It’s another week gone by so that must mean it’s First Kiss Friday! Thanks for dropping by my blog. Please welcome my dear friend Veronica Crowe who is sharing an excerpt from her novella The Last Christmas that is in the boxset Star of Wonder. It’s never too early to start reading a holiday love story and with this set, you’ll be ready for the holiday season. Happy reading, my lovelies, and enjoy!
“You look ready to retire,” he said, rising from his seat. “Allow me to escort you upstairs.”
They climbed the staircase and strolled down the hallway in companiable silence, until they reached her door.
“Thank you for letting us decorate,” Lara said as they faced each other.
“It is my pleasure.” He took her hand in his and looked deeply into her eyes like he did the night before.
Lara fought the urge to hope, even as he leaned closer, his eyes dropping to her lips.
No. She would not fall for this kissing nonsense again.
But to her utter shock, he angled his head and tenderly cupped her jaw with an elegant hand. He rubbed his thumb in a mesmerizing pattern along her jawline and her resistance crumbled. She was not imagining things this time. It was truly happening—she could clearly see the desire in his eyes.
Perhaps. . . wishes do come true. . .
She closed her eyes as his breath fanned on her cheek, and waited… and waited… and waited…
“I’ve been itching all day to do this,” he said, his thumb moving more firmly on her skin. “This smudge has been driving me crazy.”
Lara opened an eye to see him bent on his task.
“There!” he proclaimed in triumph, releasing her with one last swipe of his thumb. “All gone and clean as can be.”
Lara hoped her mortification did not reflect on her face. His intimate actions and subsequent withdrawal befuddled her. Was he toying with her?
Distress shot through her heart. But of course. He must have read her foolish infatuation to him and wanted to satisfy his conceit. Lovesick simpleton that she was, she fell for it not once—but twice!
This is what happens when you allow yourself to fall for a man who is utterly out of your reach! she chastised herself, overwhelmed with disappointment. To her chagrin, tears sprang in her eyes without warning.
“Good night, Your Grace.” She abruptly turned her back to him and reached for the doorknob.
“Lady Larabelle.” His hand tightened around hers. In her discomfiture, she failed to recall he still held hand her in his.
“Yes?” she replied without turning to face him.
“I am sorry.” He sighed.
“Whatever for?” She gripped the doorknob, stifling the urge to cry.
Large hands alighted on her shoulders. “Please, will you look at me?”
“I—I cannot,” she croaked.
He wedged his body between her and the door and lifted her chin with the crook of his forefinger. “I did not mean to be presumptuous.” He tucked a lock of hair behind her ear.
“No. It was my mistake. I-I thought—” Lara swallowed to keep her voice from shaking. “I’m sorry—it has been a long day. I-I must have taken leave of my senses and misread y-your—”
“Advances?” he raised a dark eyebrow in that fashion she adored and pulled her closer. “No, you did not.”
Lara’s eyes widened. The Duke of Grafton had wanted to kiss. . . her?
“I ache for you, Larabelle,” he whispered, resting his forehead against hers.
Lara’s heart filled with joy at the sound of her given name on his lips. “Oh, James.” She sighed with pleasure at how lovely it felt to reciprocate the intimacy. “And I, for you.”
His eyes darkened but then he suddenly recoiled and swung his gaze away with a muffled oath.
“James?” Lara’s happiness was replaced with trepidation. Was he going to push her away again? But the anguish in his expression told her otherwise. She gently turned his face to her. “What’s wrong?”
He squeezed his eyes shut and drew a long breath, slowly releasing it with a hiss before he opened his eyes again. “Pardon my lapse in manners. It is nothing—nothing important.” He gave her a mollifying smile.
Lara watched him shift to a more pleasant, lighthearted demeanor and wondered if the sorrow she saw in his eyes not a minute past was a figment of her imagination.
“Shall we continue where we left off?” He wrapped his strong arms around her, enfolding her in his warmth.
She moistened her lips, her pulse racing, her eyes instinctively closing as he tilted her face up to him.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, a sliver of concern lurked beneath the rapture she felt. She could still—possibly—suffer another dose of humiliation because of her foolishness.
Lara inwardly cringed at the unthinkable.
However, she should not have dwelled on her insecurity, because this time around, no more waiting was necessary. To her sheer pleasure and utmost relief, at long last—the handsome and elusive Duke of Grafton—kissed her.
The Last Christmas
By Veronica Crowe
“This tale was inspired by the Christmas carol, “Stille Nacht” or “Silent Night.” Like the song, this story is about hope, faith, and redeeming grace. True love knows no boundaries and conquers all, and if you pray with all your heart and believe, miracles can happen.”
After more than a decade of relentless galivanting around the world, James Oliver Draven, the Duke of Grafton, had finally returned home.
He had done everything he wished to do with satisfaction. Tirelessly pursued knowledge and experience from every opportunity he could, with more vibrance and adventure than any man could manage in two lifetimes. He could not want for anything more.
He was ready to go.
So, what was he doing, nursing sentiments of powerful affection and desire so fierce, he could not help but hope for more days—years, even—and dream of sharing a life with another?
Of all the worst coincidences in the world—why did he have to meet the woman he could see himself having a life with—now?
Now—when his days were numbered, and he had no life to give?
Larabelle Howard, the Earl of Berkshire’s daughter, had one goal in returning to England from America:
She wished to spend one last Christmas at her dear departed papa’s beloved country manor, before her mother sold it to the highest bidder.
As to how she ended up insulting a duke, sleeping in his home, and developing a ridiculous infatuation to him like a moon-eyed ninny at the ripe old age of five and twenty–all in one day–was completely beyond her.
But of course, it would not lead to anything—she knew that. He was the Duke of Grafton, and she—was the odd neighbor who wore breeches and knew how to fix roofs! What was she thinking?
Their “almost” kiss—that’s what.
The tenderness on his face as he gazed at her—she was almost convinced that he reciprocated her attraction. And that intensity in his eyes as he moved closer; his stare locked onto her mouth. She was almost certain he was going to kiss her.
Had she imagined the whole thing? Why did she have the feeling that he was pushing her away, because he was hiding something?
Buy Link for the boxset Star of Wonder: https://www.amazon.com/Star-Wonder-Historical-Romance-Collection-ebook/dp/B097J42L9W
About the Author:
Veronica Crowe is the author of the Heirs of Cornwall series from Dragonblade Publishing, a three-book Regency romance full of romantic entanglements, hilarious misadventures, profound, heartfelt moments, and grand happy endings. Her poignant novella, titled, The Last Christmas, can be found in the 2021 holiday collection, Star of Wonder. Currently, she is completing the first book in her urban fantasy series, The Royal Eucalyxian Empire, titled, The Prince and The Quinterian, slated to be released in 2022.