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
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
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
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
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.”
“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
“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
Lotte stared after them. “What an annoying beast that
Veronica rose to her feet. “I assume you are speaking
of Sir Hugo. Sir Sebastian struck me as most cordial and
Lotte scoffed. “Cut from the same cloth, no doubt.”
“He is a man, dear.” Veronica smiled. “We must make
“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
“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.”