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A Kiss at Mistletoe (Paperback)

A Kiss at Mistletoe (Paperback)

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Paperback

Lady Mary Dalton fills her time with anything she pleases–and she pleases to do as she likes. With no interest in a husband, Lady Mary is perfectly content to remain in Derbyshire for the rest of her days. However, Mary's parents have other ideas. For the Christmas festivities at Bran Manor, Mary's brother brings home the Duke of Carlton, an infamous man known for his many improprieties, as well as for his distaste in matrimony.

Despite his rakish ways, Mary is drawn to him in the most vexing and exasperating way. But when Mary stumbles into the Duke of Carlton's arms one snowy eve, an undeniable attraction is set into motion. Suddenly, marriage no longer seems so horrific–for either of them.

PAPERBACK

Paperback

150 pages

Dimensions

5 x 8 inches (127 x 203 mm)

ISBN

9780648716006

Publication Date

December 11, 2023

Publisher

Tamara Gill

 

Read a Sample

Lady Mary Dalton, eldest daughter to the Earl of Lancaster jiggled her fishing pole, having felt a rapid jerk of her line. Too slow to catch the fish, she left her line in the water hoping to feel another little nibble and possibly reel in a nice-sized carp or bream for Cook to prepare for dinner tomorrow.
The snow relentlessly fell outside as she sat wrapped up in furs and wool on the family’s frozen lake in Derbyshire. The ice house her father had the servants move onto the lake each year was a welcome retreat from her mother’s complaints. Mama didn’t think ladies should fish, particularly in the middle of winter. Women should be wives. Women should have husbands. Women should have children. Her daughter should be married by now…
Blah, blah, blah, she’d heard the words too many times to count.
It was practically the countess’s motto. Unfortunately, what her mama wished for was the opposite of what Mary wanted. She’d never been like her friends, had never loved shopping in London in the weeks leading up to their first Season. She cared very little if the men of the ton thought her a worthy, profitable or pretty ornament for their arm.
The outdoors had always been her passion and some days she’d wished she’d been born a man, or even into a family that were not titled and rich. Just an ordinary, working family that could do as they pleased. At least, that was what she’d always thought everyone else had since her own life had been so orchestrated.
Mary jiggled her line a little and sighed. At least she was home at present, thanks to her mama falling ill with a cold that she could not possibly stay in Town to endure since someone might see her red nose.
With any luck, her mother would decide to stay in Derbyshire and not travel back to Town to finish up the Little Season before Christmas. Thankfully, spring and summer would soon return and she was looking forward to those months. When the snow melted away and rivers ran and she was able to go outdoors again not just to fish on the ice but to walk the surrounding hills and forests and climb the rocky outcrops that scattered her magnificent county.
The door to the icebox opened and her father entered. He was rugged up in a fur coat, a hood covered his head and most of his brow. A thick woolen scarf wrapped about his mouth and nose, and he looked like an Eskimo. Mary chuckled as he came in and shut the door, before sitting on the little wooden stool across from her. He picked up the spare fishing rod, placing bait on the small hook and dropped the line into the water, dangling it just as she had.
“Mary, there is something we need to discuss, my dear,” he said.
His downcast tone didn’t bode well for them to remain in the country and she prepared herself for the disappointing news that was undoubtedly to come.
“My dearest girl is to be three and twenty in few days, and it is time for us to have you settled and married before the end of the next Season. We thought our annual Mistletoe Ball would be the perfect opportunity to invite our neighbors and their guests to celebrate Yuletide. It would also act as a reintroduction for you into society and to show those present that you’re most definitely seeking a husband next year and are open to courtship.”
The thought sent revulsion through her and she stared at her father a moment, wondering if he’d lost his mind. It was one thing to return to London, but using their Christmas ball as a means to showcase her assets was mortifying. “Must we go back to London at all? You know I do not do well in Town. I am not like the other girls. I don't take pleasure in grand balls and parties. I’m much more comfortable here in my ice fishing box, swimming in our lake or walking the beautiful park with Louise. I’ll be miserable if you make me endure another Season. Even you said how much you loathe London and the backstabbing ton who live there.”
Her father half laughed, jiggling his line. “You’re right I do abhor it, but you need a husband, to be given a secure future and happy marriage. Just as your mama and I have had.”
That was true, her parents had a very happy and loving relationship, but that didn’t mean such a path was the one she wanted to tread. What was wrong with being a wallflower that wilted into an old, unmarried maid? Nothing in Mary’s estimation. To be married meant she would have to conform to society, be a lady all the time, host teas and balls. Live in Town most of the year and submit to a husband’s whims. Such a life would not be so bad if she found a man to marry whom she loved, and who loved her. A gentleman who liked the country life over that of London and allowed her the freedom which she was used to. But after numerous failed Seasons already, that was unlikely to occur.
Her heart twisted in her chest. “I do not want to return. Please don’t make me, Papa.”
“We must, but with Christmas upon us, we’ll have more time here at Bran Manor, plenty of time for you to enjoy the last few months of being an unmarried woman.”
Her father looked at her as if such news would make everything well. It did not.
He cleared his throat. “We want to see you happily married and settled. I would love nothing better than to welcome a titled gentleman, worthy of an earl’s daughter into our family. You never know, you may find a man who loves the hobbies that you do, admires and appreciates your exuberance for life and country walks.”
Or she might find no one of the kind, make a terrible mistake that she would be stuck with for the rest of her life. “What if I don't find anyone with such qualities, Papa? Last Season, certainly I never did. All the gentlemen were self-absorbed dandies who inspected mirrors more than they interacted with the women surrounding them.”
Her father chuckled, tugging sharply on his line and pulling out a good-sized trout.
Mary despaired at the sight of his catch. She’d sat here for hours and hadn’t caught a thing and here was her papa, not here five minutes and he’d caught the largest fish she’d seen all winter.
She shook her head at him. “You’re no longer invited into my ice hut. You cheat,” she said jokingly, smiling at her papa.
He grinned, looking down at his catch. “I’ll have Cook prepare this for tomorrow night. It will be a feast.”
“You know, Papa, I’m an heiress and financially independent no matter whom I marry, thanks to you, Mama, and Grandmother Lancaster. Why should I marry at all? It’s not like the family needs funds, and I will never be considered an old, poor maid not worthy of society’s company. Your title and wealth prohibit such ostracism. So is it really necessary that we go? There may be a young man in Derbyshire who is looking for a wife and would be perfect for me. I could have the love of my life right beneath my very nose, and miss him by going to London, looking for the wrong man.”
Her father paused from putting the fish in a nearby basket, before he said, “I must remember to give your tutor a better letter of recommendation due to the fact you’re able to negotiate and barter as well as those in the House of Lords.” Her father threw her a consoling smile. “But, alas, we do not live in a time where young women of means and of family can live independently without a husband. I will not allow you to be placed on a shelf to have dust settle on your head, nor will I allow you to live an unfulfilled life without a husband and children of your own. You would be an asset to anyone’s family you married into, and I want to see you happy.”
Anger thrummed through her at the narrow-minded idea that she needed a man to make all her dreams come true. She did not need a husband to be happy, and the sooner her father and the men hunting her fortune realized this, the better.
Mary yanked up her fishing line, placing her rod against the wall. “I don't see why I have to marry anybody. This is 1800! A new century, please tell me that gentlemen of society and England will come out of the dark ages and see that women are worth more than what they can bring to a marriage, or how large a dowry they have, or how wide their hips are for breeding!”
Her father raised his brow, clearly shocked. “Hush now! I’ll hear no more protest from you. I would never force you into a marriage you did not want with your whole heart. We want you to be happy, to find a gentleman who allows you the freedom to which you’ve grown accustomed. But you will marry, my child, and you will continue to have Seasons in Town until you do.”
Mary couldn’t believe her father. It was as if he were only half listening to her. “I will not find someone. I know this to be true.” She crossed her arms, hating the idea of going back to London. “You know as well as anyone that I'm terrible around people. I get nervous at balls and parties so that I’ll say something out of line, or not be fashionable enough. I stutter when asked direct questions, and my face tends to turn a terrible, unflattering shade of red during all those things. Please do not do this to me, Papa. Please,” she begged him.
Her father stood, seemingly having enough fishing for one day. “You are going and for your mother’s sake, you will enjoy the Season or at least make a show of enjoyment while in public. Do not fret, my dear,” he said, his tone turning cajoling. “We will be there with you. To hold your hand and not let you fail.”
She blinked back the tears that threatened. Her first Season had been miserable. Her mother, even with a fortune at her disposal had not procured her a fashionable modiste and so she’d been dressed in frills and ribbons that made her look like a decoration instead of a debutante. Her gowns had clashed against her olive-toned skin and dark hair and not a lot had improved regarding her wardrobe since that time.
Even despite her father being titled, with multiple properties about England and her dowry being more than anyone could spend in two lifetimes, no one had befriended her or took her under their wing other than her dearest companion Louise, of course. Mary sighed, knowing it was not entirely everyone else’s fault that she was ostracized in Town. She’d gone above and beyond to distance herself from girls her own age, and had been cold and aloof to the gentlemen who had paid court to her.
At three and twenty, what was left open to her but to be standoffish. To marry at such a young age would mean her lifestyle, her love of the outdoors and pursuits indulged in only by those of the opposite sex would end. Would have to end because her new husband would demand it of her. Demand she acted as the earl’s daughter she was born and as his wife.
Mary met her father’s gaze and read the concern in his eyes and a little part of her disobedience crumbled. She hated to disappoint her parents, and of course she wanted them to not worry about her, but how could she marry and remain the woman she was?
She narrowed her eyes, thinking of possibilities. “If I’m being forced to go, Papa, and I do wish to state that I am in no way agreeable about traveling to London. But if I do have to go, smile, dance and play the pretty debutante, there are some rules that I wish to instruct you and Mama of.”
Her father stopped adjusting his fur coat and gave her his full attention “What is it that you want, Mary? We’re open to negotiation.”
“I will choose whom I marry. I will not be swayed otherwise. The man I marry will suit me in all ways and I will not be pressured to choose if one does not materialize next Season.” Mary raised her chin, waiting for her father’s response, but when he did nothing but stare at her patiently, she continued. “I want a new wardrobe for the Season. And I’d like a lady’s maid of my own, not Mama’s. She has a habit of putting my hair up in styles like Mother’s and it makes me look…” Mary fought for words that wouldn’t hurt her father’s feelings when discussing his wife.
“A woman of mature years?” he said, smiling a little.
“Yes.” She nodded empathically, “That is exactly what I mean.”
Her father regarded her for a moment before he came over to her, placing his arm about her shoulder. “That does not seem like it’s too much to ask. I will speak to your mama and ensure she will not stand in your way.”
“Thank you, Papa.” Mary busied herself putting her gloves on while she pushed down the guilt her request brought forth. Had she wanted to, she could’ve asked for a new modiste and maid years ago and her parents would never have stood in her way. But her determination to remain an unmarried maid had made her hold her tongue. Being unfashionable in Town had meant very few wished to be around her, or be seen on the dance floor with her, and that had suited her very well. But she could not remain so forever, not if her parents were so determined to see her as a wife. If she had to embark on this side of life, at least it would be under her terms and with any luck she’d find a gentleman who’d enjoy the outdoors as much as she did and not wish to clip her wings. To find such a man she supposed she would have to mingle more and actually bother to get to know them this Season.
“Come, let us get this fish back home. I’m sure the dinner gong will sound very soon.”
Mary let her father shuffle her out the door, before they started back toward the house. In the dissipating light, the estate was a beacon of warmth and much preferred than where they currently were. Mary resigned herself to the fact that they would return to London in the spring, but at least she would have control of her gowns and there was Christmas here in Derbyshire to enjoy.
Her elder brother always brought friends to stay, and so this year would be just as merry as every other. A little calm before the storm that was the Season.

Main Tropes

  • Brothers Best Friend
  • Christmas Romance
  • Regency Romance
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