Holiday House Parties: Two Tales

Holiday House Parties: Two Tales

by Elizabeth Mansfield

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Overview

Unlikely lovers find passion under the Christmas mistletoe in this duet of Regency tales from an award-winning romance author.

In “The Girl with Airs,” Lord Dunvegan—Laird Geordie to his friends—attempts to persuade bluestocking Caroline Woolcott to give his besotted, tongue-tied friend Sir Archibald Halford a chance to win her hand in marriage. A Scotsman banished to England to cultivate a more genteel manner, Geordie has yet to meet a female who tempts him to settle down. It certainly isn’t the headstrong lass who wants nothing to do with Archie—or Geordie. But then Geordie’s father decides the standoffish Caroline would make an ideal bride for his wayward son, and a sizzling kiss in the doorway of a grand Lancashire estate turns two warring hearts to love . . .
 
In “A Sneeze on Tuesday,” Elinor Selby succumbs to the worst cold she’s ever known five days before Christmas, and her entire future takes a catastrophic turn. After an absence of five years, Elinor’s betrothed, Julian Henshaw, Lord Lovebourne, is due home any day. Were it not for her quick-thinking, curmudgeonly neighbor, Miles Endicott, on whom she’s relied since childhood, she might not be able to cope with the momentous reunion. But then an unexpected series of events forces Elinor and Miles to take part in a scandalous deception that will ignite a firestorm of longing and love.
 
Elizabeth Mansfield’s pair of irresistible holiday romances features men and women who discover love they didn’t know they were missing.
 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504040068
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 10/04/2016
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 136
Sales rank: 789,314
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Elizabeth Mansfield is a pseudonym of Paula Schwartz, which she used for more than two dozen Regency romances. Schwartz also wrote an American immigrant family saga, A Morning Moon, as Paula Reibel, and two American history romances—To Spite the Devil, as Paula Jonas, and Rachel’s Passage, as Paula Reid.
 
Elizabeth Mansfield is a pseudonym of Paula Schwartz, which she used for more than two dozen Regency romances. Schwartz also wrote an American immigrant family saga, A Morning Moon, as Paula Reibel, and two American history romances—To Spite the Devil, as Paula Jonas, and Rachel’s Passage, as Paula Reid.
 

Read an Excerpt

Holiday House Parties

Two Tales


By Elizabeth Mansfield

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 2016 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-4006-8


CHAPTER 1

Anyone seeing him would have known at once that the young man who wove his uncertain way down the dark street had been imbibing too deeply. He tottered unsteadily on his feet, clung to every lamp post he passed, and actually tripped and fell twice. His very appearance attested to his inebriated condition. He wore only one glove, his waistcoat was unbuttoned and his hat askew. Worse, his neckcloth, which he'd pulled from his neck (despite the care and precision with which his valet had earlier folded it in place), was clutched in his ungloved hand at one end while the other end dragged on the ground behind him. But at this late hour of the night, there was not a soul on Henrietta Street to see him.

Drunk as he was, he seemed to know where he was going, for he stopped before the most imposing house on the street — a grey stone townhouse with arched windows and a delicately ornamented roof pediment — and muttered, "Ah, thank goo'ness, here we are!"

He climbed the three steps to a green doorway illuminated by two brass coach-lanterns and proceeded to pound on the door, ignoring the lion's head brass knocker. "Geordie! Geordie, old f'llow," he cried in callous disregard of the sleeping neighbors, "open up!"

Several minutes passed before his repeated summonses were answered. Eventually, however, the bolt was turned and the door opened. A butler, wearing house-slippers and a woolen robe that he'd hastily thrown over his nightshirt, peered out into the dark. "Michty me!" the butler gasped, lapsing into his Scottish brogue at the sight of the fellow on the doorstep. Although he recognized the visitor at once as Sir Archibald Halford (for Sir Archibald's pronounced nose and slightly receding chin made his face distinctive), his presence on the doorstep at this hour — and in such a dishevelled state — was completely unexpected. "Sir Archibald, is it yersel'?" the butler asked, blinking. "What —?"

"Mus' see Laird Geordie," the young man said thickly, pushing his way past the startled butler. "Mus' see 'im righ' now!"

"But, sir, it's past two in the morning!" the butler remonstrated, his proper butler's English restored. "Surely you can't expect me to wake his lordship at this hour."

"Wheesht, McIver," came a voice from the top of the stairs, "I'm already awake. How can a body sleep through such a curfuffle?"

"Geordie! There you are. Thank God!" sighed the interloper, stumbling toward the staircase.

The young man at the top of the stairs, wrapped in a blanket from beneath which a pair of bare legs extended, was a very tall, rangy fellow with a head of wildly curling, shocking-red hair, and a handsome face that could have been described as innocently boyish except for a pair of grey-green eyes that looked out at the world with a knowing, amused shrewdness. George David McAusland, Lord Dunvegan (called Laird Geordie by his friends in acknowledgment of his tendency to lapse into his "Lallans" accent whenever he lost his temper or was in any way discomposed) looked down at his friend in embarrassment. "Could ye come back in the morn, laddie? I've a bit o' company in my bed, y' see ..."

"No, I c'n not come back in th' morn," the drunkard declared, hanging for dear life on the newel post of the staircase. "I'm desp'rate! Wha's more important — my desp'ration 'r yer lightskirt?"

Geordie squinted down at his visitor through the gloom of the staircase, but the light from McIver's candle was too dim to make out Archie's condition. Nevertheless, since his visitor's words made it clear that something was amiss, Geordie ran down the steps two at a time. "Archie? What're ye doin' here at this hour? Have ye gone daft?"

Archie's lips trembled. "Good ol' Geordie. I knew you'd come through if I needed you."

"Needed me?"

Two tears ran down Archie's overheated cheeks. "I've been stabbed, Geordie. Cut down like a weed in a rosegarden. Dispatched, annihilated, and destroyed ..."

Geordie peered at him closely. "Archie, me lad," he grinned in relief, "I do believe y're cupshotten."

The inebriated fellow straightened up in offense. "Never. Not me. Can hold m' liquor wi' the best of 'em. Stabbed in the heart is wha' I am." Wavering on his feet, he clutched at the newel post again. "She won't ... have me, Geordie. She's given me ... back ... m' ring!" That said, his grip on the newel post weakened, his knees gave way, and he slid to the floor, unconscious.

"Will ye look at that, McIver?" Geordie muttered, staring down at his friend and shaking his head. "The lad's ploughed out."

"Ploughed out, my lord?" the butler asked in confusion as he knelt beside the fallen visitor. "But didn't he say he'd been stabbed?"

"Dinna be a gowk. He's just had a few too many. It's as I said. The poor lad's cupshotten."

Archie did not return to consciousness until the next evening. He opened his eyes and found himself in a strange bedroom. His stomach was growling, his tongue seemed coated with a bitter film, and something like a blacksmith's hammer was pounding in his head. He gingerly rose from the bed and stumbled out of the room. Not until he reached the stairs did he realize he was still in Geordie's house.

He made his way carefully down the stairs. At the bottom he discovered Geordie waiting for him. "Ye slept the day away, ye haveril," the Scotsman greeted.

Archie met his friend's taunting smile with a sheepish one of his own. "What's a haveril?"

"A half-wit. How much were ye fool enough to imbibe?"

Archie shrugged. "Only a few swigs. Someone must've contaminated my brandy."

"Blethers, man!" Geordie retorted bluntly. "Ye swilled down more than a few. But come into the sitting room, laddie, and sit yersel' down. Ye look worse than ye did last night."

One glimpse at the mirror that hung near the sitting-room door told Archie that his friend was not exaggerating. His eyes were bloodshot, his clothes wrinkled, his face unshaven, and his brow furrowed with pain. "I knew it," he groaned, turning away and dropping down on a wing chair near the fire. "I knew I was a lost soul. She's undone me."

The tall, red-headed Scotsman paused in the act of sitting down on the hearth. "What are ye babblin' aboot, ye saphead? Who's undone ye?"

"Caroline, of course. Who do you think?"

"Caroline? Who's —?"

"Damnation, Geordie, you know who Caroline is! Caroline Woolcott, my betrothed." He put his hand to his forehead and shut his eyes in pain. "She's jilted me."

"Jilted ye? She couldna done!" The Scotsman sank down on the hearth and stared at his friend in amazement. "Ye became betrothed not a sennicht past."

"Eight days ago, to be exact," Archie moaned. "We were to be wed at Christmas." The poor fellow stared glumly at the glowing embers of the fire. "My life is over, Geordie. I feel like putting a bullet in my brain and ending it all."

"Don't be so daft," Geordie snapped. "Ye'll not be killin' yersel' over a mere lass. The world is full o' sonsy lasses."

"Confound it, Geordie, don't start with your damn brogue. What's sonsy?"

"You know what I mean. Buxom. Shapely. If ye put yer mind to it, you can find yersel' sonsy lasses by the dozen."

"Not like Caroline. Caroline is ... exceptional."

"What balderdash! Every fool who falls in love thinks his lady is exceptional."

"No, Geordie, you're wrong there. Caroline truly is exceptional. Take my word. First of all, she's the loveliest creature I've ever seen, with hair like ... like ..."

Geordie smiled sardonically. "Hair like silk, teeth like pearls, lips like rose petals —"

"You may joke all you wish, Geordie, old man, but those cliches are nothing but the truth in Caroline's case. Her mouth is full-lipped and as cherry red as in the song! And her eyes are a kind of ... of golden brown, if you can imagine it. And she has the most unbelievable eyelashes! And —"

"Have done, man! I'll take yer word that she's a beauty. But ye'll not make me believe there isn't another lass to be found with full lips and long lashes."

"But there's so much else about her! There's her voice —"

"I know. Low and gentle," Geordie supplied dryly.

"Exactly! And her laugh is like ... like ..."

"Like music?"

"Yes. Like music. And, speaking of music, she plays the pianoforte and the harp, she speaks fluent French, she knows Russian, she can read the classics in Greek, she sketches and paints, and —"

Geordie held up his hands. "Wheesht, man, wheesht! She sounds a veritable paragon. As we say at home, an unco leesome lass. But if she's so perfect, why did she jilt ye?"

"I don't know, Geordie. I was too upset to take in what she was saying to me. I know I should have argued with her. Convinced her she was being hasty. Told her how much I love her and all that rot. But I'm not glib with the ladies as you are. I get all tongue-tied."

"Ye were evidently glib enough to win her once," Geordie pointed out. "Perhaps ye can do it again."

"I don't think so, old man," Archie said, sighing deeply. "She made matters sound quite final." He stared into the flames for a long moment. "Unless —" he said, raising his head and gazing at Geordie with eyes suddenly alight.

"Unless —?" Geordie prodded.

"Unless you were willing to speak for me."

Geordie blinked at him. "Me? Whatever are ye natterin' aboot?"

"You can do it, Geordie!" Archie said excitedly. "You could sell a sailor the London Bridge if you'd a mind."

"You are daft! I don't even know the lass."

"But you know me, don't you? All you need do is tell her what a fine fellow I am."

"Fine fellow?" Geordie sneered. "What I ought to do is tell her she's saved hersel' from weddin' a fool!"

"Please, Geordie! It won't be hard for you to convince her she's made a mistake. Everyone says you've a silver tongue. And that Scottish burr of yours is the perfect addition. It makes you sound so ... so sincere. I've seen how the ladies flock round you when you speak. That's how I know you're certain to win over my Caroline."

Geordie rose to his feet. "Archie Halford, gi'e owre! Silver tongue, indeed. I can barely speak the King's English! Never have I heard so wanwytted — idiotic — a scheme!"

"You speak the King's English perfectly, and you know it. You only throw in your Lowlands brogue to remind us where you come from," Archie accused.

"How I speak has nothin' to do with it," Geordie retorted. "The whole idea is too silly to discuss."

"What's silly about it? Can't a fellow speak up for his friend? After all, what are friends for?"

"I never heard that interferin' with a man's romantic problems was a requirement for friendship," Geordie declared, striding to the door.

Archie rose from his seat and followed. "Geordie, please —" he begged.

Geordie stopped in his tracks and looked back at his friend with a glower. "Anyone with a thocht — a grain — of sense knows better than to entangle himself in his friends' affairs of the heart. If ye want to win yer lass back again, Archie, me lad, ye'll have to do it yersel'! Under no circumstances will I have anything to do with it!"

But Archie was not one to be easily put off. "Let's draw for it," he said, catching Geordie's arm and keeping him from leaving.

"Gi'e owre, laddie," Geordie said, pulling his arm free. "I winna be coaxed —"

"My roan against a mere quarter-hour visit with the lady," Archie persisted.

"Yer roan?" Geordie turned in the doorway in disbelief. "The thoroughbred roan ye just had from Tattersall's? That one?"

"What other roan do I have?"

Geordie gaped at his friend. "Y're worse than daft — y're fair loony!"

"I'm desperate, that's what I am." Archie pulled a deck of cards from the pocket of his wrinkled coat and riffled them. "One draw. What do you say?"

"The roan against fifteen minutes with yer lass?" He shook his head and rolled his eyes heavenward. "May the good Lord forgive me ... cut the cards!"

CHAPTER 2

Two hours later George David McAusland, Lord Dunvegan, was on his way to pay a call on Miss Caroline Woolcott. It was not that he'd changed his mind about the foolishness of interfering in another man's love affairs. It was merely that he'd drawn a six, and Archie had drawn a Queen.

He was full of glum self-disgust as he strode down the street toward the residence of the unknown Miss Caroline Woolcott. His enjoyment of gambling was beginning to seem like a dangerous dissipation. Ever since he'd come to England, "Laird Geordie" had indulged himself in all the debauchery available to young men of wealth and leisure. It suddenly occurred to him to wonder what was happening to his character. Was he going to sink into the mire of debauchery like so many of his London friends?

Although he considered himself every inch a Scotsman, he'd been forced to live in England since 1811. Banished by his father to England to "get a bit o' civilizin'," he'd been living away from his beloved Scotland for the better part of six years, four spent at Oxford and the last two in London to acquire "town bronze." In the six years, he'd made many friends among the dissipated Corinthian set, had lost much of his Scottish burr, and had developed a taste for gambling and lightskirts. None of this would have pleased his father, who, fortunately, had no notion of how his son was spending his time and fortune.

As Geordie approached the Woolcott residence, he cursed himself under his breath for having been a "maggotty wanwyt." It was surely witless to have accepted Archie's wager. It was a fool's wager. But how could Geordie have been expected to resist it? Archie's roan was a thoroughbred!

He'd lost, and it served him right. He was indulging himself too much in the profligacy of London life. Just last week he'd lost at faro more in one evening than his rented house cost for a year, he'd run up a bill for spirits last month higher than his father would spend on drink in a decade, and he was permitting the opera dancer he'd taken to his bed a few times to become much too expensive in her demands. Some might call this town bronze; his father, he was sure, would call it debauchery.

In truth, he would be glad to see his banishment end. He was delighted that his father had given him permission to go home to Scotland next month at Christmastime. Once he got there, he intended to convince his father that he'd been civilized enough. If he could persuade his father to let him stay home, he would put an end to his gambling and wenching and settle down to a sane and proper life.

Meanwhile, however, there was the problem of what to say to the beautiful Miss Woolcott, at whose house he'd now arrived. He knocked hesitantly at her door, rehearsing in his mind the points that Archie had suggested he make to the lady. "Tell her that I'm a catch," Archie'd said. "Tell her Archibald Halford is a man of loyalty, faithfulness, with a kind disposition and an easygoing, generous nature. ..."

But before Geordie could fully review the list of Archie's assets, the butler came to the door. Geordie handed the fellow his card. The butler studied the card, eyed Geordie suspiciously, studied the card again, and frowned. "You are Lord Dunvegan?" he asked.

"I am."

"You've called to see Sir Horace Woolcott, I expect. I'm sorry to have to inform you, my lord, that Sir Horace passed to his reward last year."

"It's Miss Woolcott I've come to see," Geordie explained.

"Oh?" The butler raised his brows. "Is Miss Woolcott expecting you?"

Geordie, not accustomed to being kept waiting about on doorsteps, felt his temper snap. "Wheesht, man, y're a pawky one. Just gi'e the lass the card. Let her ask the questions."

The butler, recognizing a voice of authority even when dressed in a Scottish brogue, admitted him, placed his card on a salver, and asked Geordie to wait in the library. It was not a long wait. Geordie had barely time to study the room — a highceilinged chamber with tall windows and book-laden shelves climbing to the rafters — before the butler returned. "Miss Woolcott will see you in the study, my lord," he murmured, and he led the visitor down a long hallway to the very last door. "Lord Dunvegan," he announced, and stood aside.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Holiday House Parties by Elizabeth Mansfield. Copyright © 2016 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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