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Authors: Alysha Ellis

Tags: #Romance Fiction

The Kissing Bough

BOOK: The Kissing Bough
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Table of Contents

Legal Page

Title Page

Book Description

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

New Excerpt

About the Author

Publisher Page

 

 

 

 

The Kissing Bough

ISBN #
978-1-78430-888-9

©Copyright Alysha Ellis 2015

Cover Art by Posh Gosh ©Copyright November 2015

Edited by
Jennifer Douglas

Totally Bound Publishing

 

This is a work of fiction. All characters, places and events are from the author’s imagination and should not be confused with fact. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, events or places is purely coincidental.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any material form, whether by printing, photocopying, scanning or otherwise without the written permission of the publisher, Totally Bound Publishing.

 

Applications should be addressed in the first instance, in writing, to Totally Bound Publishing. Unauthorized or restricted acts in relation to this publication may result in civil proceedings and/or criminal prosecution.

 

The author and illustrator have asserted their respective rights under the Copyright Designs and Patents Acts 1988 (as amended) to be identified as the author of this book and illustrator of the artwork.

 

Published in 2015 by Totally Bound Publishing,
Newland House, The Point, Weaver Road, Lincoln, LN6 3QN

 

Totally Bound Publishing is a subsidiary of Totally Entwined Group Limited.

 

 

Warning:

 

This book contains sexually explicit content which is only suitable for mature readers. This story has a
heat rating
of
Totally Simmering
and a
Sexometer
of
1.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE KISSING BOUGH

 

 

Alysha Ellis

 

One Christmas kiss, and Lucinda will never be the same.

No one expects mere Miss Lucinda Demerham to refuse a proposal from Edward, Lord Beaufield, no matter how stuffy and puritanical he might be. His invitation to Lucinda and her parents to spend Christmas at Beaufield Hall is seen as a certain preamble to an engagement. But when Edward’s younger brother James erupts onto the scene, the dreary Beaufield Christmas is suddenly alight with revelry.

There are feasts, surprises and unexpected joy—and a Kissing Bough above the door.

 

 

Dedication

 

 

For my mother. Who introduced me to Georgette Heyer.

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

 

“I will behave like a proper young lady,” Lucinda Demerham whispered to herself. “I will not trip or say the wrong thing. I will not embarrass myself or my parents. I will not set fire to the rug just to see if Edward is capable of a spontaneous reaction.”

Having mustered her self-control, she entered the salon at Beaufield Hall and made her curtsy to the Dowager Countess of Beaufield. The countess returned the greeting with cold formality, then turned her attention to Lucinda’s parents.

Edward Lymon—Lord Beaufield—stepped from his mother’s side and bent over Lucinda’s hand. “Good evening, my dear. Welcome.” He lifted his chin and looked down his nose at her the way he always looked at her, as if he expected abject gratitude for his condescension to a mere
Miss
Demerham.

His expectations were destined to remain unfulfilled. Lucinda disliked his harsh piety, his cold demeanor and his rejection of anything he considered frivolous. Why Lucinda had piqued his interest was a mystery.

She’d met him on her very first night at Almacks. Lucinda’s mother, having managed to secure the prized voucher, had impressed on Lucinda the utmost importance of doing nothing to risk it being revoked. They’d arrived far too early to be fashionable and sat against the wall, doing little more than sharing desultory observations.

When the host appeared before them, begging permission to introduce Lord Beaufield, her mother gave flustered consent. Lucinda had smiled happily. No young lady ever wanted to be a wallflower, and Lord Beaufield, if not god-like in his appearance, was in a pale, refined way, quite good-looking.

Her foot was already tapping in time to the music as she waited to be led into the set. The dance began but Lord Beaufield issued no invitation to join it. Instead, he sat next to her mother and regaled her with information about himself. His family’s heritage, his position in society. His decision to marry.

He confided this was the real reason for his sojourn in London. He abhorred gaming clubs, had no interest in the theater and couldn’t abide musical performances. He attended Almacks, but did not dance.

The moment he said it, Lucinda’s mother decided Lucinda would not dance either. Instead she was forced to sit, miserably obedient, wishing she were one of the lucky ones whose hands were solicited for quadrilles and reels, or—for those so fortunate as to gain approval from the patronesses—the waltz. Listening to Lord Beaufield drone on was no compensation.

From then on, at every social event, he sought them out. He talked about his estate, of his notions of right behavior. Of the value of social status and order. He
never
tried to find out what interested Lucinda, or seemed to care what she thought about anything.

Mrs. Demerham thought him the epitome of good sense and manners. Lucinda, who seemed to have inherited her restless disposition from some secret black sheep in the Demerham family, thought he was a bore.

Lucinda wanted to dance, to talk to interesting people, to have fun. Her mother wanted her to make a good marriage. She didn’t seem to care that Edward was not the type of man to appeal to her rebellious daughter.

The dowager’s invitation arrived and was accepted without any attempt to ascertain Lucinda’s preference. When she protested, Mrs. Demerham—who deplored Lucinda’s tendency to be ‘romantical’—launched into a welter of words designed to coerce Lucinda into submission.
She should be gratified. Such an honor!

It was an honor she didn’t want. Edward seemed to think she would be a pretty, well-behaved cipher, residing quietly in his principal seat, raising his children and drawing no attention to herself in any way. If he’d ever involved her in a genuine conversation, in a give and take of ideas, instead of just talking
at
her, he might have discovered how faulty his opinion was.

Lucinda’s behavior was perfectly correct, but inside her head, she seethed with rebellion. She looked at the life her parents and their acquaintances led and knew she wanted more.

She wanted more than economic security and an elevated place in society. More than the polite respect of an indifferent spouse. Sometimes she thought she wanted more than marriage.

There had to be something else. Something to fill the bleak emptiness that made her chest ache whenever she contemplated the long, dreary years ahead of her.

And yet, here she was at Beaufield Hall, probably the most respectable,
dreary
household in the country. She paid little attention to the hum of conversation drifting around her. She knew it all already. Polite nothingness, social interaction without meaning or interest. She followed the social protocols automatically, taking Edward’s proffered arm to enter the dining room, slipping into place behind the dowager countess as, doing what was right, what was expected…

With a rush of noise and confusion, the calm predictability shattered. Through the servant’s door at the far end of the dining room erupted…a forest!

Lucinda blinked, wondering if the tedium had finally sent her mad. No. There was definitely a pine tree walking into the dining room, its dark green branches snapping and swaying as they squeezed through the narrow door then spread out again.

Edward gasped, the first sound of genuine emotion Lucinda had ever heard him make. Lady Beaufield staggered and seemed about to faint, when a deep voice issued from the pine tree and snapped her upright again.

“Good evening, Mother.”

In his second spontaneous response, Edward’s teeth snapped together. In a voice that could have frozen steam, he ground out one word, “James.”

The pine tree tilted to one side, and a disembodied head appeared. Lucinda’s gaze flicked from Edward, to the newcomer’s face and back again. It was like looking into a mirror that subtly distorted the image.

Every feature of the newcomer’s face, peering out from behind the evergreen branches, was similar to Edward’s, but no one would ever confuse the two.

Where Edward’s hair was an unexceptionable brown, the other’s was a deep, rich chocolate. Faded gray-blue eyes sharpened to sapphire, sparkling with merriment or mischief. And the mouth! Edward’s pale, tight lips were transformed into a wide, white grin, lighting and warming the room more effectively than the feeble flames of the fire.

The pine tree—and the man holding it—stepped forward and a line of servants shuffled in, carrying a barrel, and boxes, and arms full of additional pine branches, apples and paper flowers, all of which they unloaded in front of the hearth.

The countess sighed, and in disregard for manners or decorum, sank onto the nearest chair.

The skin on Edward’s face turned a mottled red, and his already narrow lips tightened. “How dare you just appear like this? You disappear after Waterloo with no word to tell us if you were alive or dead, and now, eighteen months later you arrive, unannounced, bringing this… this”—he gestured toward the growing pile on the floor—“whatever it is.”

The man Edward called James placed the tree carefully on the floor and turned to face his brother. He was fashionably dressed for the occasion, with buff knee breeches and a plain black evening jacket, his neck cloth snowy-white and expertly tied. The only jarring note was his dark hair, over-long, reaching past his collar with no attempt to constrain it. A few wild curls teased his forehead where they had been tousled by the embrace of the pine needles. Strange how Edward was so ordinary and this man, so like him yet completely different, was quite the most beautiful individual Lucinda had ever seen.

The man’s smile faded. “You knew very well I survived the battle and was heading for adventure in the New World. I sent a message home with Ellerdale. I know he delivered it, because I met him later in Quebec.” He stretched out a hand to the vegetation in front of him. “As for this… The Germans call it
Tannenbaum
—a Christmas tree in English. They’re quite popular in the Americas.” That wide grin flashed out again. “They’re not unknown in England either. Queen Charlotte had one set up in the Queen’s Lodge fifteen years ago. I know your respect for the old king. Surely if it pleases their majesties, it should not offend you.”

Edward harrumphed. “You could not know possibly what was or was not in the Queen’s Lodge fifteen Christmases past. Until you joined the army, you spent every holiday here, at Beaufield.”

“Being very good and very bored,” James agreed. “But three years ago I celebrated Christmas with one of Queen Charlotte’s ladies-in-waiting. I was very, very good and not a bit bored.” The smile grew lop-sided and decidedly devilish. “My lady’s pillow-talk tended toward matters of nostalgia.”

“You will
not
speak in such a disgraceful manner in my home!” Edward bellowed.

BOOK: The Kissing Bough
13.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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