Mistletoe Christmas: An Anthology

From four beloved writers—Eloisa James, Christi Caldwell, Janna MacGregor, and Erica Ridley—come four original stories that tell a hilarious tale of a Christmas house party that serves up love and scandal in equal measure!

The Duke of Greystoke’s Christmas Revelry is famous throughout the British Isles for its plays, dancing, magical grotto… not to mention scandals leading to the marriage licenses he hands out like confetti.

But not everyone welcomes a visit from Cupid.

Lady Cressida, the duke’s daughter, is too busy managing the entertainments—and besides, her own father has called her dowdy. Her cousin, Lady Isabelle Wilkshire, is directing Cinderella and has no interest in marriage. Lady Caroline Whitmore is already (unhappily) married; the fact that she and her estranged husband have to pretend to be together just makes her dread the party all the more. But not as much as Miss Louisa Harcourt, whose mother bluntly tells her that this is her last chance to escape the horrors of being an old maid.

A house party so large that mothers lose track of their charges leads to a delightful, seductive quartet of stories that you will savor for the Season!

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Eloisa James’ A Mistletoe Christmas is elegant and sexy. There is plenty of kissing under the mistletoe in this festive quartet of love stories set at the Duke of Greystoke’s Christmas Revelry.

~ Booklist

“[A] delightfully festive quartet of Regency romances, all brimming with holiday spice and mistletoe mischief. This Christmas confection will be a treat for Regency romance fans.”

~ Publishers Weekly

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Prologue

Lady Elizabeth Childe to her American cousin, Mrs. Sarah Darby
November 25, 1815

My dearest Sarah,

I’m so thrilled to tell you that after years of hoping, Lord Childe and I have finally received an invitation to the Duke of Greystoke’s Revelry! ’Tis a magnificent Christmastide house party featuring every amusement and wonder. I’ve heard there are plays, dancing, a magical grotto . . . His Grace has a genius for bringing together the finest in England: the aristocracy mingles with artists, politicians, commoners—even journalists and opera dancers!

As you can imagine, such a Revelry does lend itself to scandalous behavior. For mothers, though, it’s as important as the Season: a girl who has failed to attract a husband might find success in its less formal atmosphere. We shan’t discover the other names on the guest list until it is printed in the Morning Chronicle.

My husband grumps that Greystoke thinks too highly of his party, but the Revelry has been labeled a cornerstone of British society. Now that the duke is on his deathbed, though, no one knows what will happen next year. If this is to be the final gathering, I’ve no doubt it will be a Revelry to remember.

On a topic closer to home, you would be thrilled by my hothouse peonies . . .

Chapter One

The Duke of Greystoke’s annual Christmas Revelry
Greystoke Manor, Cheshire
December, 1815

The Duke of Greystoke would likely be dead by Epiphany, but he counted that as a triumph.

“Only a week left in the Revelry . . . I’ll make it to the end, won’t I?” He gasped for breath because his heart no longer supported bold statements. Back in the fall, his doctors had advised him he’d be gone by All Hallows. “Proved them wrong. Made it to my party,” he added.

His youngest daughter, Lady Cressida—known to most as Cressie—said, “So you did, Father.” She was seated at her father’s bedside, pretending to listen dutifully, but actually scribbling a list of niggling problems springing from the presence of so many guests in the manor.

“Going well, isn’t it?” The duke had only come downstairs once since the house party began a week ago, but sounds of raucous cheer had filtered to his bedchamber, and he’d entertained a stream of visitors.

“Yes, indeed. The cast has arrived for the pantomime, and Isabelle is working with them.”

“Isabelle?” the duke asked uncertainly.

“Your granddaughter, Lady Isabelle Wilkshire,” Cressie said.

“That’s right. Never married, obsessed by the theater. Unsuitable, very.” He nodded, satisfied. “What else?”

“The Prime Minister told me in confidence that he is feeling much better about the outcome of the farm bill in Lords.”

Her father scoffed. “Nothing more exciting?”

“The lead opera singer at the Theater Royal had chosen Lord Bennett as her new protector,” Cressie offered. “Last night Lady Bennett tossed a cup of mulled wine at his head.”

“That’s more like it,” the duke said, smiling. “Wouldn’t be the Revelry without scandal.”

There were seven days to go in the duke’s annual Christmas festivity—if His Grace’s death didn’t cut the party short. Cressie was fairly certain that her father would refuse to accompany the Grim Reaper until the last carriage had rolled away.

“The Revelry must go on,” the duke said, as if he heard her thought. “We’ve only missed the one year, when your mother passed. We must have at least another decade! Damn it, Cressie, he has to carry on my legacy.”

He was the duke’s heir.

The Duke of Greystoke and his wife had been blessed with five daughters but no heir, tragedy underscored by the death of his brother. The title and estate would devolve to his nephew, Valentine Snowe, Viscount Derham.

Valentine, or Val to his family, was pleasant enough, although Cressie had to admit that she scarcely knew him. He dutifully attended the Christmas Revelry on the express command of the duke, but he eschewed the ballroom and closeted himself with a group of men as reclusive and rakish as he.

“A few months ago, Val had the gall to tell me that he wouldn’t carry on with the Revelry,” the duke barked.

Cressie didn’t think that Val could carry on. The truth was that the work of throwing the complicated series of parties and events that made up the annual Revelry was hers. For more than a decade, she had created the invitation list and designed all the elaborate entertainments.

Yet much as she had enjoyed the creative license her father had given her, she wanted to do something else with her life. She longed for a house of her own, and someday a family, rather than an existence consumed by an annual party.

“Changed his tune now,” the duke said, his voice triumphant.

“How did you do that, Father?” Cressie asked.

“I made him an offer he can’t refuse.”

“Indeed?” Cressie murmured, wondering if she should turn the evening’s quartet into a trio. One violinist hadn’t made an appearance.

“I am giving him the Scottish estate,” her father announced, darting a glance at Cressie. “For foolishly sentimental reasons, he wants that estate. But I told him that he couldn’t have it unless he swore to hold the Revelry for the next decade.”

Cressie straightened and her heart gave a sickening thump. The list slid from her hands to the floor. The Scottish estate had long been promised as her dowry, or if she didn’t marry, a place for her to live once the ducal estate passed out of her father’s hands.

“Pick that up!” her father ordered. “You’re always dropping things.”

Cressie’s stomach clenched into a knot. She loved designing and running the enormous machinery of the Revelry. But she didn’t want it to be her life’s work.

“Why should you mind?” her father demanded. “The Revelry is my legacy, all I leave behind, since I had no sons.” He didn’t meet her eyes, because he knew perfectly well how unfair he was being.

“I do mind,” Cressie said hotly, bending over to grab the list.

“I’ll make Val promise to take care of you. He has to take care of you because you’re key to the whole thing.”

“I refuse to be that key!” Cressie retorted, springing to her feet. “You presuppose I will agree to continuing the work involved in the Revelry—and I will not! You promised me Morley House years ago, Father.”

Her father turned his head so their furious eyes finally met. Cressie held her ground, staring back at him. “I want to marry and have a house of my own. Future Christmas parties I plan will be mine, not yours. To be absolutely clear, Father, I refuse to live at Greystoke Manor, nor will I continue planning the Revelry.”

“I require you to do so,” the duke growled, his thick eyebrows bristling.

Cressie gritted her teeth. Apparently, her father wanted her to spend her entire life in the castle, growing gray and old while hiring acrobats and arranging for the annual pantomime, watching other people kiss under the mistletoe—and never being kissed herself.

Her father’s legacy would continue, and no one would ever know that it was really her legacy.

“You, Daughter, will do as I say!” The duke hauled on the velvet cord that hung beside his bed, and when a footman instantly opened the door, spat at him. “Fetch my heir.”

“This is unfair!” Cressie cried. “You promised me the Scottish estate after my debut was cut short. You could—you could give it to Val after my death.”

“Ungrateful chit!” her father sputtered. “You can live a life of luxury here in the manor, a security that many old maids don’t have. It’s not my fault you aren’t married. Every gentleman worth his salt has passed through this house. If you couldn’t attract one of them, we all know why!” He cast a withering look at Cressie. “How could a daughter of mine turn out such a plain, dowdy creature, trailing scraps of paper in your wake like a rubbish barge?”

“I never said it was your fault that I’m not married,” Cressie said. Her throat was tightening, and she had a horrible feeling she might cry. “I’m only twenty-three; I may still marry. I shall if you don’t give away my dowry!”

The door opened again, and Val walked in, accompanied by his friend Elias, Lord Darcy de Royleston.

Her father didn’t notice. “Your dowry is irrelevant! Not a soul has offered to marry you, dowry or no, and I’ve already changed my will!”

“Please forgive me. We were coming along the corridor,” Val said, walking forward. His face was utterly composed, but Cressie thought she saw amusement in his eyes. “I hope you don’t mind that I brought de Royleston with me, Duke.” He bowed. “Cressie.” He bowed again.

Cressie didn’t bother to answer, just brushed by and ran out of the room. She felt sick to her stomach, her heart pounding, tears pressing on her eyes.

She had had no debut Season because it took most of the year to plan the Revelry, and her father would spare her for only three weeks.

So now she was, at twenty-three, an old maid.

She wasn’t precisely plain, because she had a wealth of pale yellow hair that had been particularly admired when she debuted. But she was short, and her mouth was a little too wide, and her nose turned up at the end. She did tend to scribble ideas on scraps of paper and leave them around the house. Her hair was forever falling from its pins. She wasn’t neat, and tidy, and perfect.

All the same, Val had been amused by the mere idea that someone might to want to marry her.

Even worse, Elias had overheard it too.

Lord Darcy de Royleston was the sort of man who wandered about with no idea of the effect his features had on the female population. He had dark hair and a strong nose that combined with angled cheekbones and a square jaw to give him the air of a medieval knight. A French knight, because he had a delicious accent. He would look marvelous in a suit of armor with a liveried page or two in attendance.

Put that together with a large estate, even before he inherited a title and further lands from his father, and an absurd amount of time at the Revelry was wasted in gossip about him.

Cressie scarcely knew de Royleston, other than the odd formal conversation. She thought of him as Elias because . . .

Just because.

Which made it all worse that he had overheard her father’s scathing comment about her marital prospects.

Likely, Elias had laughed at her as well. Probably, all three of them were chortling over her wish to wed, given what a lumpish fright she was.

She made it to her room before bursting into tears, which was a blessing.

Plain, dowdy, weepy—and undowered? No Scottish estate?

Her father was right. No man would take her.

She’d have to become a companion, fetching and carrying for one of her older sisters.

No. She was a duke’s daughter, still Lady Cressida, even without a dowry. She wouldn’t be a companion, but a wilted maiden aunt, sitting in the corner, gray hair poking out from under her ruffled cap, dropping crumpets instead of paper.

Wonderful. Just wonderful.

End of Excerpt

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Mistletoe Christmas: An Anthology is available in the following formats:

ISBN: 978-0063139695
September 28, 2021

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