Fiction Fictional Romance Historical Romance novels

Romantic Christmas 1773.

Recently, on a romance blog, someone asked about romance at Christmas. There are actually very few romance novels set at Christmas, but all three of mine include an important Christmas scene. Beginning tonight, I will be posting one of those a week. This is the first from Cardinal Points. Christmas in 1773 occurred one week after the men dumped the tea in the harbor, but I bet everyone wanted to pretend life would go on as normal. CP Front Cover_small

Excerpt from Cardinal Points

Oona sat in a public pew in the small wooden church. Her mind wandered from the minister’s words, and she stared out the clear windows at the clear winter light. It always served to clear whatever confusion she suffered in her life. But this morning her mind was full of other things. Oona shivered against the cold, glad of hot coals in her small foot warmer.

She continued her prayers begun the evening before, asking for guidance on the new path she would have to follow. As the minister talked of things that meant little to her, she found her mind wandering and she began to think about Jason FitzSimmon. Not all her musings were pleasant, and she kept asking herself why Jason, son of a duke, with a title and a family that would catch any American heiress, would waste his time with a maid who had nothing. Of course he wouldn’t. She had nothing to offer, no dowry, no family name, no family. What would he want from her but what every man wanted, and that she would not give him, even if that was what she wanted too.

She stopped her wandering thoughts, and pulled her mind back to the service just as it ended. She pulled on her cloak and grabbed her small brazier. Many people would return to the meeting house after lunch for an afternoon of prayer and instruction, but ministers understood that servants had obligations to their earthly mistresses and masters. So when the minister wished them a good meal, Oona thanked him and made her way back over the hill.  New South’s service was longer than the Goodiel’s at King’s Chapel, so she hurried home and went right to work in the kitchen helping Mrs. Prince knead pastry dough for the fancy dinner that evening.

That was where Anne found her an hour later. “Oona, when you are done here, could you mind the girls? They need to dress for the party and so do you. Nanny has the night off. Suzie and Darcie are here, so don’t worry about being needed to serve. I think you should wear the red. I haven’t seen it, but if you’ve finished it – I believe the color should suit you.” The woman rushed on, not leaving Oona space to agree, comment, or disagree. Anne Goodiel called back at her “…and Oona? I need you to come to church with us next weekend. It’s Christmas and I think the household should be seen together.”

Finally given a chance to speak, Oona muttered a “yes, Ma’am.” She went up to the girls’ room, where she found nurse putting on her cloak and hood, getting ready to leave. The children curtseyed to her as she left.

Oona dressed Mary and Willie and sent them off to help Darcie, and to tell Suzie to come upstairs to help her dress. She went up to her room to find the red gown Anne Goodiel had requested she wear. Originally it had been a deep red augmented with the rust-colored trim that would bring out Anne Goodiels red highlights. It was a lovely, light wool, made in a split skirt and split sleeves with the dark rust silk used for the petticoat and undersleeves. Oona’s re-creation of it was more daring. She had closed the split skirt and removed the silk in the sleeve, replacing it with a white, ethereal lace. She had changed the neckline too. Lowering it and changing the bodice so that with the proper stays, her breasts were pushed right to the edge of the top of the bodice, waiting to spill over. She was tempted to hide her neckline under a warm shawl or fichu, but she knew that was just cowardice, and she had vowed to be brave on her new path.

Jason approached the well-lit house with some anxiety. He had gone to church at the Christ Church in the North End that morning. It was a church whose architecture appealed to seamen since it was built by shipwrights as an upside down ship. He liked its tall steeple and the clear windows that let in the cold early winter light. It was generally expected that everyone would go to one church or another on a Sunday morning, but that seriousness ended at lunch and he’d spent the early afternoon with friends eating good food and listening to tales.

Although he had gone to sea before his fifteenth birthday, spending another Christmas away from his family left Jason feeling very far from home. He would like nothing more than to find a way to create a home, somewhere in the world, but an evening spent among Boston’s elite merchant class, did not feel like the best way to realize his dream.

A knock with the fox-head brought immediate attention, with little Willie doing the honors, overseen by her sister Mary. The little girls looked up at Jason, and not recognizing him, ran for their mother. Anne Goodiel returned a moment later with her small daughters in tow and took his coat to hang. She offered the rest room, a small room off the main hall he had noticed on an earlier visit. There were guests in there – fixing their clothing and applying powder to hair and face. But, since he had traveled no more than three blocks from his home to the Goodiel’s dinner party, he thanked her and shook his head no.

Anne chased her daughters toward the young maid who came to collect them, and showed him into the great room. There were tables covered with cheeses, fruits, and bowls of various flavors of punch, and everywhere boughs and hangings of pine and fir. Jason thanked his hostess, and helped himself to food and drink.
He realized that he was the stranger in the midst of merchants, captains, their wives and their families. These men and women had known each other their whole lives, grown up together, married into each other’s families and gone into business together. He thought he might know a few of the men who sailed for Matthew Goodiel on other ships, but they were probably at sea, or home with their own families.

The crowd was relaxed, even boisterous. Talk often veered to the tea’s destruction only a few days before. Curiosity, but not real worry as to what Parliament’s reaction would be, ran high. Jason assumed by the talk that most of the Goodiel’s guests were loyalists, with the caveat that they be left alone to earn their fortunes. Jason sympathized with that attitude, it was one he had always harbored toward his aristocratic and autocratic family, and secretly, toward the monarchy as well.
There were people dancing. Jason watched a set and realized that although he had not set foot at any sort of assembly or party for many years, he remembered most of the dances. He turned to a group of young ladies waiting to be asked to dance. He had seen these same girls with their parents only minutes before. Now they had coalesced into a giggling group, leaving their mamas and papas on the other side of the room, but it was obvious they were the daughters of merchant and ship owning families. Jason asked one young lady to dance. She smiled a polite yes, and he escorted her into their place in line. The dance was a reel, and although some couples danced far better, and some far worse, Jason enjoyed moving around the floor with his partner.

He tried to push the thoughts of Oona away, the day they had spent pouring over charts in these very rooms, but he could not help looking to see if she were serving punch or dancing with one of the men. It was toward the end of the first set that he noticed a group of young children dancing and patiently being instructed by Oona and one of the other girls. The children were doing a good job of keeping up with their teachers, and the whole group was obviously having fun. He could not help but be envious of the children who had the undivided attention of the pretty maid. But it was not his place to abandon the young ladies who expected Goodiel’s new mate to partner them in the coming dances.

Oona lifted her head from teaching little Jimmy Russell the steps to a gavotte. As she looked across the hall she recognized many of the guests, and felt comfortable. She had spent the day rehearsing her new outlook. It was good, she thought, to understand the world in which she lived. Even if one did not quite fit in, yet.
Scanning the small crowd, she spotted Jason. He was dancing with a very pretty girl. Cordelia Bonnel, a rich captain’s daughter. Oona knew her and their household. She was precisely the sort of young woman Jason should marry. Her father had the connections that would aid Jason in his work, and her dowry would propel him forward. In no time he would be the captain of a fine vessel himself. She swallowed her sorrow, and worked at being delighted for him.

She turned back to her small charges, but after the next dance they were ushered off to an early dinner, then games and sleep in the nursery while their parents ate and danced. Anne Goodiel had asked Oona to attend the party as a member of the household, so as much as she might want to, she could not go off and hide with the children. She got herself something to eat and drink and set to watching the dancers for a while. She didn’t know if she was delighted for herself or disappointed for Jason as he walked away from the charming Cordelia. The girl made no effort to tie him into another dance. In fact, she barely looked back and walked away not looking at all smitten or wistful. She watched as he next asked Natalie Rowe to dance. Her cousins were the powerful merchant Rowes. Her father was a lawyer. Another good match for him. Natalie was pretty and lively. She smiled and flirted with Jason as they danced. The reel was not one in which partners spent a great time together, and both Jason and Natalie seemed to smile and flirt with all their partners equally. Oona fixed the girl with Jason in her imagination, she remembered that she was a skilled artist and a good musician. She would make a fine wife; her connections and money would help Jason in untold ways. Oona scolded herself that Jason would be happy with these girls or others just like them.

She watched as he took his farewell from Natalie just as he had Cordelia. He kissed the girl’s knuckles very politely, and he smiled pleasantly but blandly into his partner’s eyes. Oona watched Jason’s eyes as he moved from one dance partner to the other. Yes, he’d gazed appreciatively, and smiled gently into their eyes. His eyes lacked intensity. She was sure she would have noticed that yellow eyed glow his eyes had when he looked at her. The gleam that she could only describe as wolfish. She smiled a self-satisfied smile, and hummed silently as the small orchestra began their next piece.

Oona was asked to dance by a merchant’s son, nephew of Dr. Church. Peter Church was a well known dandy and man about town. He was also a fantastic dancer. They spun around the floor, always ending where they should, Peter’s skill making her feel lovely and light. Oona smiled her thanks as Peter leaned over to kiss her hand. He stared into her eyes just a second too long. Oona felt uncomfortable and turned away to stifle a nervous giggle. There was something odd about the man. On the dance floor he was tremendously skilled, but off, he was like a fish out of water. Maybe, Oona held up a linen handkerchief to her hide her smiling lips, his natural domain was the dance floor, just as a fish’s was the ocean. In seconds another young man asked her to dance. And she left Peter Church and images of his floundering on dry land, behind.

Jason watched Oona laughing and swirling with the eligible young men of Boston. These really were the men she should hope for. As the Goodiels seemed to be sponsoring her, maybe this evening was her entre of sorts. He fisted his hands in frustration, knowing he would never be considered eligible. Certainly he had his youth and lack of funds working against him. He stood in the shadows and watched Oona fly around the floor. As the set ended, he saw Anne Goodiel hurry over to speak to her young charge.

Oona thanked her latest partner and leaned against a tall chair for support as she caught her breath. She was having a very good time. She was surprised that Mrs. Goodiel had asked her to attend. She had the thought that maybe now, with her indenture nearly ended, her mistress wanted to secure her entre into local society. Oona hadn’t considered that she ever would, but this evening was an unexpected treat.
“Oona! Could you see to a small problem we have at the punch bowl?”

“A problem at the punch bowl? She followed Anne’s gaze to the other side of the room and a large puddle of punch spreading on the floor.

“Yes, Ma’am.” Oona muttered dutifully her lovely bubble bursting, just as she was so enjoying the evening.

She had stashed a bucket and rags behind the cloth that covered the punch table. She had also pointed out the location of the cleaning supplies to the staff who were hired to work the party, so it had not been necessary to ask her to deal with the sticky floor. Oona understood Anne’s message very clearly, as she got on her hands and knees in her fine red wool gown to mop up the spill. She just didn’t understand why the woman wanted her at the party after the children had left. Oona wished she could wipe so hard a hole would open in the wooden floor and she could fall into it.

Jason was shocked and disgusted as he watched Anne Goodiel send Oona to mop up a spill at the punch table. He hastened over to that table, striking up conversations with the gentlemen and ladies in the area. He hoped to be so distracting they did not notice the dark-haired girl in the beautiful red gown mopping the floor. As he heard her shove the bucket and rags back under the table, he turned to offer his hand and help her rise.
“Miss Oona, may I have this next dance.” Jason spoke in his most elegant tones, thinking his oldest brother, the duke in training, had nothing on him at this moment.

“Oh yes, that would be lovely.” Oona was only barely aware of Anne Goodiel glaring at her from nearby, as she put her cold, slightly damp hand into Jason’s warm, safe one. She looked into those brown, wolfish eyes with their intense light. She felt a tingle of something more than simple pleasure as he tightened his grip ever so slightly, and lifted her up – as if out of a deep court curtsey.

Time stopped. Jason whirled her into the dance. Oona paid no attention to her feet which instinctively followed Jason’s every step, instead she looked into his deep brown eyes. Those canine streaks that had been lacking as he danced with the merchants’ daughters, had reappeared, and her heartbeat sped up more than the jig’s speed required. She recognized the signals of a man’s interest, but Jason’s fascination exceeded that. She understood that she was being hunted. She also knew that she should drop her gaze coquettishly as other girls would. She couldn’t, instead she continued to accept his direct gaze. She held her chin high as that same gaze moved approvingly over her body and gown.

As the dance ended, she curtseyed to him as he bowed. She watched the dancers move off to the dinner room – no one bothered looking in her direction. She took a moment to catch her breath before politely thanking Jason and moving away. He made no move to leave her side, instead he seemed to be scanning the room, seeking something. He turned back to her and smiled, and she smiled back, in what she hoped was appropriately genteel way. She took a step away, as if to do something elsewhere. Jason touched her arm to stop her going. They stood together, each looking out into the room as though they were each looking to move on. Oona felt Jason’s hand on her back. He moved his fingers slowly and teasingly up back to play with the soft hairs at the base of her neck. He had angled them so that his arm and her back were successfully out of the view of anyone still in the room.

Before that dance with Oona, Jason’d had enough of the Goodiel’s party. He could not leave early – his new post on Goodiel’s ship, and a long ingrained politeness, prevented him from grabbing his coat and storming out of the house, but he could not dance with any more town lovelies. It was just as well Mrs. Goodiel had tried to humiliate her pretty maid before the crowd, it distracted him, given him something to do.

He whispered something in her ear, then he moved off toward the dinner room with the rest of the stragglers. Oona walked the room, looking for broken glass and tipping candlesticks. She kept busy with the normal mess left behind by a successful party. The bayberry candles she had helped Mary and Willie put around the room, had burned to stubs, and many were already out. The dancing was over and the musicians had gone home, so there was no need to find replacements. Oona cleaned up the stubs, putting them aside for the candlemaker to reuse. Then she gazed over the room simply enjoying the quiet and privacy of the darkened, empty room.

In a few minutes she stepped behind the heavy winter drapes into the cold, bowed window. She summoned her courage, telling herself that this was a necessary step in becoming her new self, but a part of her knew that she was simply giving into delightful temptation. Footsteps sounded in the empty room and came toward her hiding place. She felt the shiver of something she barely recognized as excitement, from her toes to her chin. She moved back into the darkest shadows of the alcove and looked down. Black shiny boots stood still, just on the other side of the heavy drapes. In one step they were through.

Oona stared at the shiny leather, and then slowly moved her eyes from the fine boots up to the face of the man who had suggested their meeting. As her eyes found Jason’s, she didn’t know if she was delighted to see her new friend, or frightened by the look of conquest in his eyes. She was just realizing that the smart thing would be to push herself away from him. Flee upstairs to the lonely safety of her cold room on the third floor. But instead she pushed herself closer to him. Almost without movement he gently compelled them into the deepest shadows of the alcove and out of the direct draft of the cold glass. He leaned into her, pulling her to him at the same time. He very gently brushed her lips with one hand, while the other wound escaped tendrils of soft dark hair around his fingers at the back of her neck. As he feathered her lips, he traced her delicious neckline slowly with one finger, not upsetting the elegant gown or its wearer.
He kissed her gently, deepening it and holding her close but not intimately, while waiting for her response – positive or negative.