Annual Free Christmas Story!
For the past few years, I’ve been asked to participate with other historical romance authors in Ramblings from this Chick’s countdown to Christmas. Here’s my 2014 effort. Happiest of holidays!
Caught in a Compromising Position on New Year’s Eve-Maggie Robinson
London, December 24, 1904
How could anyone leave their Christmas shopping until the very last minute?
Of course, Felicity had no one to shop for—she had been orphaned so long ago she had nearly forgotten her parents’ faces. But she was sure if she did have a family she would have organized matters long before December 24th.
She checked the timepiece pinned to her austere black dress. Four minutes to closing time, and this treacherously handsome lord was stomping around Dickins and Jones as if he owned the place.
Time and money were no object to him, apparently. He had a fortune so substantial that Mr. Parmenter had assigned her to follow the viscount about and give him personalized service.
So far, every suggestion she had made had been dismissed out of hand. Lord Fordham had rejected cosmetics and perfume as being much too risqué for his sister, who was old-fashioned enough to believe that clean soap and a drop of vanilla behind the ears was all a lady ever needed. Gloves were “dead boring” and “showed no imagination,” and anyway the woman had two drawers full of them. Miss Fordham was particular about hats and was boycotting the feather industry as it cruelly stole mother birds from their chicks just to make women look like they had an aviary on their heads. Even when Felicity modeled a completely unobjectionable hat covered in pink velvet roses without one hint of egret, Lord Fordham had stared hard but shook his head.
So in desperation, she wound a pale peach Venetian lace scarf around her throat and tried to look as fetching as possible. “What about this, my lord?” Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her fellow shopgirls locking their cases and making for the iron staircase so they could sign out. Mr. Parmenter was near the elevators pointing to his wrist, as if Felicity wasn’t aware that any minute the Dickins and Jones chimes would ring and the doorman would pull the gates across the mahogany doors.
He squinted down at her. After an hour of acquaintance, Felicity suspected his vision was not all it should be.
Well, that was promising! Perhaps he could be got rid of after all. “Hm” wasn’t a no, as everything else had been. His sister must be very difficult to please, and it was obvious Lord Fordham was a good brother.
Mr. Parmenter had glided up beside them without Felicity even realizing. It was very disconcerting, and made him a superior if scary floor manager.
“I trust you are taking good care of Lord Fordham?”
“Yes, Mr. Parmenter. I’m doing my best.”
“Good. Then you won’t mind staying late until he’s made his selection.” He turned to the vexatious viscount, who was bent over the counter fingering a silk scarf. “Take all the time you need, my lord. Miss Raymond can see you out the employees’ door, if you don’t mind. I’ll let the night porter know to leave it unlatched on the inside. And don’t forget to giftwrap the item, Miss Raymond.”
At least the store was partially illuminated all night; Felicity wouldn’t be expected to turn off the lights. But to be left alone in the vast store with indecisive Lord Fordham and the most-likely drunken porter? It was not right, and Felicity had to bite back the mulish words she wanted to say.
The melodious chimes signaled the time—eight o’clock. The store had stayed open an extra hour on Christmas Eve for procrastinating people such as this customer, curse him.
Though it wasn’t as if Felicity had anyone to go home to, not even a cat. She lived in the Dickins and Jones dormitory a few blocks away. But its door would be locked by nine, Christmas Eve or no.
“I suppose you think I’m an awful nuisance,” Lord Fordham said when they were finally alone.
“Not at all, my lord,” Felicity lied. He was far too handsome to be a nuisance to anything but her foolish heart. It wasn’t every day that she brushed elbows with gorgeous viscounts, but she did wish he’d make up his mind. She’d been rushed off her feet for the past twelve hours, and was looking forward to a solitary cup of tea.
“I know I’ve been a pest. My sister is an invalid. She doesn’t go out much, so it’s hard to find the perfect present. She has the requisite china menagerie and embroidered handkerchiefs. Books to the ceiling. That scarf is nice, though.”
“It’s very light, but it would keep her warm.” Impulsively, Felicity threw it around Lord Fordham’s neck.
And that was her mistake. One spiderwebby end snagged against her watch, the other around his coat button.
“Drat! Do forgive me.”
He grinned down at her. “This isn’t my color at all, you know. Let me see if I can disentangle us.”
Lord Fordham’s hands were large but not clumsy. However, the lace was unforgiving, and the scarf remained stuck between them.
“I may have to tear it.”
Oh, God. The cost—and it was exorbitant—would come out of Felicity’s paychecks. Months of them.
She’d be fired, or starve. She bit a lip to stop from crying. It didn’t work.
“What’s this? Tears?” Bryant’s face was so close he could see the salesgirl’s large brown eyes water. He’d been in such a hurry he’d left his spectacles at home, idiot that he was, which had made shopping next to impossible. Everything had been a blur until now.
Miss Raymond was clear as day. She’d been extremely patient and kind with his blundering about the store. Now he realized she was extremely pretty as well. Her golden hair was tamed into a washer-woman bun, her skin was rosy, and her neat figure was close enough to touch. She smelled of starch and roses, an enticing combination that hitherto had not occurred to him.
He cupped her cheek. It was soft. Very soft. “Please don’t cry. I can take off my topcoat.”
“The scarf will rip. I’ll take off my watch first.”
Her fingers shook too much to do it.
“Allow me.” The watch was perilously anchored over her left breast. Bryant bet it was soft, too, the breast, not the watch. Good Lord, he was snagged as well. There was no way he could unpin it without—
He was a beast. But a beast ensnared by beauty.
It was that oily little man again.
“What is the meaning of this?”
Miss Raymond’s eyelashes batted like trapped butterflies. They were edged in gold and quite long. “I—he—”
“I thought you went home.” Bryant glared at him, unable to see the “viscount with umbrage” effect—if there was any—on the unctuous store manager’s face. He shoved both guilty hands in his pocket—his fingers were trembling too.
Bryant was…tempted. He had been so busy lately there had been no time for women. Except for his sister Marjorie, and that was an entirely different thing. Wouldn’t she laugh to see him in this predicament?
“So I see. Miss Raymond, I am very disappointed. Shocked. Disgusted. I had such high hopes for you. You are, of course, dismissed. I will expect you to clear your things from the Dickins and Jones lodgings at once.”
Miss Raymond swayed, and Bryant caught her. “This isn’t what it looks like, you officious twit! Miss Raymond was only demonstrating—oh, never mind.” He turned to the girl, who had lost every bit of rosiness and whose tears were flowing freely now. “Come home with me. It’s Christmas Eve, and my sister would love the company. This is all my fault. We’ll see about getting you another job.”
“I c-couldn’t possibly.”
“Of course you can. We’ll pick up your things and my driver will take us home. The poor fellow is out there in the cold. Everyone deserves someplace warm on this night of all nights.”
“At once!” the officious twit shrilled. “And where are you going with that scarf?”
Bryant reached into his pocket and threw a fistful of pound notes in Mr. Parmenter’s direction. “Merry Christmas! Now, Miss Raymond, are you ready to begin the New Year a little early?”
She blinked up at him, a tremulous smile on her face. She had lovely lips. Kissable lips. Bryant didn’t think too long before he brushed his across hers, causing the officious twit to shriek.
“Yes, my sister will love your company,” Bryant said softly. So would he. Maybe Miss Raymond and her scarf were just what they all needed for Christmas.