printed copy

His Mistress By Christmas

Victoria Alexander

ISBN 9781420117080
Publish Date 9/25/2012
Format Paperback
Categories Zebra, Historical, Romance
List Price: $7.99

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For three years, Lady Veronica Smithson has been perfectly happy as a widow—and thoroughly independent. Still, the right gentleman could provide the benefits of marriage without the tedious restrictions. And in Sir Sebastian Hadley-Attwater, renowned explorer and rogue, Veronica is sure she has found him.

Sebastian will come into his inheritance in a matter of weeks—if his family deems him responsible enough. There’s no better way to prove his maturity than with a wife. But though Veronica will share his bed, she refuses to marry. However, Sebastian has a plan: An intimate sojourn at his new country house will surely change Veronica’s mind. For Sebastian never takes no for an answer. And he intends to persuade his Christmas mistress that they belong together—in this, and every season to come…

“This Victorian yuletide romance provides erotic sizzle and delectably clever dialogue on every page.” –USA Today

"For love, laughter, and lots of fun, read Victoria Alexander." --Stephanie Laurens, New York Times bestselling author

“Warm, witty and wise.” --Julia Quinn, New York Times bestselling author

Chapter One

November 30, 1885

“He’s the one,” Veronica, Lady Smithson, said softly, more to herself than to the woman beside her. She smiled with satisfaction. She did so love it when all went according to plan.

“Shhh.” Portia, Lady Redwell, hushed her and gazed with pride at the speaker behind the podium on the stage at the far end of the room.

“. . . and admittedly, while it was somewhat more adventure than we had bargained for, in hindsight it was not merely exciting but quite remarkable.” Sir Sebastian Hadley- Attwater paused in the polished manner of an expert speaker and gazed out at the audience seated before him in the Explorers Club lecture hall.

A knowing smile carved deep dimples in a face that would be altogether too handsome were it not a bit browner than was fashionable. An intriguing scar slanted across his forehead above his right brow. His blue eyes, under hair so dark a blond it was nearly brown, gleamed with humor and intelligence. He scanned the room slowly, and only a woman long in her grave would fail to wonder what it would be like to have those eyes gaze at her and her alone.

Veronica noted the moment he caught sight of his cousin, sitting beside her toward the back of the hall. His eyes lit in recognition, and Portia beamed. Portia’s parents had died when she was very young, and her aunt and uncle had taken her in. She’d grown up with Sebastian and six other cousins. He nodded slightly in acknowledgment of her presence, then continued his perusal of the audience. His gaze settled on Veronica briefly, although he was no doubt staring at her hat, one of her most impressive, then continued on.

“In conclusion, allow me to say there is only one thing in life that stirs the senses more than stepping foot upon an unknown land or seeing with your own eyes sights only a handful of your fellow men have ever seen.”

His gaze returned to Veronica, this time meeting hers. She raised her chin slightly and cast him a slow smile. A smile of acknowledgment and encouragement, although from what she had heard of the famous adventurer, little encouragement was needed. His exploits with women were as extensive as his adventures in foreign lands, at least according to gossip and Portia.

“And that”—his smile widened and his dimples deepened, if possible—“is at last returning home.”

The most delightful sense of anticipation shivered through her. Oh yes, he would do.

Applause erupted from the crowd that had gathered to spend the evening in the illustrious adventurer’s presence and listen to his stories of uncivilized lands and unknown peoples. It had been an evening filled with the excitement of daring tales told by a master storyteller. Sir Sebastian had held the crowd in his hands.

Veronica leaned close to her friend and spoke low into her ear. “He’s the one.”

“I heard you the first time,” Portia said absently, clapping with an unusual display of enthusiasm. A proud smile curved her lips. “The one what?”

“The one I want.”

“The one you want for what?” Portia’s attention remained on Sir Sebastian, who was now accepting the accolades of the crowd in a modest and unassuming manner. While Veronica suspected there was nothing modest and unassuming about the adventurer, his demeanor added to his appeal. He would do nicely.

“And now, as anyone who has heard me speak before will attest, I have been rather more efficient than usual tonight.”

An amused chuckle washed through the crowd.

“Therefore we have time for a few questions.” Again his gaze sought hers. A challenge sparked in his eyes, as if daring her to do more than meet his gaze. Veronica did indeed have a question, but not one she was prepared to ask. At least, not yet. Immediately a dozen hands shot up. Sir Sebastian pointed to a gentleman toward the front.

“Sir,” the man began. “In your third book, you relate an encounter with a tribe during your expedition down the Amazon, and I was curious as to whether . . .”

“Oh yes, he’s perfect,” Veronica murmured.

Portia snorted in a most unladylike manner. “Nonsense. I was raised with the man. I can tell you any number of ways in which he’s not the least bit perfect. Why, I can recall . . .” Portia glanced at Veronica. “The one you want for what? What are you talking about?” Her eyes narrowed. “What are you planning?”

“Sir Sebastian.” On Veronica’s other side, her aunt Lotte rose to her feet. “I should like to know, given your renown as an explorer and adventurer and as I have been told you are most forward thinking . . .”

“Stop her.” Portia clutched Veronica’s arm.

“Would that I could.” Veronica patted her friend’s hand in a comforting manner and bit back a grin. She should have expected this. Miss Charlotte Bramhall had her own campaign to wage.

“Thank you, ma’am. I do try to be progressive.” Sir Sebastian favored Aunt Lotte with his compelling smile. A smile that surely made every other gentleman in the hall wish to be him and every lady wish to be with him. Veronica wondered if the older woman was at all affected.

Apparently not. Aunt Lotte’s expression remained firm.

“Excellent.” Aunt Lotte nodded. “Then I should like to know your opinion as to the acceptance of women as members of the Explorers Club.”

A groan passed through the crowd, and Portia’s hand tightened.

Sir Sebastian’s brows drew together. “I’m afraid I don’t quite understand the question.”

“It’s very simple, young man. Do you or do you not support full membership for women?”

Sir Sebastian chose his words with obvious care. “It seems to me, as you are here tonight and the lectures of the society are open to all, there is no need to grant full membership to the fairer sex as it would only be a . . .” He thought for a moment. “An undue burden, as it were.” Again he smiled an altogether pleasant smile, although Aunt Lotte might well interpret it as condescending. Poor man. He might have come face-to-face with uncivilized natives in the far jungles of the globe, but he had never done battle with Miss Charlotte Bramhall. Sir Sebastian continued with innocent disregard for his imminent danger. “It’s my understanding that full members residing in London are required to participate fully in all matters regarding governing of the organization.”

Veronica winced.

“And you think that a burden?” Aunt Lotte squared her shoulders. “Rubbish. As progressive as you may be, Sir Sebastian, perhaps you are not aware of the significant advancements made in the last twenty years by women through independent travel and sheer determination. Women who can explore the reaches of the Nile can certainly handle the dubious burden of administration of a mere organization.”

“I have no doubt of that.” He chuckled. “But, my dear lady, there is also tradition to be considered. Progress cannot be allowed to simply sweep aside traditions that have been nourished through the years.”

“Tradition, sir, is simply a male excuse—”

“Miss Bramhall!” Sir Hugo Tolliver, director of the Explorers Club, leaped to his feet, fairly pushed Sir Sebastian away from the podium, and glared at Lotte. “This is neither the time nor the place for a debate as to the merits of membership.”

“Do tell me, then . . .” Lotte glared right back. “When would you suggest—”

“Now, ladies and gentlemen,” Sir Hugo pointedly addressed the crowd. “Refreshments are being served in the foyer, and as is our tradition, Sir Sebastian will be joining us.” With that, Sir Hugo escorted Sir Sebastian off the stage and toward the door.

People stood and headed toward the foyer, toward what was more than likely tepid lemonade and the chance to make the personal acquaintance of the adventurous Sir Sebastian.

Lotte stared after them. “What an annoying beast that man is.”

Veronica rose to her feet. “I assume you are speaking of Sir Hugo. Sir Sebastian struck me as most cordial and quite charming.”

Lotte scoffed. “Cut from the same cloth, no doubt.”

“He is a man, dear.” Veronica smiled. “We must make allowances.”

“Ha.” Lotte’s brows drew together. “Women have allowed men to get away with this kind of nonsense for centuries. It’s past time we took our proper place in society.” She glanced at Portia, still seated and trying very hard to look as if she had never met Lotte, or Veronica, either, for that matter. “Are you coming?”

“Of course we are.” Portia reluctantly got to her feet. “He is my cousin, after all.”

“Then you should take him in hand.”

“Go on, Aunt Lotte. We shall meet you there,” Veronica said quickly.

“Very well.” Lotte started off, determination in the set of her shoulders and the spring in her step.

“Whatever possessed you to bring her with us tonight?” Portia glared at her friend.

“I didn’t bring her with us. It was simply a coincidence that she had already planned to attend. A pleasant coincidence.”

“Not the word that immediately comes to my mind.” Portia huffed. “I was afraid this sort of thing would happen.”

“What sort of thing?”

“I knew she would make a spectacle of herself.”

About Victoria Alexander:

New York Times bestselling author Victoria Alexander was an award-winning television reporter until she discovered fiction was much more fun than real life. She turned to writing full time and has never looked back. Victoria grew up traveling the country as an Air Force brat and is now settled in a very old house in Omaha, Nebraska, with her husband, two allegedly grown children and two bearded collies. She firmly believes housework is a four-letter word, there are no calories in anything eaten standing up, procrastination is an art form, and it's never too soon to panic.

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