Vanessa, gazing about the ballroom at the lavish Christmas decorations: Wow! You gals really know how to throw a holiday party. Look at all that mistletoe. I’m betting there’s going to be a bit of action in the window alcoves later this evening.
Katharine: No doubt a’tall. (mumbling) Especially once Tessa gets her hands on the Wassail bowl.
Vanessa, squinting: Say, what is Tessa doing over there by the refreshment table? Is she spiking the punch?
Katharine: Look! Here comes Lady B. My lady, may I present to you a fabulous friend and authoress, Vanessa Kelly?
Vanessa, attempting an awkward, New Jersey curtsy: Lady B, thank you so much for inviting me. I hope you don’t mind that I brought a few friends along.
Lady B: It looks as though you’ve brought an entire regiment, Miss Kelly. Since it’s the holiday season, however, the more the merrier. Who is that young lady hiding behind that column?
Vanessa: Oh, that’s Phoebe Stanton, the new Countess of Merritt. She grew up in a small Quaker village in America and she’s not quite comfortable at these big London parties.
Lady B: A Quaker village? How remarkable. Come forward, gel, and let me get a good look at you.
Phoebe: Good evening, Lady B. I cannot tell you how much I am enjoying your lovely party, especially the decorations. I would like to do something similar when my husband and I return home to Mistletoe Manor for Christmas.
Lady B: Mistletoe Manor! Delightful name for an estate. And I must say, you have lovely manners for a colonial. I quite approve of that modest neckline on your gown too. It’s shocking how many ladies seem to be falling out of their bodices this season. They’ll all be taken with the chills.
Katharine, mumbling: Or taken in quite another manner . . . Ehem! That is, the gentlemen do seem to like it.
Lady B: That doesn’t make it—(peers through her quizzing glass at the refreshment table). Is that a Wassail bowl? I do so enjoy a nice cup of Christmas punch.
Katharine: We used your old family recipe to make it up, Lady B. There’s an awful lot of brandy in it.
Lady B: Nonsense. You can barely taste the brandy in that recipe.
Katharine: Must be all that hard cider drowning out the brandy’s flavor.
Lady B: Precisely. Miss Ashe, who is that young man lurking around the refreshment table?
Phoebe, looking over her shoulder: Oh, dear. That is my cousin, Robert Stanton. He is truly very nice, but—
Lady B: Is he pouring something into the Wassail bowl? Why is he whispering to Tessa in that sinister manner?
Katharine: Hey, Phoebe! Isn’t that your husband heading our way?
Lady B: That strapping young man is your husband, Lady Merritt?
Phoebe: Yes, that is Lucas.
Lady B: If he’s your husband, why are you blushing? Oh . . . newlyweds, of course! And those Stanton men—rakes and rapscallions, every last one of them. Miss Ashe, introduce me at once.
Lucas, stalking up: Phoebe, we’re in for it now. Robert just spiked the Wassail bowl with gin, and that recipe was potent enough to begin with. This ball is turning into a damned bacchanal.
Katharine, sotto voce: Yay!
Phoebe: Lucas, your language! Whatever will Lady B think?
Lady B: Lady Merritt, I think I’d like to meet your husband. Young man, you fill out that coat remarkably well. You were a soldier, were you not? I can tell by the shoulders.
Lucas: I was, but I’m not sure what that has to do with my coat or my shoulders. If you don’t mind, Lady B, it’s time I take my wife home. Your party seem to be getting rather out of hand and Phoebe’s not used to this sort of thing. Your husband, for instance, is unconscious on a divan behind that potted plant, with a parrot sitting on his chest.
Lady B: Really? How very odd of him. Lord B, that is. Not Albert.
Phoebe: But Lucas, I’m not ready to go home. I want to stay and hear the Waits.
Katharine: The whats?
Phoebe: The Waits. The local villagers who come in to sing Christmas carols. They’re called the Waits.
Lucas: Absolutely not. They’re usually the worst ones for over-imbibing, with very unpleasant results, if you get my meaning.
Lady B: A choir of tipsy carollers . . . Horrifying.
Katharine, whispering to Vanessa: She totally loves it.
Lucas: It’s time to go. (Gives Phoebe a smoldering look as he leads her away.)
Katharine: Me thinks the carollers were a cover story.
Lady B, fanning herself: Charming man.
Phoebe, waving over her shoulder: Thank you for the lovely party, Lady B! Goodbye, Katharine!
Lady B: Lord B used to make the most transparent excuses to—
Katharine: To . . . ?
Lady B: I’d better go see to him. (Bustles away.)
Katharine: Well, Vanessa, I guess that leaves me, you and the Wassail bowl. Robert, save some for us!
Lord B cannot possibly be passed out on a divan because of a bit of brandy. But as we all move into crazy holiday mode, some of us are prone to go a little batty, it’s true. What’s your first must-do task of the holiday season this year? One randomly chosen commenter today wins an autographed copy of Vanessa Kelly’s His Mistletoe Bride.
Here’s the yummy back cover description of His Mistletoe Bride:
When Major Lucas Stanton inherited his earldom, he never dreamed his property would include the previous earl’s granddaughter. Phoebe Linville is a sparkling American beauty, yes, but with a talent for getting into trouble. Witness the compromising position that forced them into wedlock. Whisked away to Mistletoe Manor, his country estate, it isn’t long before she is challenging his rules—and surprising him in and out of bed . . .
Phoebe has no intention of bowing to Lucas’s stubbornness even though he offers all that she wants. His kisses and unexpected warmth are enticing, but Phoebe is determined to show the Earl of Merritt what real love is all about. And if that takes twelve nights of delicious seduction by a roaring fire, she’s more than willing to reveal her gifts very slowly . . .