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Authors: Lindsay Downs

A Christmas Surprise

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A Christmas Surprise

by Lindsay Downs

Published by Astraea Press

www.astraeapress.com

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.

 

A CHRISTMAS SURPRISE

Copyright © 2012 LINDSAY DOWNS

ISBN 978-1-62135-100-9

Cover Art Designed by For the Muse Designs

Chapter One

 

Lady Aleece curtsied to her dance partner. Rising, she settled her gloved hand on his proffered arm. Although she would have preferred to grimace, from when he’d trod on her toes, she nevertheless graced him with a weak smile. She was secretly glad the waltz wasn’t allowed yet at Almacks. If it was she’d be a cripple for life after dancing with the dunderhead.

“May I have the pleasure of the next country dance, my dear?” Sir Albert, third son to the Earl of Carno asked, returning Aleece to her friends.

Incensed at his familiarity for which she’d not given her permission, she spun around, almost causing him to trip. Something that wouldn’t have surprised her, considering how poor a dance partner he had been.

“I have not, nor will I ever give you permission to address my personage in such a familiar fashion. As for another dance, I fear my dance card is full, so I must graciously pass,” Lady Aleece, daughter of the Duke of Carlisle, informed him, even though she’d have preferred to be a little more forceful in her refusal. Once near her group she turned back and stepped into the protective circle of friends.

Once safely ensconced, she glanced over her shoulder upon hearing the sputtering attempt of an apology. With a scowl she sent him packing back to, she could only wish, whatever rock he’d slipped from.

As Aleece turned back to respond to a question from one in her circle, her eyes caught sight of a vision of pure delicious wickedness. In an instant she felt her heart pound in her chest, and her mouth grew dryer than the cakes served in one of the anterooms at Almack’s.

Redirecting her attention to one of her closest friends and confidantes she quietly asked, “Susan, who on earth is that devilishly handsome man over there? The one talking with your brother.” Aleece cocked her head oh so subtly toward the man she was referring to.

“I’m not sure. My brother arrived recently from Spain and only today came down to London. I wonder if the gentleman is a friend from the Guards?”

Aleece lifted her opened fan to hide most of her face as she peered over the top again at the man. “That must be it,” she said before turning back to her circle of friends.

Now partially screened from view she was able to better assess the handsome man. Dark brown hair, fashionably cut and swept forward with a wisp falling over his forehead, which her fingers itched to brush back. A Bath superfine black evening coat tailored to emphasize his broad shoulders, so typical of the Guards’ officers, graced his torso, enticing her hands to want to touch him.

With the distance and crowd between them, Aleece wasn’t able to completely evaluate the entire form of this intriguing person which frustrated her. She did suspect from what was visible, the rest, she suspected, would be as perfect.

Slightly embarrassed at her thoughts she felt her face warm when this so mysterious individual looked directly at her and seemingly devoured her with his eyes before he gave her a slight nod. Aleece watched as Lord Jeffery, Susan’s older brother, and the man circled the dance floor heading directly to where she and her friends were conversing.

She turned to Susan saying, “They’re coming over here. Do you think this gentleman will garner an introduction?”

“I shan’t be surprised, considering how focused on you he appears.”

Aleece watched as this gentleman made his way toward her. When the crush separated briefly, it was then she noticed he was walking with a slight limp. From this her initial assessment of him she wagered he must have been injured in a battle.

As she observed them approaching her circle, it seemed by some unspoken order from this mysterious person her friends parted, allowing Lord Jeffery and this Adonis to step in.

“Dearest sister,” he said with a casual nod, before turning to Aleece. “Lady Aleece Taylor, may I introduce Mr. Thomas?”

Not being presented with a peerage title, Aleece gave the gentleman a shallow curtsey. When he gave his hand to raise her, she graciously accepted the offer and a heated tingle rush up her arm only to settle in her middle.

“Mr. Thomas, it’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.”

The smile he bestowed on her would have made a lesser female faint. This was truly a warm, welcoming beam, not the typical pinched-lip ones most men gave. She even noticed a twinkle in his eyes.

“The pleasure is all mine, Lady Aleece,” he said, his words forming a warm blanket around her.

If he’d been introduced to any of the others around her, Aleece had no idea, she was so focused on his eyes. The way the candlelight reflected in them, one moment hazel, then when he shifted his head, a dark brown, like his hair.

“Are you staying in Town long, sir?” Aleece asked, not sure why she did. Maybe, deep down she was hoping he’d call on her.

“Yes, m’ lady.”

The musicians struck up a quadrille. “I am so sorry to disappoint you, Lady Aleece, but with my injury I find it difficult to dance.” He leaned forward and whispered, “Mayhap a stroll properly chaperoned, of course, in the garden would make up for the lack of my dancing?”

With a smile and nod Aleece settled her hand on his sleeve, noticing the strength of his forearm even through the fine material. Turning to her friend she said, “Come, Susan, bring that reprobate of a brother and join us for a stroll in the garden.”

Aleece didn’t even wait for a reply as she and Mr. Thomas headed for the far end of the hall and the doors outside.

Once free of the mob, she let him guide her to the balcony overlooking the flowerbeds. As they walked along the terrace, Aleece noticed several other couples taking the air as well, with at least one stepping into the maze. The one place she wouldn’t go for fear of being caught in even the most innocent of compromising situations. Not that being with this Greek god standing beside her wasn’t risking that kind of danger.

Just to be in his presence outside created enough danger for her and might even set tongues wagging. With a mental shake of her head to clear those girlish thoughts from her mind, which was so unlike her as she tended to think and speak her mind, Aleece turned and settled the small of her back against the balustrade.

“Kind sir, pray tell would it be improper to inquire as to the cause of your injury which prevents you from partaking of the main reason to attend a ball?” she queried, knowing she’d probably overstepped her bounds.

From her mother she’d learned, as a girl in pigtails and pinafores, that one never truly learned anything about anything by being quiet. Knowledge, in all things, was important to her. This, she knew, was one of the faults many gentlemen found objectionable about her and had said as much.

He laughed, soft and sensually, sending shivers of delight down her spine. Never had she heard such a pleasant sound. It wasn’t the high-pitched squeals of silly chits or the nose-snorting noise most men make. This was almost like music to starving ears.

“I will answer your question, if I can ask you one in return,” he asked quietly, his voice soft as cotton and smooth as butter.

“Certainly, sir,” Aleece murmured back.

“You’re going to find this strange, but I was thrown from my mount.”

“That’s not so strange, many times I’ve come close to being tossed off the back of my horse,” she replied, leaving out that she’d been riding bareback. That little piece of information he didn’t need to know.

“Yes, but was your horse standing still at the time when the stag spooked you both? The horse reared, I went over his rump, and my leg landed on a log.”

What surprised Aleece was she didn’t laugh at his misfortune but felt sympathy for him. With no concern to her action or even what Sally Jersey might think, much less say, if she were to grace the balcony, Aleece reached and settled her hand on his chest.

“I am so sorry. Does your leg trouble you much, except when dancing?”

“It is getting better. Having been laid up on my back, the muscles of course weakened, but with exercise, I’m quickly returning to my old self. Now, does that answer to your query to your satisfaction,” Mr. Thomas asked, as she watched him glance around. Before she could take a breath, he swept in and placed a chaste kiss on her ear.

Chapter Two

 

So swift was the kiss to her ear, Aleece didn’t have time to react, not that she would have, given the opportunity. The feel of his lips was akin to the softness of a kitten’s fur brushing across her cheek.

“Now,” he said straightening, “my question.”

Even in the darkness that partially surrounded them, Aleece could see him smile in a way which she’d suddenly become addicted to.

“As you wish, m’ lord. And you would like to know what about me?”

“First, there’s no need to my lord me as I’m not of the peerage. Sir will work quite nicely, thank you. Anyway, I digress. Actually, my question is very simple. Will you be accepting visitors on the morrow, even if one is not a lord?”

Aleece wasn’t surprised at the question. Actually she was quite pleased that he wanted to call on her. The only problem was with her parents. Several times gentlemen had wished to court her but her parents, her father in particular, had sent them packing.

What was so special about Mr. Thomas, even though they’d known each other for less than an hour, was she already felt comfortable with him. Something she hadn’t with any of the others.

“Sir, please don’t misunderstand me. I would very much like to have you call on me. It’s my parents.”

She proceeded to inform him of the problem. “I do, however, have a solution to our little parental dilemma. There might be the distinct possibility I will be out riding along Rotten Row tomorrow afternoon about five. Now, if we should by chance meet up who’s to say it was planned?”

Again, she witnessed another of his dazzling smiles on her.

“Lady Aleece, I salute your ingenuity in coming up with this plan,” he replied.

“Now that we have determined where and when we will meet, by accident of course…” She graced Mr. Thomas with a warming smile when he nodded. “We had best return, for I saw Lady Cowpers glowering at me when I turned my back to that buffoon Lord Albert.”

“Your wish is my command, m’ lady.”

Mr. Thomas escorted Lady Aleece back into the ballroom, with Susan and Jeff trailing.

Once inside Mr. Thomas turned to Aleece. “I count the minutes until we meet again, but I fear it’s time for me to depart.”

“I too shall count the minutes. Have a pleasant evening, sir,” Aleece said with a smile.

With Susan at her side, she watched as Mr. Thomas took his leave from the assembly.

“He is very handsome isn’t he, Aleece?” Susan remarked.

“Yes,” she said with a sigh. “Did you learn anything about him from your brother?”

“According to Jeff, they met when he went to the university. Over the years they’ve stayed in touch through correspondences. When Jeff came down from Oxford, as you well remember, he went straight into the Guards. I can only assume they continued to exchange letters over these past few years,” Susan replied.

“Very true. And if your brother wrote telling Mr. Thomas he would be home, on leave it would only make sense for them to get together.”

“And where better than here? As it would appear Mr. Thomas is on the hunt for a wife,” Susan teased.

Aleece pondered her friend’s words carefully.
If that is the case,
I don’t think I would or could find a better husband.

“Now, Aleece, you have to admit he was quite taken by you.” Susan leaned closer. “And I saw that little kiss he gave you. Your secret is safe with me,” she whispered.

Aleece could feel her face warm that someone had seen the intimacy they’d shared but was relieved that person was her bosom-bow.

“Thank you. Now I need a favor. I promised to meet Mr. Thomas tomorrow afternoon on Rotten Row. Would you like to go riding with me, even have your brother come along? That way I wouldn’t have to take one of the grooms.”

“Of course, you know we will. But what about Debbi? I thought she always went with you?”

“Ah, you see, that’s the problem. When she goes with me, Father — and speaking of Father, I see Mama is signaling it’s time to leave. As I was saying, when she goes, Papa has a groom follow at a distance. He doesn’t think we know. That’s why I can’t take her and need Jeff as my escort. Furthermore, your brother is already acquainted with Mr. Thomas.”

BOOK: A Christmas Surprise
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