold kiss on his jaw. “We’re all alone.”
A shudder went through him. “God, Grace,” he rasped. “We shouldn’t. You don’t even know—”
She put a finger over his lips, preventing him from finishing the sentence. “You won’t hurt me, Alex. I’m—”
“Drunk. On champagne.”
“No, not any longer. My head may well be muddled, but it’s not from the drinks.”
His nose coasted over her cheek, his breath hot on her skin as he nuzzled her. “How was I ever to resist you?” he murmured, and then his mouth captured hers. He kissed her hard. His lips were firm and urgent against her mouth, while his hands drew her closer. Trapping her.
Sparks, like little fireflies, flooded her insides. Her skin felt feverish, itchy and tight, barely strong enough to contain the rush of pleasure coursing through her blood. She opened to him without hesitation, the certainty of this man, this night, set in her mind. Never had she met anyone like Alex. A decent, intelligent man who unlocked some secret part of her.
The outside noise fell away, leaving only the two of them, alone, in a private world of temptation and pleasure. She forgot they could be discovered at any time. Nothing seemed real except for Alex, the strong, capable man kissing her as if he were starving.
And she loved every delirious second of it.
“The Cowboy’s Christmas” by Piper Huguley
Smithson, Oklahoma Territory, 1893 – Postponing her missionary trip to Africa, apprentice teacher Serena Newcomb must travel west to face the unrequited love of her past — rebel cowboy Baxter Smithson. Banished from his Georgia home for the crime of falling in love with the wrong woman, Baxter is surprised that his Christmas gift is a grown-up Serena, ready to confront him for ignoring his duty and to show him that the true meaning of Christmas is love.
“Aren’t you going to help Serena down, Baxter?” Matthew said. “I’ll do it if you don’t want to.”
She grew warm all over, certain that an obvious red flush appeared under her light brown features. “He doesn’t have to. My brother can help.”
“I trust Baxter to,” Pax said, with his usual jocularity. Why couldn’t her brother be more perceptive? She needed to talk with Corrine so that Pax could see that she didn’t want Baxter to touch her. But no, Pax was off and running to examine the land that would be for the church and probably the preacher’s manse as well.
So for another time today, he had to be close to her. The first one was when they were singing and Serena feared forgetting the words to the old time songs.
He reached up, pushing his hat onto the back of his head. “Come on, Little Bit. Don’t be scared.”
“I’m not afraid of you.”
When she was.
He reached for her, his hands spanning her waist. When he put his hands there, she had to restrain herself from smacking him to make him unhand her. He lifted her as if she were a china cup, with care and love, but easily. However, he then brought her too entirely close to him and forced her to slide down his body to the ground.
That was when the impulse to hit him took over her and she thunked his hard arm with her reticule.
“What? I didn’t drop you.”
“It wasn’t proper to have me come down like that. You should have been more careful.”
“Is that all of the thanks I get for donating a highly desirable quarter section of land for the glory of God?” Baxter rubbed his arm.
“Oh stop it. You aren’t hurt. As if it were even possible to hurt you.”
“Into the Evermore” by Holly Bush
Virginia, 1842 – Eleanor McManus, upright daughter of a minister, is rescued from kidnappers somewhere in the deep forest wilderness by a rough and tumble fur trader, Beauregard Gentry. With his help, Eleanor makes her way back to her intended groom who declares her soiled, and she finds herself alone, pressured to make life decisions without benefit of family or others she can trust. Beauregard and Eleanor agree to begin a life together, build their legacy together, and their growing devotion to each other is witnessed one cold, crisp Christmas morning.
“We are not married! I could not ride out alone with you! Young women should not be traipsing around the countryside with unmarried men, even if they are affianced. If you were not ruined on the day of your parents’ death, your good reputation is gone now.”
“William!” Eleanor whispered, and brought her hand to her lips, her eyes wide.
Beau had heard enough. He quickstepped to the man’s blind side and punched him with all the anger that the woman must be feeling. The man reeled and Beau caught his shirt, stood him upright, and pummeled his midsection. He dropped to his knees in front of Beau and covered his head with his arms.
“You let a woman, your intended no less, ride out alone to bury her parents? You’re a son-of-a-bitch!” Beau knelt down and grabbed the man’s face in his hand and waited until their eyes met. “And you’re going to hell. There’s no doubt about that. You can wrap your sorry ass up in the vestments all you want. God will see you and remember you sending an innocent woman out into dangerous territory. You’re going to hell for sure.”