In my newest release Sinfully Ever After the hero and heroine encounter each other during a snowy Yuletide in the small fictional village of Hawcombe Prior. As is often the case for authors, I worked on this story six months before it was due for release, so as I enjoyed the first balmy days of summer and listened to the purr of the air conditioner, I was writing about country lanes whitened with frost, cozy fireplaces, rum punch and plum pudding.
Oddly enough, it wasn't difficult to get into the mood at all. I played one of my favorite Christmas CDs "To Drive the Cold Winter Away" by Loreena McKennitt (whose music I always find inspirational, no matter which story I'm working on). I also thought a lot about my own childhood Christmases in England, walking with my sisters through the first crisp fall of snow with the street lamps glowing, everything so lovely and peaceful.
Until I was on the receiving end of a few merciless, well-aimed snowballs, of course.
Ah, the joys of wet woolen gloves and frozen toes, the thrill of opening another door on the Advent Calendar, and decorating the tree with the same familiar ornaments— each one holding a special memory, meaning and place in my heart.
Even the chilly weather is easy to forgive when we have hot chocolate to come home to, presents wrapped under the tree, and all the other indulgences we allow ourselves during the season. One thing I particularly remember— and a tradition I still continue— is the Christmas tin of Quality Street chocolates. It's just not Christmas without one of those big drums of prettily wrapped candies. And oh, the depression, when there's only a few of the less popular, hard toffees left by the first days of the new year! That's when you know the holiday is over.
Although a Regency era Yuletide did not include all the same pleasures we know today, the idea of spending time with family, toasting the season around a roaring fire, and reflecting on the past year must have felt just the same then as it does now.
Regency celebrations did not include a Christmas tree (that was introduced in the Victorian period by Albert, the Prince Consort), but our relatives in the past still enjoyed a hearty feast of food and drink with friends, family and neighbors. In some families— including Jane Austen's— children were given "Christmas Boxes" that contained money, and they sang carols, collecting money which they donated to the poor. Fanny Austen Knight (Jane's niece) wrote about different amusements that took place every evening from Christmas Day to Twelfth Night. These entertainments included games, masquerades, plays and balls.
In Sinfully Ever After, my characters enjoy a treasure hunt on Christmas Eve, which turns out to be enlightening in more ways than one and gives two of my very favorite creations a chance to be alone together with some convenient mistletoe.
I enjoyed following Rebecca and "Lucky" Luke Wainwright along snowy lanes and into the warm, festive parlors of their friends and family to share in their merriment. In fact, I became so deeply involved in their story that it was easy to forget the sun shining brightly in the sky and bees buzzing through the clover outside my window. I hope you find yourself drawn in to their Yuletide celebrations too. I know you'll be very welcome!
I'll leave you with an excerpt from the Christmas Eve treasure hunt in the village of Hawcombe Prior.
Now which Quality Street chocolate should I eat next? Hmm...
They reached the apple trees and there, sure enough, they found mistletoe. He set the basket down and reached up into the branches, using his handy knife to sever a bunch.
"When I was young," he grunted, "there was a bower of mistletoe put up in the servant's hall below stairs."
"I suppose you captured the hapless housemaids beneath it."
"I didn't have to capture them. They hung about under it, just waiting for me to pass." He looked down at her, grinning.
Yes, she could quite imagine it. Not that she wanted to.
He continued, "Each time a kiss was taken, a berry was plucked off the bower. Then, once the berries were all gone, no more kisses could be stolen beneath it." With a deep sigh, he examined the clump of pearly berries he'd cut free. "I always thought it was a very sad sight, that empty bower of mistletoe. Meant all the jollities were over for another year."
Was it the moonlight catching his sad face that made her want to cheer it up? He looked wickedly handsome. Even youthful perhaps. "I very much doubt you waited a full year for more jollities," she exclaimed in a whisper.
With the Colonel's arms reaching overhead again for more mistletoe he seemed even taller and she, standing beside him, felt very small, awestruck by his powerful musculature. She had forgotten the faint odor of manure on his boots for that was overcome by masculine sweat and something else. Lemons and sage? Perhaps Sarah had attempted to douse him in scent before they came out that evening. Poor Sarah, hers was an uphill task, but she was quite a stubborn little thing.
As he handed the mistletoe down to her, Becky plucked one of the berries from the cluster. "I daresay you want a kiss from me now," she whispered. "The way you used to take them from those housemaids."
Surely that was why he told her the story.
But he looked startled when the berry rolled into his palm from her fingers.
"You may have just one," she added, pert. "It is Christmas and Jussy assures me it's the season of good will to all men. Even you."
"Even me, eh?"
Becky nodded. Despite the cold air she was rather hot. And looking up at his mouth was making her hotter.
A sudden gust of wind blew through the broken pane of glass and the lantern flame went out, leaving them in moonlight. Her pulse was speeding recklessly, just as it was when he tickled her palm, and raced the gig with her in it. Just as it had when he kissed her before.
"One berry to make our peace," she said.
"I would like that. I don't want us to be at war, Rebecca."Whenever he said her first name it made her throat feel tight, as if something lurked there waiting to fly out. She was rarely called "Rebecca" these days unless she'd done something wrong and had to be reprimanded. Or unless they were being formal in Mrs. Makepiece's house, of course.
"But I'm not going to kiss you again," he said softly.
She thought she'd misheard. Had he not told her that they should make the most of this time alone?
"Like I warned you at the party, Miss Sherringham," he muttered, "you'll get no more kisses like that from me, until our wedding night."
She knew her mouth had fallen open, but if anything came out she didn't hear it.
"I'm a gentleman now, " he added, with just a hint of smug. "Gentlemen don't kiss young lady's on their lips."
Title: Sinfully Ever After
Series: Book Club Belles Society
Author: Jayne Fresina
Pubdate: December 2, 2014
Teaching scandalous young men a lesson? This is not your typical book club
To Rebecca Sherringham, all men are open books—read quickly and forgotten. Perhaps she’s just too practical for love. The last thing she needs is another bore around—especially one that’s supposed to be dead.
Captain Lucius “Luke” Wainwright turns up a decade after disappearing without a trace. He’s on a mission to claim his birthright and he’s not going away again until he gets it. But Becky and the ladies of the village Book Club Belles Society won’t let this rogue get away with his sins. He’ll soon find that certain young ladies are accustomed to dealing with villains.
Jayne Fresina sprouted up in England. Entertained by her father’s colorful tales of growing up in the countryside, and surrounded by opinionated sisters, she’s always had inspiration for her beleaguered heroes and unstoppable heroines. She lives in upstate New York. Visit www.jaynefresina.com.