WE HAVE A WINNER! The download of A Lady's Lesson in Seduction goes to commenter Katherine White.
Several years ago I visited Gawthorpe Hall in Lancashire, England. It’s a beautiful old house and well worth the visit. It started as a peel tower in the 14th Century, but the house as it now stands was constructed mostly in the Elizabethan age and renovated extensively in the 19th Century. Its history is connected with the witches of Pendle Hill, and Charlotte Bronte was twice a guest there.
I spent quite a while squinting up at the mottoes on the central tower. One of them reads Prudentia et Iusticia. Even I, with my meagre Latin, could guess that it translates as Prudence and Justice. The other motto looks like Old English to me: Kynd Kynn Knawne Kepe. I’ve found a few translations: Keep your own kin-kind or Kind friends know and keep, or perhaps Take care of your own.
I’m not sure how I got from these mottoes to the entirely different one plaguing my hero, Camden Folk, the Marquis of Warbury, in my Christmas novella, A Lady’s Lesson in Seduction. Maybe it’s because Gawthorpe House is Elizabethan, like my hero’s – but Camden lives much farther south, in Oxfordshire. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always wondered how it felt to have a motto, and thought what a burden it might be if one felt compelled to live up to it.
For Camden, living up to the Folk family motto presents an unusual problem. The first part of the motto is missing and has been for centuries, since before the house was built. All that’s left is Secundum, Non Nocere, which translates as Secondly, Do No Harm. Camden has no idea what he’s supposed to do first…although he and his cousins had fun dreaming up first halves for the motto when they were children.
Even though the Marquis has quite a reputation with the ladies, he always does his best to live up to the second half of his family motto and harm no one. This becomes a challenge when in a good cause (or so he sees it), he takes on the seduction of his friend’s widow, the lovely, vulnerable Frances Burdett. The story is full of Christmas customs and even has a wee hint of magic.
Once a notorious rake, Camden Folk, Marquis of Warbury, is now consumed by desire for only one woman: beautiful young widow Frances Burdett. The Yuletide festivities at his country estate present the perfect opportunity for seduction…
After her brief, unsatisfying marriage, Frances swore never to become tied to another man. Then a passionate kiss under the mistletoe reawakens longings she thought buried forever. Can she give in to the pleasures of the body with a rogue like Cam—without losing her heart?
And an excerpt:
Frances should never have agreed to go to the orchard with the Marquis of Warbury—to gather mistletoe, of all things. She sent him a fierce, furious glare. “If you must have it, I don’t enjoy kissing.”
He eyed her from behind the apple tree. “Not at all?”
“No.” She pressed her lips together.
“Come now,” he teased. “Surely you’re exaggerating.”
Her voice was low, suffused with passion. “You can’t possibly judge how that—that invasion made me feel.”
“That bad, was it?” The marquis reached up and snipped with his shears. “You’re right, I can’t judge, but the general popularity of kissing tells me you were merely unlucky.” He came around the tree, a sprig of mistletoe in his hand.
What a fool she was; in spite of bitter experience, she wanted to kiss him, wanted kissing to be wonderful. How stupid! She was much better off—much safer—as she was.
He kissed the fingertips of his gloves and blew. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”
He picked a berry from the mistletoe and dropped it. “We’ll make it a very light kiss,” he said, coming closer. “Short and sweet.”
She didn’t trust him; she wanted yet didn’t want—
A flurry of snow tumbled from the branches above, distracting her. He swooped in, dropped a swift, cold kiss on her lips, and drew away—but not far. “Was that too unbearable?” Another mistletoe berry fell to the snow.
“No, of course not,” she said, “but—”
“Well, then.” He took her hand and pulled her behind the tree. “If you don’t want me to invade you—accidentally, needless to say—you’ll have to keep your mouth shut.”
“You mustn’t do this—”
“Of course I must. No talking.”
She gave up, shutting both her mouth and her eyes. It was her own fault for coming to the orchard this morning, but she’d enjoyed their time together in the middle of the night so very much. It was only a kiss.
Nothing happened. She opened her eyes again. He was contemplating her mouth from under his lashes. “You have lovely lips.”
Through her teeth, she said, “Get it over with.”
“I’ve never kissed a martyr before.” His lips curled in a lazy smile, and then he pressed his mouth coolly to hers and withdrew again. “It requires a more careful approach than we disgustingly hasty men are used to.” He flicked another berry off the sprig.
She couldn’t help but watch his mouth. What was he going to do, and when?
“Close your eyes, and whatever happens, keep your lips together.”
This time his mouth lingered on hers a few seconds, then pressed light kisses from one corner of her lips to the other. Kiss. “One.” Kiss. “Two.” Kiss. “Three.”
Any ideas of what the first half of the motto should be? Any suggestions of other stately homes I should visit on my next trip to England? Favourite Christmas customs you’d like to see in a story? I’d love to give away a download – for Nook or Kindle – to someone who comments here.