Her Christmas Rogue
Almost four years ago, I released Her Christmas Rogue as part of a limited edition 3-month holiday set, A Very Matchmaker Christmas. Now, for the first time since that collection, Her Christmas Rogue will be back in publication. The story now features a new prologue, an epilogue, and enhanced scenes!
I hope you enjoy this sweet Regency romance sure to have you smiling and sighing this holiday season!
Lady Winifred Grisham has been in love with her brother’s best friend Lord Trent Ballantine more years than she can remember. The only problem is, Trent is a notorious rogue who doesn’t dally with the respectable. Except, Winnie doesn’t want a dalliance–she wants his heart.
Born to a miserable family, Lord Trent has found joy and comfort in the folds of his best friend’s family. Except, over the years he’s begun to notice something. Winnie who he’d always seen as another sister, is in fact something more–a captivating woman. Now, loving Winnie as he does, Trent knows she deserves more than a rogue in her life. With Winnie’s mother rushing her off to try and make a match at Lady Weston’s annual Christmastide house party, Winnie has but a few days to show Trent, that all she needs is his love.
Is this the Season where anything can happen?
With everything that changed—the days, the seasons, the fashion—Lady Winifred Grisham had come to appreciate that one thing remained constant. Nay, not a thing. Concealed within the nook of her father’s billiards room, shielded by the thick red velvet curtains, Winifred angled her body and peered through the slight crack in the fabric at that one constant.
Lord Trent Ballantine.
A dangerous fluttering danced in her belly. His abandoned double-breasted black tailcoat hung haphazardly over the edge of a leather chair in the corner, and Trent now walked down the length of the billiards table while contemplating his next shot. Even with his tall, heavily-muscled form, he moved with the sleek grace of a panther stalking its prey.
From the day her brother had arrived from Eton with his grinning, teasing friend in tow, Lord Trent had remained a fixed presence in her family’s home. In fact, all her earliest thoughts included him.
From her position, tucked behind the curtains in the billiards room, she peeked once more through the thick red velvet. Her heart tripped several beats. And now, almost eleven years later, all her thoughts still included him. Winnie sighed, and then stilled, praying he and her eldest brother, James, the Viscount Munthorpe, and the next Earl of Portland, did not hear that audible exhalation of air.
James picked up his snifter from the edge of the table and took a long sip. Some of the tension went out of her shoulders. No, no, had he heard, James would have dragged her off like she was a girl of nine, and not a woman of twenty sneaking on him, and literally tossed her out on her ear. Blasted older brothers.
Her gaze unbidden went back to Trent.
“You’re certain you don’t care to join us?” James offered, breaking the silence.
Her heart jumped several beats. Was he speaking to her? She peeked through the crack in the curtains once again. James’ bored expression gave no hint of his knowing and relief ran through her.
Trent leaned over the table and positioned his cue. A lock of blond hair tumbled over his eye, softening an otherwise harshly angular face; the chiseled perfection that would have made stone masterpieces weep with envy. “For the Christmastide season with a houseful of simpering ladies in the market for a husband?” He propelled his cue forward and the cue ball found its mark, sending his target spinning. “I think not,” he drawled.
She frowned. Why, he’d not put her into that category of simpering ladies in the market for a husband. Her frown deepened. Granted, she was in the market for a husband. But she’d not ever simpered around him. Winnie wrinkled her brow. At least, not with him knowing. Pressed against the wall as she was, she silently drummed her fingertips together contemplatively. Surely he’d not gleaned the shocking truth where his best friend’s sister was concerned.
James walked about the table and then with far less consideration of his target, took his shot. His cue ball sailed past the intended target where it landed with a sharp thunk against the edge of the table. “Ah, but the stress of being a second son is a good deal less than the horror faced by an heir.”
She wrinkled her nose at such obsequiousness. It mattered not to her whether Trent had a kingdom or a canary, she didn’t need a lord with a title. Even if her mother, and all of Society, considered that to be of such import. She only needed—Trent. Or rather, the Trent he’d once been. Since she’d returned from finishing school, he alternated between jocular elder brother and mockingly indifferent stranger.
But on some occasions, he proved himself the man she’d fallen helplessly and hopelessly in love with. The day she’d made her Come Out and he’d braved the tedium of that ball to be at her side. Every time he accepted that she freely spoke her mind and didn’t condemn her, but rather applauded a woman who should think and speak on matters of import.
Winnie stole another peek through the crack in the curtains and searched about for Trent. He angled his head as he considered his next shot. Whatever his muttered response to James happened to be was lost. Her mouth went dry as with a shameful abandon that would have given her mama the vapors, she took in every inch of his six-foot-three-inch frame of raw-muscled power. With his jacket removed and cravat discarded, his stark white shirt hung open. She’d no business spying upon a man in such dishabille. And yet, throwing the risk of discovery to the proverbial wind, she leaned forward for a better glimpse. Through that slight gape in the fabric of his shirt, a whorl of golden curls matted his chest—a chest as well-muscled as his thickly chorded biceps.
Winifred hungrily eyed him. How wholly unfair that he should fail to so much as note she’d become a woman.
For when Lord Trent had ceased to be the boy who’d teased her and became this commanding, half-grinning gentleman, she’d remained nothing more than Wee Winnie to him. She grimaced. God-awful name. A dashing young nobleman with magnificent golden tresses and a heart-stopping smile and an interesting name like Trent would never notice…her. Winifred stole a glance down at her still-as-flat-as-it-had-been-nine-years-ago frame. No, a man such as he will not be enamored of me.
“My mother is matchmaking,” James muttered, bringing her back from the woes of being uncurved Winifred Grisham to the inevitable journey they were expected to make in one week’s time.
Trent moved to take his next shot and claimed the spot directly across from where she hid in the curtains. “All the more reason to avoid th—” Through the curtains, his piercing green gaze locked with hers. He narrowed his eyes and Winifred widened hers. Blast. He’d always managed to ferret out her hiding spots. Even when no game was involved and she was sneaking about listening to those scandalous stories older brothers shared only with their best friends.
But then his face settled into that unaffected mask. Had she merely imagined his notice? “All the more reason to avoid that infernal affair then,” he smoothly finished his previous thought. He completed his next shot, and motioned for James to continue.
As her brother rambled on about the woes of being an heir to an earldom and all the matchmaking mamas who’d descend upon him this holiday season, Winnie let her shoulders sag and she inched deeper inside her now largely useless hiding place. Not that it was altogether useless. She hardly needed to hear James’ grousing about her being underfoot—as he’d always done.
Only Trent never had. He’d tolerated her presence when most other boys would have snapped and frowned. And that same considerate friend had grown to be a man who paid visits and spoke to her about matters of import, valuing her opinion when no other gentleman had.
Damning the prospect of discovery at James’ hands, she stole another look at quietly serious Trent. A scowl marred his harshly beautiful face. No doubt because of my presence. He reached for his snifter, took a long swallow of brandy, and then positioned his cue for his next shot.
“Though in fairness,” her brother said, pulling her attention to her sibling. “I strongly suspect I have a good deal less to worry about in terms of matchmaking on my mother’s part. It is no doubt Winnie she’s rushing to marry off.”
The cue slid from Trent’s fingers and scratched the red baize table. “Oh?” That bored utterance pierced her.
Winnie balled her hands into fists. She wanted James’ words to matter to Trent. For the reality was, though Mama had set her sights on Lady Agatha’s son, Stephen for her only daughter, she’d marry Winnie off to the first living, breathing English nobleman who put forth an offer, if she could. To Trent, however, she was nothing more than James’ sister. Just as she’d always been. The muscles of her belly clenched.
“And who is the proper nobleman whose been selected for your sister?”
Your sister. Not Winifred. Not Winnie. Your sister. As she’d always been to Trent. She gritted her teeth and fed her annoyance which was safer and less painful than regret. Liar.
“I daresay one of my mother’s estimable friends’ titled offspring.” James snorted. “No doubt Lady Weston’s son, Stephen, the future Earl of Weston.”
Jane’s brother, the dashing Viscount Rochmont set the hearts of all ladies aflutter, from debutantes to dowagers. Only, Winnie didn’t require a well-titled lord. She’d never wanted such a cold, emotionless connection.
Silence fell as the two gentlemen returned their focus to their game. Wasn’t that a man, though? They should speak so freely and casually about a lady’s future, husband, and happiness, and then carry on with their games as though they’d remarked on something as insignificant as the weather.
Winnie angled her head slightly to gather a better view of Trent. He moved about the mahogany table with a sleekness a lion would be hard-pressed not to envy. With long, powerful fingers, he swiped the bottle of brandy from the edge of the table and poured the glass to the rim. He took a sip and then set it down alongside the bottle. She sighed. Then, he’d always been so coolly elegant. And she’d always been bumbling. And he’d always been too kind to point out that she was bumbling. When her brother had and—
James spoke, bringing her fanciful remembrances to a screeching halt. “Given up your latest mistress, have you?” He hit his next shot squarely, sending his ball sailing into Trent’s.
Trent made a noncommittal sound. Was that a yes-I-have-since-given-up-my-mistress-because-I-am-hopelessly-in-love-with-your-sister sound? Or the-papers-are-wrong-and-I’m-still-carrying-on-with-the-flawless-beauty sound?
Her heart dipped. Granted there should be a joyful lifting of the blasted organ, after all, the gossip columns and now her brother all indicated Trent had parted ways with the French, rumored to be siren-stunning creature. She squared her jaw. It was Christmas. And her mama was forever saying that at Christmas, anything could happen. Well, Lord Trent Ballantine had officially dallied his last dalliance. The stubborn-headed lummox might have failed to see the truth before his eyes all these years, but Winnie had every intention of forcing him to look at that which was right before him.
Then, what was the likelihood he’d actually note that she, Lady Winifred, had become a woman…and had every intention of marrying him?