First in an exclusive Can happily ever after begin with one Christmas kiss?
It Happened Under the Mistletoe is a brand-new holiday novella from award-winning author Valerie Bowman!
When Oliver Townsende escapes to his friend's house for a Christmas party, he intends to avoid the hordes of marriage-minded misses who have been dogging his steps in London ever since he inherited a dukedom. He soon learns a bit of Yuletide peace and quiet is too much to ask for. When he encounters Miss Cerian Blake, who's dodging her own unwanted set of admirers, the two decide to join forces and fake an infatuation to keep their suitors at bay. But when a bough of mistletoe becomes involved, will their Christmastime prank turn into a love to last all seasons?
Look for Secrets of a Scandalous Marriage—available now!—from St. Martin's Paperbacks.
Praise for Valerie Bowman's Secret Brides novels:
"This engaging and sweetly romantic [series] is just too delightful to miss."—New York Times bestselling author Lisa Kleypas
"This sparkling [series] marks Bowman for stardom." —RT Book Reviews
"Everything romance should be—sexy, quirky, fun." —Sarah MacLean, New York Times bestselling author
About the Author
Valerie Bowman grew up in Illinois with six sisters (she's the youngest) and a huge supply of historical romance novels. After a cold and snowy stint earning a degree in English at Smith College, she moved to Florida the first chance she got.
Valerie now lives in Jacksonville with her two rascally dogs. When she's not writing, she keeps busy reading, traveling, or vacillating between watching crazy reality TV and PBS. She is the author of books including Secrets of a Wedding Night and Secrets of a Runaway Bride.
Valerie Bowman is an award-winning author who writes Regency-set historical romance novels aka Racy Regency Romps! Since her debut in 2012, Valerie's books have received starred reviews from Publisher's Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus. She's been an RT Reviewers' Choice nominee for Best First Historical Romance and Best Historical Romance Love and Laughter. Two of her books have been nominated for the Kirkus Prize for fiction and New York Times bestselling author Lisa Kleypas calls them, "Too delightful to miss!"
Valerie has a B.A. in English Language and Literature with a minor in history from Smith College. By day, she is a technical editor at a computer software company. By night, she combines her love of writing, history, and romance to craft stories about people falling in love.
Originally from Rantoul, Illinois, Valerie lives in Jacksonville, Florida with her family including her two rascally dogs. When she's not writing, she keeps busy reading, traveling, or vacillating between watching crazy reality TV or PBS.
Read an Excerpt
It Happened Under the Mistletoe
By Valerie Bowman
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2014 Valerie Bowman
All rights reserved.
Oxfordshire, December 1817
Hunted. That's what he was. Hunted like a fox. And just like a fox, he'd been forced to ... run.
Oliver Townsende skidded across the perfectly polished marble floor in the foyer of Lord Medford's country house. He rounded the imposing column at the edge of the space and took off down the nearest corridor. Behind him, the slapping of slippers against the parquet floor indicated that his flight was not in vain. He was, indeed, still being chased.
He glanced to his right. By Jove, was that a cat hurrying alongside him? He resisted the urge to rub his eyes. He looked again. Yes. There was indeed a furry feline romping to his right. Medford owned a cat? And more importantly, who was the cat hoping to avoid? Surely not the same young lady?
Oliver smiled to himself as he continued his flight. Why exactly had he agreed to attend Medford's Christmastide house party? Yes, he'd become friendly with Lord Perfect and his wife Kate in the last year since Kate had been acquitted of his cousin's murder. Oliver had inherited the dukedom, but he knew better than anyone how hunted he was in Society. He was an eligible young duke, for heaven's sake. Of course Medford's house party would be filled with young, eligible ladies with their hearts set upon becoming a duchess. Hence, the running.
Oliver and the cat rounded the bend in the hall, the slap of Lady Selina Kinsey's slippers still echoing somewhere behind them. She was gaining on him. He could hear it in the steady increase of the slaps. If he didn't know any better, he'd think the earl's daughter had picked up her skirts to run after him full tilt. This particular young woman had somehow caught him under a bough of mistletoe. She'd not so subtly demanded a kiss just before Oliver had unceremoniously ripped the offending plant from the doorframe upon which it hung. Mumbling something about how he was quite certain Lady Medford had been looking for this particular bough, he'd taken off as quickly as his legs would carry him. Only to realize soon after that Lady Selina was not one to give up easily.
There was nothing left for it. He must find a way to gracefully leave this party. Lady Selina was only one of several young women who refused to take no for an answer. And their mamas? Those formidable matrons were even worse.
Oliver nearly slid past the next corner before he noticed the cat had stopped running and was sitting next to a small door inlaid in the wall, licking its paw as if it hadn't a care in the world. The glint of a brass door handle caught Oliver's eye. He examined the door. The silver closet! An excellent place to escape. Lady Selina would never think a duke would hide inside a silver closet. Please don't let it be locked.
He wrenched open the door with his unoccupied hand. Ah. Unlocked. Such luck. No doubt Medford's servants were too perfect to even consider stealing from the butler. Oliver skated inside the closet. The cat promptly followed him, twitching its tail proudly. Oliver shut the portal behind him, leaned against the solid wood with his empty palm (the other still clutching the mistletoe bough), and willed his breathing back to rights.
It was dark in the closet and a bit stuffy. It smelled like silver polish and the tang of metal. Not a bit of dust, however. Of course Lord Perfect wouldn't stand for a dusty silver closet.
"You'd best not meow and give me away, cat," he warned in a whisper. The cat, wherever he was, remained silent.
Oliver waited, holding his breath. The slap of slippers drew near, paused for a bit in the corridor outside, and then continued their slap-slap-slap, completely passing him by.
He expelled his breath. Excellent. He'd done it. Evaded Lady Selina. For now.
But it was only wise to wait a few more moments. Lady S was not one to be underestimated. She might swing back around and surprise him. No. He'd linger in the silver closet until he was absolutely certain he was entirely out of danger.
A small feminine cough behind him made Oliver's spine snap to attention. That was no cat. He spun on his heel. Was it possible that Lady Selina had somehow tricked him? Made her way into the silver closet through some other entrance? Or was this another potential future duchess? One who was perhaps a bit more clever than the Kinsey chit.
In the next moment, a candle burst to light not two paces away. It illuminated a lovely female face. Dark hair and bright green eyes that blinked at him. A lady too, from what he could see of her clothing. He hadn't just stumbled upon the work of a maid assigned to the silver closet. He peered at her, studying her features. No. He hadn't met this particular young lady since he'd arrived at the party this morning. He was certain of it. He would have remembered her.
But he didn't have long to contemplate the matter.
"Let me guess," the beauty said, one dark eyebrow arched in the shadows. "Lady Selina?"
Oliver eyed the unknown woman carefully and then slowly nodded. He wasn't certain yet if she was friend or foe. For all he knew, this young woman was Lady Selina's cohort, there to flush him out so Lady S could find her prey once again.
"How did you know?" he asked.
The lovely brunette placed the candle on the sideboard next to her and slid easily off the cabinet upon which she'd been perched. She straightened her light green skirts with both hands and gave him a saucy smile. "I could tell by the whiff of desperation in the air."
Now that made Oliver laugh. When was the last time that had happened? Especially with a female anywhere near marriageable age. Young, beautiful women never made him laugh. They made him run.
"That pungent was it?" he asked, returning her infectious smile.
"I'm afraid so. I'm quite familiar with it unfortunately." She had the barest hint of an accent he couldn't quite place.
Oliver cocked a brow. What did that mean? "Familiar how?" He couldn't help himself. He had to ask.
She laughed, and the sound ran over his skin like a brisk spring breeze. He felt it in his chest. Oliver shook his head. When had he ever been affected by a lady's laugh?
"Why do you think I'm hiding in this silver closet?" She winked at him.
He furrowed his brow. First of all, she was adorable when she winked and secondly, now that she mentioned it, it did seem odd, her hiding in the silver closet too. He wasn't about to be an arrogant boor and accuse her of waiting in here in hopes of running into him eventually. What was this pretty young lady doing in the silver closet?
"Why are you hiding?" he asked, curiosity riding him hard.
"For the same reason you are, I suspect," she answered, stepping past him to press her ear to the door. Her movement afforded Oliver a whiff of her perfume. Just a hint of the sweet scent of lilacs. Normally, he found women's perfume cloying, but this teased his senses.
He arched a brow. "You're hiding from Lady Selina as well?"
She turned back to face him, a smile on her lips. "No, not Lady Selina."
The cat, who had heretofore remained still, chose that particular moment to leap up to the cabinet and present his overly fluffy tail to Oliver.
"Is this your cat?" the young woman asked, rubbing the cat on its head.
"No. I'm not particularly fond of cats to be honest. I have no idea where this one came from. He must belong to Medford."
The young lady picked up the cat and examined him. "Er, she must belong to Medford," she corrected. "And it's funny. Kate never mentioned a cat to me."
"This cat and I found ourselves running together and when it came time to hide, I wasn't about to shut her out." He grinned at the young lady. "But you never answered my question. Whom were you hiding from?" Perhaps her mother was overly solicitous. God knew most mothers were.
She deposited the cat back upon the cabinet and rubbed its head again. The feline shamelessly purred. "Lord Esterbrooke," the young lady replied simply, counting off on her fingers. "Lord Dashford. Lord Meriwether. Oh, and Sir Gilliam."
Oliver blinked. Esterbrooke, Dashford, Meriwether, and Gilliam? All decent blokes, to the one, well, except for Gilliam; he was a bore. But they were all also exceedingly eligible and exceedingly titled. Did this young lady mean to imply that she was being courted by these men and meant to avoid them? Whatever for?
He narrowed his eyes on her. He didn't recognize her, and he'd been introduced to every single eligible young woman in London. Was it possible this young lady had been hiding in Oxfordshire this entire time? He needed to come out to the country more often.
The beauty sighed and crossed her arms over her chest, offering, "You see, my cousin Lady Medford invited me to this party. She told my mama there would be eligible young men here. And she's correct. The problem is that I am uninterested in them."
Well, that was a first. He'd never met a young woman who was uninterested in securing a good match. In fact, he only met young women who were interested in securing a good match. Oliver blinked at her. "You don't wish to marry, Miss ...?"
"Blake, Cerian Blake."
Cerian. What an intriguing name. He'd never heard anything like it.
"Not particularly, Mr. ...?"
"Townsende, Oliver Townsende." Oliver couldn't help himself. He couldn't bear to introduce himself to this young lady as the Duke of Markingham. She proclaimed to be uninterested in titles but what if she was bluffing? He couldn't stand to see her eyes light up at the mention of the title. Everyone in town knew he was a newly minted duke and an eligible one to boot. Yes, she might recognize the name but he wasn't about to piece it together for her.
"What about you, Mr. Townsende?" she asked, the hint of a smile playing around her soft pink lips. "Do you have an objection to all young ladies or is it just Lady Selina you seek to avoid?"
He smiled at that. She was funny, this Miss Blake.
"I'm a bit ... popular at the moment," he allowed. "Sounds as if you are, as well."
The edge of her mouth quirked up. "If you're so popular, why are you carrying around your own mistletoe bough? Doesn't seem prudent for someone who proclaims to want to be left alone."
Oliver looked at her twice. He nearly opened his mouth to respond when he realized she was teasing him. Good thing, that. He couldn't very well tell her the tale of how he'd snatched the bough from the ceiling and ran. Too idiotic.
"It's a long story." He cleared his throat, suddenly wishing he could use the bough of mistletoe with her.
"The best stories always are," she said with another beautiful sigh. She scooped up the cat and set her on the floor before pressing an ear against the door again. Oliver had to concentrate on not looking at the lady's enticing backside poking toward him. He shifted uncomfortably on his feet and glanced away. The cat twined herself around his ankles, purring contentedly. That's all he needed, this cat to trip him. Leave him in a prone position for Lady Selina to pounce.
"It sounds as though we're safe," the lady offered. "I think we may be able to leave now."
An unexpected surge of disappointment rose in Oliver's chest. "You think?"
"Yes. Yes, I'm certain of it."
Oliver rocked back and forth on his heels, rolling the bough of mistletoe between his fingers. What exactly did one say to a gorgeous young woman to whom one had not been formally introduced yet with whom one had spent several minutes conversing while mutually hiding in a silver closet? Good day? Nice to have (sort of) met you? See you next time we're hiding from people?
Miss Blake didn't give him long to contemplate the matter. She whisked open the door, blowing out the candle as a result, and stuck her head into the corridor. She looked both ways. "All clear," she announced before turning back to him momentarily. The cat made its way toward the open door as well.
"Excellent," he said, not understanding the tug of disappointment in his middle at the prospect of the young lady leaving.
"Let's agree to pretend we've not met before, Mr. Townsende." She gave him a conspiratorial smile. "And then when Kate introduces us later, we shall play completely ignorant. That way, we won't have to explain our penchant for milling about in the silver closet."
Oliver pressed his lips together to keep from laughing. He liked Miss Blake's style. He liked it a great deal. This young lady was game enough to hide in a closet and flaunt propriety. Quite game, was Miss Cerian Blake. Quite game, indeed.
"Agreed," he replied with a bow. "In the meantime, I wish you the best of luck avoiding eligible gentlemen."
"Oh, if only it were that simple." She gave him one last look over her shoulder. "Kate has already informed me that she intends to introduce me to yet another potential suitor this evening."
An unexpected bit of envy rankled in Oliver's middle. "Who's the unworthy chap?" he asked, wondering just how long the list of Miss Blake's suitors would be.
She rolled her eyes. "The Duke of Markingham. Can you imagine? A duke? Sounds like a dreadful bore to me."
And with that, she and the cat were gone.CHAPTER 2
Cerian had to remind herself for the thousandth time to stop tapping her foot. It wasn't her fault her mama had forced her to stand here all done up in her pink ball gown, with diamonds twined through her hair, feeling like a deuced prize horse on parade, while Mama exchanged witty banter with their host. Lord Medford's country house was an imposing structure to begin with, but with its scores of rooms decorated for the holiday season, it was even more grand. Every room was draped with evergreen boughs, holly, ivy, hawthorn, and Christmas rose. The smell of cider floated through the air and the burning of logs in the many fireplaces gave the house a warm, cozy feel.
They were waiting in the drawing room before dinner. Many of the guests were mingling and laughing. Lord Medford was entertaining her and Mama with stories of his friends in London.
"I'm sorry you won't be able to meet Lord and Lady Colton and Lord and Lady Ashbourne," he said. "Both of those ladies are well into their confinements with a new marquis and new earl on the way. They are expected to deliver at any moment."
Cerian smiled at that. Kate had written to Cerian and told her about her friends Lady Lily and Lady Annie. The two women were sisters. They sounded quite nice and had been good friends to Kate.
Kate? Where was Kate? Cerian glanced around the drawing room. She wished her cousin would appear and get the introductions over with so Cerian could smile politely at the Duke of Markingham and then settle down to the business of eating dinner. She was much more interested in the menu for tonight's meal than meeting her first duke.
And hadn't Mama been all aflutter when Kate had announced that she would introduce Cerian to the man? Mama's dream. To make the most advantageous match for her daughter. It didn't matter that Cerian's dream was oh, I don't know, to actually fall in love with the man who she married. And one never fell in love with a duke. She doubted it was possible. She had even imagined more than once winging back through history and trying to find a duchess who actually loved her duke. Oh, she supposed it may have happened, but it had to be extremely rare. But she couldn't convince Mama that love was important. "You've been reading too many romantic novels," Mama would say. "And poetry."
The fact was that Cerian didn't belong here. She came from a small village in Wales. Papa had worked hard and made a fortune in the copper trade but even with their riches, nothing could make up for their poor connections. Well, they'd been poor until cousin Kate had written to them. Seemed after a bad marriage — to a duke, no less — that she didn't speak much about, Kate had wedded a viscount, and Mama, seizing the opportunity to receive entrée into London Society at last, had written back posthaste fishing for an invitation.
Cerian remembered Kate as a beautiful, friendly spirit from her childhood. Their fathers were brothers, and now, Mama would do anything she could to use her cousin's connections to make an advantageous match for Cerian, even if she had to sweeten the pot with a large dowry.
Excerpted from It Happened Under the Mistletoe by Valerie Bowman. Copyright © 2014 Valerie Bowman. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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
Sweet, light, and a perfect holiday read, It Happened Under the Mistletoe was a lovely historical romance novella. I really enjoyed reading this wonderful book. It's the kind of sweet romance that just makes you smile. I loved this book! Oliver and Cerian were great character. Both were very likable and I thought they were wonderful. Cerian was lovely, a heroine that was easy to like. Oliver was a total sweetheart. He sure knew how to make a romantic gesture. He was just adorable and I really liked him. The romance was super sweet with a touch of spicy. My once issue with this novella is that Oliver and Cerian were somewhat stubborn about admitting their feelings to themselves and to each other. It was frustrating, when it was so obvious how they were both head over heels for each other. But, otherwise, I thought they were perfect together. Their relationship was so sweet and the chemistry between them was steamy. The plot went by quickly. I was hooked the entire way through. I really enjoyed the sweet story and the ending had me smiling. It Happened Under the Mistletoe was a fantastic holiday novella. It was so sweet and I enjoyed every bit of it. Lovers of romance, if you want a brilliant holiday read, then you have to check this one out. *I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
It Happened Under the Mistletoe, written by Valerie Bowman, is a charming and sweet Christmas novella! 4 ½ stars! It's a light holiday novella worth taking the time to enjoy reading! I loved her two characters Oliver, recently titled a Duke and Cerian, a beautiful young lady! Both are invited to the Medford's house to celebrate Christmas in hope that they will find a suitable match to marry. Cerian's mother wants her to wed and secure her future financially. But Cerian only wants to fall in love before she marries and is looking for the perfect man. Oliver, on the other hand, is looking for a woman who will wed him not only because he was a Duke, but for love. Both decide on a compromise and Oliver offers her a proposal that Cerian won't be able to refuse. As they play the game, sparks will flare between the two and love will be in the air! I loved this short novella, it is well written, charming, perfect for a short interlude. Some scenes are cute and funny! I am looking forward to read her next book The Unexpected Duchess in Ms. Bowman's Secret Brides series.
Very good!!!! Highly Recommend"!!!!!
I bought and read this in one sitting. Related to the Secrets trilogy by Valerie Bowman, this is a fun romp at a Christmastide visit throwing Oliver and Cerian together. The first time was by accident as they both hid in silver closet avoiding unwanted suitors. They concoct an idea to throw off the suitors by pretending to be enamored with one another. Throw in a cat who shows up at the most convenient times, and mayhem, adventure, some kissing, and suddenly it's no longer a game. They're perfect for each other, but they have to accept each other, and know love is true, before they can finally take on the ton, and see they're destined to be together. All thanks to some mistletoe.
Review by Maggie Toussaint; X-posted by Melissa Snark This novella is set in Oxfordshire in 1817. Miss Cerian Blake of Wales is visiting her cousin for a Christmastide house party full of eligible bachelors of the ton. Though she has no title, Cerian has a large dowry, thanks to her father’s thriving copper business. The house party is her mother’s dream – she wants Cerian to make a great match. Newly minted Duke of Markingham, also known as Oliver Townsende, attends the same party because he’s looking for a duchess. It’s his job to marry wall and restore honor to the family name, but Lady Selina Kinsley’s aggressive pursuit makes him literally run and hide, in the silver closet. Only the closet is already a refuge for another party-goer – Cerian. These kindred spirits make a pact to pretend to be courting so that they can relax and enjoy the party without the social pressure. Their alignment raises eyebrows and sets tongues to wagging. Before long, both Oliver and Cerian are questioning the pretense. Mistletoe plays a key role in this story as does an elusive, fluffy, gray cat. Time and again, the cat serves as a matchmaker and facilitator in the relationship. One of the Mamas of the ton threatens Oliver with ruination if he pursues Cerian. Fresh from the battlefield, Oliver doesn’t take kindly to the threat. Valerie Bowman does a great job in creating an authentic Regency setting. If not for having to fix dinner, I’d have read this all in one sitting. Recommended. An ARC was received in exchange for an honest review.