Table of Contents
Raves for RITA Award-Winning Author Barbara Metzger’s Romances
“A doyen of humorous Regency-era romance writing.”
“Funny and touching—what a joy!”
“Lively, funny, and true to the Regency period . . . a fresh twist on a classic plot.”
“Absolutely outstanding . . . lots of action, drama, tension . . . simply fantastic!”
—Huntress Book Reviews
“The complexities of both story and character contribute much to its richness. Like life, this book is much more exciting when the layers are peeled back and savored.”
Affaire de Coeur
“Remarkable . . . an original, laugh-out-loud, and charmingly romantic read.”
—Historical Romance Writers
“A true tour de force. . . . Only an author with Metzger’s deft skill could successfully mix a Regency tale of death, ruined reputations, and scandal with humor for a fine and ultimately satisfying broth . . . a very satisfying read.”
—The Best Reviews
“[Metzger] brings the Regency era vividly to life with deft humor, sparkling dialogue, and witty descriptions.”
—Romance Reviews Today
“Metzger has penned another winning Regency tale. Filled with her hallmark humor, distinctive wit, and entertaining style, this is one romance that will not fail to enchant.”
ALSO BY BARBARA METZGER
The Bargain Bride
The Wicked Ways of a True Hero
The Scandalous Life of a True Lady
Queen of Diamonds
Jack of Clubs
Ace of Hearts
A Perfect Gentleman
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Published by Signet Eclipse, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Previously published in Signet and Fawcett Crest editions.
First Signet Eclipse Printing, November 2010
eISBN : 978-1-101-44485-6
Copyright © Barbara Metzger, 1992 All rights reserved
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Hey, Judy, this one’s for you.
uneclaire wished she did not have to spend another Christmas at Stanton Hall. “You would have liked the way Christmas used to be,” she told her companion, Pansy. Pansy just grunted and continued her investigation of all the parcels being wrapped and put into baskets for the servants’ and tenants’ Boxing Day gifts. Bright ribbons, shiny paper, and mounds of presents and treats were spread on two tables and the floor of the rear pantry Miss Juneclaire Beaumont was using to assemble Lady Stanton’s largess. Lady Stanton was being very generous this year. She had directed her niece Juneclaire to knit mittens for all the children, to hem handkerchiefs for all the footmen and grooms, and to sew rag dolls for the little girls on the estate. Juneclaire had also been sent to the nearby village of Farley’s Grange to purchase new shawls for the tenants’ wives and whistles and tops for the boys. All week she had been busy helping Cook bake plum cakes, decorate gingerbread men, and create marzipan angels, after tying colorful ribbons around pots of jam from the berries she had collected all summer and fall. She also made sachets of the lavender she had drying in the stillroom and poured out rose water into little bottles for the maidservants. The orchards provided shiny apples, and Uncle Avery Stanton provided shiny coins. Oh yes, and Aunt Marta Stanton provided a new Bible for each of the servants, whether they could read or not. Last year the gift was a hymnal, the year before a book of sermons. Aunt Marta was very consistent in her Christian charity.
Lady Stanton was so consistent, in fact, that her own niece would receive one of the Bibles and a shiny coin as her Christmas gift and naught else.
It wasn’t that she minded being treated worse than the servants, Juneclaire reflected, pausing to share one of the crisp apples with Pansy. Nor did she mind all the work, though that was considerable at this time of year, with helping the maids air the unused rooms for holiday guests and directing the footmen in hanging the greenery after Juneclaire fashioned it into wreaths and garlands. No, she was used to being useful. What she could not and would not get inured to was being used, to being considered a serf with no salary or self-respect. Juneclaire acknowledged that she was a poor relation and that she owed Lord and Lady Stanton her gratitude for the very roof over her head. How could she not accept the fact, when Aunt Marta reminded her daily?
“Still,” she told Pansy, pushing a soft brown curl back under her mobcap, “they could have been kinder.” Pansy was too busy redistributing a pile of apricot tarts to notice Juneclaire wipe a suddenly damp brown eye with her sleeve. “Here,” Juneclaire said, looking over her shoulder, “you’d better not let Aunt Marta see you nibbling on those or we’ll be in the briers for sure.” She tied a bow on a pair of warm knitted socks and sniffed. “She could at least have let us stir the Christmas pudding and make a wish with everyone else.”
Lady Stanton did not believe in such nonsense. She thought such superstitions were heathenish and not at all suitable for a Stanton of Stanton Hall or one of their household. She could not stop the kitchen staff, naturally, not if she wanted a smooth pudding to serve her guests, but she could see that her niece was kept too busy for any pagan rituals. If it were up to Lady Stanton, Christmas would be spent on one’s knees, in church. There would be none of this mad jollity, this extravagance of entertaining and gifting. Aunt Marta was religious, proper, strict—and cheap. She wouldn’t even distribute Boxing Day gifts if it were not for Lord Stanton and the fact that to discontinue the tradition would disgruntle the dependents and, worse, make her look paltry in the neighborhood. Lady Stanton was very careful of her standing among the local gentry, especially since her own roots did not bear close scrutiny, with their ties to Trade. She had worked hard to earn that “Lady” before her name and intended to enjoy its rewards. If being accepted as the first family in the vicinity meant showing off her generosity once a year, Juneclaire could handle the details. If it meant giving hearth space to her misbegotten waif of a niece, Juneclaire could at least be put to work and molded to Lady Stanton’s measure.
Juneclaire kept wrapping bundles, trying to make a happy Christmas for those less fortunate than she was. At least she tried to convince herself that the servants were less fortunate, even though they got an actual wage and could move to another position; the tenants were less well established than Juneclaire, although they worked to better their own lives and had families who cared about them.
“Things were not always this way,” she informed her companion. Aunt Marta would have been horrified to see Juneclaire’s hands go still while she recalled earlier Christmases, when Maman lifted her up to stir the pudding and make her wish. Papa used to smile at the English ways and tousle her curls. He always knew her wish anyway, and he would laugh. His
only wanted a puppy or a kitten or a pony. Juneclaire received gloves and combs and books and dolls and sweets and, at last, a pony, despite a lack of funds.
Then she and Maman returned to England without Papa, without her pony, to this cold and damp Stanton Hall with its disapproving ancestors frowning down on her from their portraits on the wall. That year she wished that the horrors in Papa’s homeland would be over soon and he would send for them. Maman gave her a locket to wear, with a tiny painting of her and Papa in it. Juneclaire touched it now, under her worn brown wool gown.