Two Strangers, One Enchanted Christmas
Quinton Roxbury, son of an earl and as charismatic as a prince, thinks St. Nick has provided him the perfect bride in rich, ruthless Lady Emmeline Tarleton.
Lisette Hamilton could not have wished for a more reasonable beau than stable, staid Henry Brooks.
But on one wintry London day, the magic of the season intervenes, bringing Lisette and Quinton together just long enough to realize that there is more to love than to connections or contentment. And the passionate moment they share will force them both to choose between the perfect lives they always wanted and a desire they've only just discovered. . .
Praise for the Novels of Kaitlin O'Riley
"O'Riley's believable, charismatic characters and fast-paced plotline set this novel well apart from the usual romance fare." --Publishers Weekly(starred review) on When His Kiss Is Wicked
"A talented author. . .O'Riley's plot twists add freshness to the genre." --Romantic Times on Secrets of a Duchess
About the Author
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It Happened One Christmas
By Kaitlin O'Riley
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 2011 Kathleen M. Milmore
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAll Is Calm, All Is Bright
* * *
London, England Monday, December 1, 1873
Lisette Hamilton never saw him coming.
Later on she supposed that because she was rushing, it was her own fault. But still he was just as much to blame. A man should always be mindful of where he is going and should take more care when rounding a corner and not throw himself about like a cannon out of a barrel. None of it would have happened at all if she had simply stayed in the carriage. But no, she had to stop for a moment to visit with Mrs. Brooks. Since Lisette was planning to marry the woman's son, of course she should take time to speak with her. It was Henry's mother, after all, and she would eventually be her mother-in-law. Then Yvette had complained of a headache, so Lisette had instructed their carriage driver to take her younger sister home while she remained. She chatted with Mrs. Brooks longer than she'd intended before realizing how late she was. Lisette detested being late. Hated to think that anyone was waiting for her or inconvenienced in any way by her tardiness. To Lisette it was the height of rudeness.
Consequently she was walking as fast as she could, her little black boots clicking along the cobblestones of the neat lane behind Devon House. As usual, her long auburn hair was pinned neatly under her fur-trimmed hood and her hands pocketed deep inside her matching fur muff. She didn't typically walk through the back lane, but she now needed to hurry. The narrow lane was empty of people except for Lisette that chilly December afternoon, and the sky was heavy with dark clouds. She pulled her muff closer to her body for warmth and increased her pace. Just as she reached the corner, which was bordered by a high brick wall covered in a thick blanket of ivy—bam—she ran smack into a wall of another kind.
Knocked flat on her back with an impossibly tall man lying on top of her, she could not even breathe.
When Lisette opened her eyes, she found herself drowning. Drowning in a pair of the bluest eyes she had ever seen. Not just a regular, ordinary blue, but the clearest, purest sky blue. The word "cerulean" came to mind. The color of the sky on a clear spring morning. At first, those eyes were wide with surprise, but then they narrowed their focus on her. His eyes gleamed with an inner fire, and her heart seemed to stop and the world faded around her. The fall must have knocked the sense out of both of them, for neither she nor the man spoke or moved for a full minute.
They simply stared in mute fascination with each other.
Oh, but the rest of him was fine also, Lisette thought. His face was arresting in its perfection. A strong jaw, which was clean-shaven and smooth. An aquiline nose with just the slightest tilt at the end. A mouth that looked as if it smiled easily. He was not smiling now, though. No, but his lips were close enough for her to feel his breath on her cheek. A lock of his light golden hair fell across his forehead in a charmingly rakish way.
She wondered if she knew this gentleman. The familiarity of him called to her, but she could not place him. Had she met him recently? At the bookshop perhaps? No. No, Lisette had never met this man. For she certainly would have remembered him. And how wonderful he smelled, like spices and bayberry.
As she lay with this handsome stranger, Lisette completely forgot where she was going and why she was in such a hurry to get there. She lost herself in the feel and the weight of the length of his muscular body pressed against hers, barely noticing the cold cobblestones beneath her. His long legs nestled intimately between hers. The heat and strength emanating from him kept her quite warm. A strange lethargy crept over her as her body seemed to melt with his.
The gentleman lightly touched his gloved hand to her face in a soft caress.
"Are you all right?" His voice fell in a silky whisper around her as he traced the side of her cheek.
The hypnotic sound of his voice contributed to the strange spell she had helplessly fallen under. Lisette only nodded her head in response to him while her heart pounded in a wild rhythm.
He slowly leaned even closer to her, placing the lightest of kisses on her cheek. The brush of his warm lips on her skin sent a shaft of pleasure coursing through her entire being. Lisette thought she would faint. This was mad! She did not even know this man, yet here he was ... Oh, my ... His lips moved closer to her own, and she held her breath, suddenly hoping against hope that he would kiss her. Heaven help her, for she desperately wanted this man to kiss her. It was madness, but she wanted to feel his lips pressed against hers. She inexplicably yearned to kiss him.
The unexpected and loud barking of a dog in a nearby yard pierced the air around them, breaking their intimate reverie.
Suddenly aware of their awkward position, they both roused themselves in a fluster. The gentleman made a move to stand up. Lisette, her cheeks burning, took a shaky breath as she removed her hands from her muff and rose on her elbows. Taking her gloved hand in his, he helped her to her feet. As she stood, he did not release her hand. Nor did she pull away from him. Something about him holding her hand felt natural and she did not want to let go.
"Are you quite sure you are all right?"
"Yes," Lisette murmured in a whisper, but she was not all right. Far from it. She had never felt less like herself.
"I am terribly sorry," he began again. "Forgive me. I did not see you."
She had to tilt her head back to look up at him. Again she became lost in those blue eyes. Was it a figment of her imagination that he had kissed her cheek? Had she merely dreamed that he almost kissed her lips a moment ago? "I ... ah ... I did not see you either."
He still held her hand, and he pulled her slightly closer. "Oh, but we have seen each other now."
"Yes," she breathed. The sound of his voice, low and husky, made her shiver with delight. "Now what?"
A slow, magnetic smile spread across his handsome face. It was as if the sun had suddenly burst through the clouds. Lisette could do nothing but smile back helplessly in response.
"Now I believe we ought to introduce ourselves. I am Quinton Roxbury."
Quinton Roxbury. His name repeated over and over in her mind. Who was he? And why should this man have such a magical effect on her? Quinton Roxbury. She suddenly had butterflies in her stomach. "I ..." She paused a moment to recall her own name. "I am Lisette Hamilton."
"Well, Miss Hamilton, please forgive my clumsiness. In my haste I seemed to have knocked us both off our feet. Are you sure you are not hurt?"
Lisette shook her head. No, hurt would not be the word to describe how she felt. Mesmerized. Enchanted. Awestruck. Those were much better words.
"May I escort you home?"
Again, she shook her head. A strange sense of loss surged through her, realizing that their astonishing encounter was coming to an end. She did not want him to leave. She glanced across at her hand, still clasped firmly in his. That reassured her somewhat.
He looked disappointed by her refusal. "No?"
"I am already home." Lisette gestured to the tall white house just beyond the brick wall.
"Devon House?" he questioned, his dark blond brows raised. "You live here?"
He smiled and then explained, "I was just there, meeting with Lord Waverly."
"He is my brother-in-law." Lucien knew Quinton Roxbury. This changed everything and she relaxed a bit. He did not seem like such a stranger to Lisette now. But then he hadn't right from the start. There was a strong familiarity about him that drew her to him.
"Well, I can at least escort you to the door. I owe you that much courtesy."
He released her hand and took her arm. As long as he was touching her, Lisette did not care what he did. At this moment she would have followed him across London if he wanted. Instead she walked with him to the front of Devon House. Her heart fluttered against her chest at the feel of his strong hand on her arm. Good heavens! What on earth was wrong with her?
"Once again, I offer my sincerest apologies for knocking you down, Miss Hamilton."
"It's quite all right," she murmured as they stood in front of the gate, noting with some satisfaction that he did not apologize for kissing her cheek. She stared into his eyes, mesmerized by what she saw within them.
"I should be on my way," he said.
"Yes, of course."
"It was a pleasure running into you." He laughed, deep and throaty, and her heart skipped a beat at the sound. "I hope I have the pleasure of meeting you under more usual circumstances sometime."
"That would be lovely."
With what seemed like some reluctance, he released her arm. "Good afternoon, Miss Hamilton."
"Good afternoon, Mr. Roxbury," she whispered softly. Her eyes followed him as he walked away, his long black cloak swirling behind him. The assurance and grace with which he moved was surprising for a man of his height. She stood outside the gate to Devon House, completely incapable of taking a step forward. Flooded with emotions she did not know existed before, she didn't even hear the footsteps coming up behind her.
She turned around at the sound of her name. Henry Brooks stood beside her. Henry. "Henry!"
"Good afternoon, Lisette. Who was that gentleman you were talking to?" His kind, bearded face was drawn in obvious concern. His gray eyes stared at her intently.
Lisette blinked. "I don't really know. I just met him. What are you doing here, Henry?"
"I was coming from the home of Lord Grisham, my new client, and his house is across the street. I was planning to stop by Devon House to say hello when I saw you with that gentleman. You were speaking to him as if you knew him."
She placed her hands inside her muff and clenched them together tightly. "He ... He was just leaving. He was here to meet with Lord Waverly," Lisette explained. "His name is Quinton Roxbury."
She thought it best to leave out the part about the gentleman lying on top of her and almost kissing her. There was no need to upset Henry. Still, the memory of it sent a delicious shiver through her. She pulled the fur muff closer to her body.
"Quinton Roxbury?" Henry asked with sudden interest. "The Earl of Kingston's brother?"
"He did not say."
"Well, if that's who he is, he's quite a bright and ambitious man. I just read an article about him in The Times last week. Something about him designing a new museum building and some special houses, if I recall."
She gave Henry a blank look.
"Anyway, it's a happy surprise to see you, Lisette."
"It's good to see you as well." She smiled, feeling slightly calmer, talking about ordinary things. And she was glad to see Henry. If not a little surprised. "It's a funny coincidence meeting you here, because I just ran into your mother. She invited me to have tea with her and your aunt next week."
"That was thoughtful of her." He removed his gold pocket watch and checked the time. He snapped the case shut and returned it to the pocket of his navy broadcloth coat. "My dear, I'm afraid I do have to rush off. I must get these papers to the bank."
"Very well. I shall see you tomorrow evening. You'll be joining us for supper at Devon House, remember?"
"How could I forget? Of course I will be there tomorrow. Good-bye, my dear." He squeezed the top of her muff with his gloved hand and walked away with sure and steady steps. She watched him go, trying not to compare him to the mysterious Mr. Quinton Roxbury.
Almost forgetting what she had been rushing home for, Lisette gave a little gasp and hurried to the house.
Chapter TwoTheir Old Familiar Carols Play
* * *
Granger, the Devon House butler, opened the door for Lisette. She thanked the man as she removed her fur muff and matching coat and hat. He took her things with a good-natured smile.
"Good afternoon, Miss Lisette. You seem to be in a hurry," Granger said in his usual unflappable style.
"I am!" She nodded quickly, for she was now late and Colette would be sure to be put out with her.
Lisette made her way to the staircase of Devon House, the rather majestic house she had called home for the past few years. But it did not truly feel like her home. Oh, it was grand to be sure, but in her heart the stately and elegant town house belonged to Lucien Sinclair and his family, not to her. After living above the bookshop for her entire life, Devon House felt entirely too large for her taste. Besides, she wanted a home of her very own. A place she could love, care for, and do with as she pleased.
And that would happen as soon as she and Henry married.
Henry. He was a wonderful man, steady and reliable. He would take good care of her, and she would be happy married to him. Yes, she would. Yes.
Almost stumbling on the steps, she steadied herself as the image of a handsome, blond gentleman with penetrating blue eyes sprang unbidden into her mind when she should have been imagining Henry. She shook herself with determination and grasped the handrail firmly. Such foolishness! Quinton Roxbury. He was just an accident. She didn't even know the man!
Lisette moved her feet quickly but carefully up the grand, marble staircase in a hurry to reach her own bedroom. She was rushing down the corridor when a voice stopped her.
"There you are!"
Colette had called to her. Lisette turned to face her eldest sister. "I'm sorry I am so late. I will change my clothes and be ready in just a few minutes."
"Oh, never mind about that. Aunt Cecilia sent a note around that she is ill, so she is not coming to tea this afternoon."
Lisette relaxed with a heavy sigh. She did not have to spend an interminable afternoon with her critical and demanding aunt after all. What an unexpected relief!
"But I need your help," Colette began in a harried tone, while beckoning her into her own suite of rooms. "I just received a letter from Mother."
Lisette knew where this conversation was headed. Reluctantly she entered Colette's private sitting room and took a seat on a lovely lavender and white striped damask chair. Her nephew, Phillip, toddled over to her, his round cheeks pink and his fingers sticky as he held his chubby arms out to her in eagerness.
"'Sette, 'Sette." He babbled the name everyone understood meant his Auntie Lisette.
Smiling, she reached down and scooped the boy up in her arms, settling him on her lap and breathing in the sweetness of him. Phillip rested his tousled head on her chest and gave a contented sigh. Instinctively she rocked the child with a gentle swaying of her body, holding him close. She would love a baby of her own when she married.
Suddenly the image of Quinton Roxbury's face flooded her mind. He stood beside her while she held a baby. How odd! His face replaced the usual image of Henry. Lisette shook her head in amazement and not a little guilt.
"Although he's been fighting me all afternoon, Phillip's more than ready for a nap," Colette explained. She moved with practiced slowness to her own chair and lowered herself down gingerly. "And I am as well," she added with a light laugh. Colette's hand moved over the rounded form of her once slim waist.
"Your new baby brother or sister is making your mother very tired," Lisette whispered to the little boy in her lap. He smiled at her and closed his eyes. She brushed her hand over his soft dark curls in a calming motion.
"Thank goodness," said Colette in relief, watching her son fall asleep in her sister's arms. "It's funny how you have that soothing effect on him."
Lisette glanced up at her with a helpless smile. "I don't do anything differently with him than you do."
"No, but you're a natural," Colette grinned. "You'll make a very good mother someday."
"I hope so."
"You will. Now, about our mother," Colette began, her voice weary.
Lisette nodded, knowing exactly what was expected of her. Unaccountably irritated, she longed for the solitude of her room, wished she could lie down on her bed and close her eyes. A sudden vision of Quinton Roxbury lying atop her in the lane flashed before her. Unable to breathe for a moment, she blinked in rapid succession, trying to erase him from her memory.
Excerpted from It Happened One Christmas by Kaitlin O'Riley Copyright © 2011 by Kathleen M. Milmore. Excerpted by permission of ZEBRA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In 1873 Lisette Hamilton and architect Quinton Roxbury approach the same corner in haste from a converging right angle. Thus they collide. Yet both find warmth on this wintry day, but she plans to marry her childhood friend Henry Brooks and he is to wed Lady Emmeline Tarleton, the daughter of a Duke. They meet the next day on the train heading to Brighton where he is conducting business and she is going for pleasure. Both know their desire is scandalous but the urge to kiss is difficult to stop. Neither wants to hurt others and he fears what will happen to his financial backing and political aspirations, but each feels the blood rush of falling in love over the cold days of December. The latest Hamilton Sisters Victorian romance (see When His Kiss Is Wicked and Desire In His Eye) is a warm sweet holiday tale. The key to this engaging historical is the respective partners of the lead protagonists as both Henry and Emmeline are nice individuals who make it that more difficult on Lisette and Quinton to dump them even for love. Readers will enjoy this charming holiday romance as it will take a Christmas miracle for this seemingly fated couple to make it together without hurting others. Harriet Klausner
Sweet and tasty holiday treat. I loved the heroine, Lisette, and thought the author did a very skillful job of showcasing five sisters, alike yet different, not an easy job. It also really reminded me how delicious it can be JUST to be kissed, thoroughly and well. The subplot with Tom the street urchin felt a little distracting and repetitive in spots. Although I didn't know how, I knew he would be rescued in the end, so it was hard to feel fully vested in his peril. I very much liked how the romantic rivals for Lisette and Quinton were in and of themselves likeable characters, making that conflict much more intense. Read it, you'll enjoy it!
Love always surprises us as to when it will happen. It is great that someone can capture the feelings of falling in love. Enjoy.
Really enjoyed it!
Not as good as the first two stories in this series about the hamilton sisters but still a good romance with a good ending.phyl p
This is a historical romance and a series. Please read the other books by this author a great book.
A good, clean romance. Truly enjoyable.