Favorite Christmas Stories

Last Chance Christmas Ballby Mary Jo

The original Christmas story is of the journey to Bethlehem and the newborn infant who was laid in a manger, and the holiday has been inspiring Christmas stories ever since. They are stories of warmth, family, and love, of kindness and reconciliation.  One of the most famous is the poem "'Twas The Night Before Christmas" written in 1823 by Clement Clark Moore.  The depictions of Santa Claus, the chimney, and the sleigh pulled by reindeer have helped shape the imagery of American Christmases ever after. 

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EXCERPTS PAGE: Mischief and Mistletoe

Below are short teaser excerpts from our anthology, Mischief and Mistletoe.
MischiefMistletoe

“Wench in Wonderland” by Patricia Rice

She couldn’t quite tilt her head to sip. The strong hand returned to ease her a little higher, and she drank greedily. Once the cup was empty, she fell back against satiny soft sheets scented with lavender. She couldn’t remember ever sleeping in such luxury. There must be a very large gap in her memory.

“Do you think Mack forgot we invited her?” a woman whispered.

“More likely, he got her with child and is fleeing responsibility,” a man retorted. “Otherwise, she wouldn’t be traveling without a chaperon. I’d thought it odd that an earl would accept a reprobate like Mack. This could all be a hoax. I’ll send Fred to look for the rascal once the snow clears. I’ll have him dragged home to do the proper thing.”

“Oh dear, really Trev, another child in the Hall. I don’t believe I can bear it.”

Slipping into sleep, she tried to picture a Mack but couldn’t. The sensation of strong hands holding her had replaced all fears with comforting dreams of a security she had never known.

*  *  *

“The Mistletoe Bride” by Anne Gracie

Chapter One
HighTowers House,  Scotland, 1814  

“What you need is a dying woman.”

Ronan McAllister stopped in mid-pace and swung around. “What?”

Adams, his lawyer, shrugged. “If you don’t want to stay married, it’s your best option.”
 
“It’s a bit . . . cold-blooded, don’t you think? To marry a dying woman for the sake of an inheritance.”
 
The lawyer spread his hands in a philosophical gesture. “You said you didn’t want to get married again.”
 
“I don’t. Still…”  Ronan shook his head. “To be taking advantage of someone’s tragedy…”

“Not necessarily. It might make things easier for her.”
 
Ronan frowned. “How so?”
 
“Dying women often fret about the people they leave behind; how they will live, the costs of the funeral and such things.” Adams adjusted his pince nez. “A payment in exchange for marriage could ease the way for such a woman to die in peace.”

Ronan resumed his pacing. He didn’t like it. It went against the grain to use someone’s death for his own gain. But … there was sense in what Adams had said.
 
He didn’t want to marry again, didn’t want to be saddled with a wife. He’d done that. The most miserable five years of his life.
 
A fee could ease the way for a dying woman.

*  *  *
“Miss Brockhurst’s Christmas Campaign” by Jo Beverley

(Penelope Brockhurst has arrived to spend Christmas with the Skerries family, in hope of capturing Ross Skerries now she´s belatedly come to realize he is the love of her life.)

When Lady Skerries took her mother off to speak with an old friend Pen realized she’d been allocated to the young hopefuls. Where else did a twenty-three-year-old spinster fit, but Julia Skerries, only just seventeen, was staring at her as if she were a pagan.

“That’s a wonderful gown, Miss Brockhurst.”

“Thank you. Yours is very pretty.”

“But very conventional.”

Pen smiled. “Time to be unconventional when you’re older.”

“Oh, I hope to be married well before then,” Julia said, innocent of any intent to wound.

Pen had very carefully not searched the room, but now, as Julia chattered nervously about the Christmas festivities, and mistletoe, and the mummers who would come up from the village the next day, she allowed herself to look.

Almost she didn’t see him, for he was sitting down — beside a blond young lady in sprigged white. On the other side of the virtuous maiden sat a proud, beaming mama.

There might as well be a label over them.

Couple engaged to wed.

Bile rose in Pen’s throat and she quickly looked away before she disgraced herself. But by Hades — she was stuck here for twelve days in the torture of the damned.

*  *  *

“Weathering the Storm” by Cara Elliott

“Well?” asked Bentley, breaking the stiff silence. “What is it that you propose?”

“You have the boat, and I have the skills to sail it,” replied Sophie. She might be outspoken and independent to a fault, but no one had ever criticized her nautical expertise. “So, seeing as we both wish to reach London by Christmas, I am suggesting that we pool our resources, as it were.”

A low hiss of air leaked from his lips. “Impossible! What you suggest is highly irregular—not to speak of highly improper. We can’t travel together unchaperoned. Why, your reputation would be ruined. And so,” he added grimly,  “would mine.”

“You can either stick to your rigid English rules and remain marooned here in . . . in . . .”

“Penpillickentish Bay,” piped up the fisherman.

“Or you can throw caution to the wind,” challenged Sophie. “Which is your only prayer of dropping anchor in the River Thames by December 25th.”

Ebb and flow. The sound of the waves slapping against the stone jetty drifted in through the slatted shutters. The wind howled, its keening note thrumming with the echo of his earlier words.

Trouble, trouble, trouble.

“So, what’s it going to be, Lord Leete?”

*  *  *

“She Stoops to Wenchdom” by Mary Jo Putney

Lucy drew a ragged breath.  “Gregory didn’t want to talk to me.  Or touch me.  When changing partners brought us together in a dance, he looked like he wanted to run away rather than take my hand for a few moments.  He did run away after the dance.  Paid his respects to the Randalls and left immediately after.  I…I knew his feelings were unengaged, but it hurts that he hates me.” 
 
“How very odd,” Chloe said thoughtfully. “If he’d half forgotten you, his most likely reaction would be indifference, but his behavior was not indifferent.  He has no reason to hate you.  No one hates you.  You are the rarest of creatures, a beautiful girl who is universally liked.  Perhaps he likes you too much?” 
 
Lucy swallowed a hiccup.  “That makes no sense whatsoever.”
 
“No?  The man has spent years at war, doing dark and dreadful deeds that we can only imagine.  He comes home and sees a girl he’s always liked all grown up into a woman, but she looks so innocent and refined that he feels wholly unworthy.  Afraid of his own passions, he flees for the sake of honor!”
 
“That is ridiculous!” Lucy exclaimed. 
 
“Is it?”  Chloe retorted.  “He might not want to touch you, but I hear he doesn’t mind touching the barmaids at the Willing Wench.”  Then she clapped her hand over her mouth, her eyes rounding.
 
“I beg your pardon?”  Lucy stared at her friend.  “Gregory is doing what?”
 
Chloe sighed.  “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to tell you.  I must still be suffering from the champagne.  In the retiring room I chatted with Helen Merchant.  She’s Gregory’s cousin, you know.  She said the whole family is worried about him.  Since coming back from Spain, he hardly talks to anyone.  Polite, but he just slides away.  Rides or walks all day, and spends his evenings at the Willing Wench.  He can apparently relax with the barmaids, if nowhere else.”
 
“Drinking and risking the pox?” Lucy said icily.  “He won’t even touch my gloved hand, but he’ll have a jolly time with a tavern wench?”
 
Her tone was so alarming that Chloe said soothingly, “It’s just how men are, Lucy.  You’re a lady.  You belong on a pedestal.  With you, he’d have to be a gentleman, and he’s just not ready for that.”
 
“That is insulting to both ladies and wenches!” Lucy exclaimed.  “Barmaids from the Willing Wench have called on my father for help or spiritual guidance.  They are women just like we are.  Some are mothers trying to raise their babes.  Others need to work if they’re to eat. They deserve to be treated with respect.”  Her head swung around to Chloe, her eyes glittering.  “And I deserve to be treated like a woman, not a lady!”

*  *  *
“Intrigue and Mistletoe” by Joanna  Bourne

She drew back. “How did you find me?”

“I asked the maidservant an innocent question about who was sleeping where tonight.  You’ll be pleased to know she said you were a respectable lady and I’d best not trifle with you.  I didn’t say I knew—”

She closed her fist and punched, hard.  It was pure, uncalculated impulse. 

  
And still, she wasn’t fast enough.  Her fist slapped into the palm of his hand, not his belly.  He caught the blow before it landed.  His hand closed around her fist and held her.  

“That’s new.  There was a time you wouldn’t have hit a man.  You’ve changed.”  He sounded calm about it.  Thoughtful.

“I’m not trusting and naive anymore.  You made me very, very wise.”

*  *  *

“On A Wicked Winter’s Night” by Nicola Cornick

“What are you doing here?” She knew she sounded abrupt.

“I might ask you the same question.” Johnny had started to unfasten his soaking jacket. Lydia, who had seen him wearing considerably fewer clothes than this over the years, nevertheless felt her throat dry to sand.

“I am the landlady of the Silent Wench,” she said. Her voice sounded odd, squeaky and husky at the same time. She cleared her throat. “This is my inn.”

She saw Johnny’s hands check on the buttons. “How enterprising you are.” He looked up. “Did you choose the name? And the sign board?”

“I did.”

Laughter crept into his eyes. “Your sense of humour. I like it.” The smile fled. “We all wondered where you had gone after Eliza was born.” He straightened, his hands falling to his sides. “I suppose you told Laura and Dexter and the others where you were?”

“I . . . Yes.” Lydia could feel what was coming. She could feel his hurt.

“But not me.” His voice was carefully devoid of expression. “I thought that we were friends.”

“We were!” Lydia stopped. They had been friends, but that had changed when Johnny had offered to marry her. His offer, her refusal, had changed everything.

*  *  *
“A Wilder Wench” by Susan King

Edward kicked the door open and strode across the room. She was a featherweight, this troublemaking girl. He would find out what she had been about tonight—but his thoughts were distracted with the horses waiting to be stabled, the wicked weather, the blasted pie sliding down over his brow, the fact that the vicar’s niece was a bandit.

He set her down and stood back as the dogs bumped against his legs—the terrier and deerhound had followed him. The girl sat straighter, set a hand to her head; her hair fell in a golden tousle smeared with apple custard. She brushed absently at it.

“There’s crust over your ear,” he said.

She reached up as the piece dropped to the floor and was snatched by the terrier. Then Christina Heron-Shaw looked up. “I am sorry about the pies—that they fell. I’ll make more.”

He huffed. “There’s no kitchen in the tolbooth, and that’s where you’ll be.”
She blinked, eyes wide and blue. “You’ve custard on your nose.”

“Miss Heron-Shaw,” he said, rubbing his face, “What the devil were you doing out there, holding up a coach?”

“I was not—I cannot tell you, exactly.” She rubbed her brow and picked another desserty bit from her hair. The dogs eagerly waited, watched.

“Talk. And remember that I am the sheriff here.”

“If I tell you, it could go badly for others.”

“Worse than for you?” He hooked his foot around a chair, drew it close and sat, then extracted a gooey bit of pie from his hair and brushed at his coat sleeve.

“I was taking some pie to Mrs. MacDonell.”

“Dressed like a brigand?”

“It is cold outside.”

“I see. So tying a scarf about your face gave you an irresistible urge to waylay a gig? You robbed a courier. I saw you at it, there in the road.” And had chased her a good way before she, and the stack of pies, had tumbled off her horse and into his arms.

“I am not a thief! I only meant to—help someone.”

“By taking my papers?” he asked abruptly.

Your papers?” She ran her fingers through her tangled hair.

Impatiently Edward plucked a bit of pie from her hair. His fingers smoothed over curls so fine and soft that his heart bounded. “You took a valuable parcel that belongs to me,” he said low, “and I want it returned. Now.”

 

Intrigue and Mistletoe

 Wwhollyattribcreativity

 

MischWwmistletoewikiief and Mistletoe is out in the big wide world as of last week.  I am so delighted to be part of this anthology. 

Let me just meander aside here for an instant and mentiion that I haven't written a short story since I was in Grade School, so the whole concept was a bit baffling.  I had ta kinda feel my way through this.

Since I write Regency spies as my own particular metier, I figured my contribution to the anthology should be … Regency spies.
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I'm sticking with the secrecy and intrigue, of which there was any amount lying about in this time period, but shifting my focus just a bit.  One of the sad realities about spies in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries is that much of the spying they engaged in was against their own countrymen.  While the English crown certainly worried about the French armies milling about across the Channel, they were somewhat more terrified of the disaffected at home. They spied upon them diligently. 

In several of my books, my protagonists have been patriots on opposite sides of the long, bitter political struggle between France and England. In this short story, I considered the problems of a spy working in his own country. It's his duty to go undercover in England, playing a part, lying to Englishmen.

My hero, Jack, pretending to be a man he isn't, courted Elinor.  In the

Wwbuilding in snow attribe 1sox4

pictures are attrib creativity+, jennydowning, 1sox4.

end, he betrayed her trust and broke the bone and sinew of her life when he uncovered the treason of her uncle. 

Just a job.  Just another job. 
He hadn't counted on falling in love with her.Wwsnowinpinesattribjennydowning

Now it's two years later.  Christmas is the end of the old year, the beginning of the new.  From ancient times this has been the season of renewal and forgiveness.  I bring Jack and Elinor together, sheltering from the storm under the same roof, and ask the question, "Can she forgive the man who lied to her and betrayed her?"

Oh.  There's a secret list gone astray, naughty Latin texts, and a dangerous French agent flitting here and there about the corridors of the old inn.  The usual.   

So … what's your favorite book about 'second chances' and 'forgiveness'.  I'm thinking Susan Elizabeth Phillip's Nobody's Baby But Mine and Sherry Thomas' Not Quite A Husband.

A Wicked Wench in Wales!

Mischief_350Nicola here, and today I’m talking about the background and
inspiration to my story in the Word Wench anthology Mischief and Mistletoe.

It’s been fascinating to see the posts by the other
Wenches on what makes their heroines wicked. My heroine, Lydia Cole, is the
landlady of the Silent Wench Inn in a dark and dangerous corner of Wales. It’s
the first time I’ve set a story in Wales and I wonder why I’ve waited so long
because the setting really appeals to me. It feels wild and lawless, the perfect place for a handsome and rakish hero to be marooned on a winter's night.

It was a co-incidence that I was on holiday on the west
coast of Wales around the
Cliffs  time that we were discussing ideas for the Wench anthology but I think it must have been serendipity. We were staying in a seaside cottage close to the town of Newport and as soon as I visited it I knew it was the town
where my heroine Lydia Cole would hide when she runs away from society to
reinvent herself. I won’t give away too many details of Lydia’s “wickedness”;
let’s just say that the Silent Wench Inn doesn’t simply offer refreshment to
travellers, it runs a fine sideline in other less respectable activities too, some
of which are downright illegal. Records show that Newport was a trading port from the 16th century onwards and it's geographical position made it an ideal centre for free trading. Smuggling in Wales continued a lot later into the nineteenth century than it did in many other parts of the British Isles.

Newport CastleI also wanted to bring Newport Castle into the story. The west coast of Wales was fought over for hundreds of years.
The Normans established a barony in Newport in the 13th century and
the site of their first wooden motte and bailey castle can still be seen.
Subsequent stone castles were destroyed when the Welsh fought back under Prince
Rhys Ap Gruffydd and later under Owain Glyndwr. The current castle is a
seriously spooky looking place, a nineteenth century renovation of a medieval building. I actually saw a bat fly out of the open
window!

One little detail that I picked up from the history
Newport 2 of
Newport and wanted to incorporate into my story was the school. The first
school in Newport was established in 1809 funded by and named after Madam Bevan
of Laugharne. It was part of a nationwide movement of “Circulating Schools” set
up to give children in rural communities the opportunity to receive an
education. In my story Lydia may be complicit in some illegal trades but she also teaches at the school and is an important part of the local community.

The other inspiration for my story was Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas. This evocative description could have been written to describe Newport:

“It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobbled streets silent and the hunched courters'-and-rabbits' wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea.” 

 I substituted winter for spring and away I went with On A Wicked Winter Night!

Today Wench Pat is offering a copy of Mischief and Mistletoe to one commenter in North America and I am offering a copy to a commenter from "the rest of the world" so you get two Wench giveaways for the price of one!

The question:

Where do you stand on stories where the hero or heroine breaks the law? Does it depend on the circumstances or is it just plain wrong no matter the reason? Do you have a favorite book with a law-breaking hero or heroine?

Mischief and Mistletoe — the genesis

Anne here, doing a kind of Ask A Wench — talking about how our Wenchly anthology, MISCHIEF AND MISTLETOE  (released on 25th September) came about. We think it's the first time a group of authors who blog together have brought out an anthology together. To illustrate the process, I'm using snippets of the email discussion the Wenches had in working out the concept. They're all in blue, so you'll have to guess who said what.
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The idea originally came up in a discussion in Mary Jo's room at the RWA National conference in Washington DC in 2009, where Mary Jo, Jo, Pat, Nicola, and I had all met for the first time as wenches. We talked about doing an anthology together, agreed it was a great idea and then… got swept up in various activities and forgot about it.

In August, 2010 Pat raised the idea again on the wenchly loop. Her email started: I'm procrastinating major big time, as may be obvious. <G>
She suggested we could each write a story of around ten to twelve thousand words, either with an overall story arc, or based around a loose theme.
"We just need a tie-in factor."

Anne: I have to say, we all seized on the idea with enthusiasm and the suggestions flew thick and fast. The discussion went something like this:

*We could set all the stories under a full moon or at the time of a full moon.

*Love the anthology idea, and the idea of a loose theme, by moonlight or otherwise.
 

*I quite like the idea that the moon is involved — maybe "They met  by moonlight" or  "Wenches by Moonlight" or something like that. One moonlight scene in each story and that's the connection.


Moonatsea*With any concept we'd have to make sure we had a variety of themes and no outright repetition of them. But beyond that, lots of scope for variety.

*This is why I like doing short projects.  Feeds the muse, who likes variety.

Anne again: Most of us loved the full moon idea but then we discovered it had already been done, so that was that. But we thought Winter might be a good time of year to set the stories in. We thought we should have wenches in the title, as it was a celebration of the Word Wench group, and then for a while we debated the idea of wicked wenches.

*I keep thinking Wicked Wenches.
Then the link could be wickedness. I think it would have to be a  fairly serious badness, but it could be theft, a really bad lie, sex, treason, all kinds of things. Or even, probably only by one Wench, an  unjust reputation for wickedness. Or does anyone fancy the 7 deadly  sins? *G*

*The Wicked Wenches has possibility! Since there are 8 of us, 7 sins probably aren't enough. And I'm not sure I want to argue over who gets Gluttony. 🙂
Servingwench

*Deliberately wicked – because she has no choice.
I like. Oh there are so many wicked little things a heroine could do that can be justified in a romance plot…

*What are the side effects if we brainstorm this during a retrograde?  <g>

*Actually, considering that the idea was first bruited about more than a year ago at the DC RWA conference, returning to it on a retrograde makes sense. 

*I'm not sure about having "wicked" in the title. It suggests more erotic stories, and I don't think that's what we're going for here.

Anne here: We all agreed that we wouldn't have "wicked" in the title, because it would make people expect more erotic stories, but we still liked the idea of some kind of wickedness in the story. But how wicked is wicked? And could we still make our heroines likable?

*I don't know that I would want to put a level of badness, since it could be relative. A proper young lady who slips outside to kiss under the full moon might be called a wicked wench by her parents. Just depends on the level of conflict we want.

*True, but I always feel cheated if a story in an anthology seems to wimp out on an edgy concept. I don't think it means the wickedness has to be awful, but it has to  have that edge to it.
But you're right that it's relative. The proper young lady being caught with her clothing considerably disheveled, with a man with a very wicked reputation could do it. Whereas if the Wench were a whore, it wouldn't be seen as wicked at all!


BlueMoon*I "vote" for Wicked Wenches, with maybe a moonlight theme, if others like it. (In other words, I'm easy, and quite happy to go with the flow.)  

*My vote would also be for WICKED WENCHES, and if people want to add moonlight, all the better. <G>
 

*Yup, I'm happy with this. I suspect the "wicked" will push me out of my comfort zone, which is a good thing.

*Good point about comfort zone. It's always good for us to go out on the edge, wherever that edge is for us personally.

*I'd say as soon as anyone has a wicked concept they want to use they should toss it out so that others can try not to use the same thing.

*Okay, if we want to do Wicked Wenches, then we want to make it deliberately edgy? Not sweet misses kissing in the moonlight but a miss who has deliberately done something she knows is wrong.

Anne again: I'll spare you the rest of the discussion — we made long lists of different kinds of wickedness, and as for titles — well, we have dozens.
But the stories were, in the end, linked in the following ways:— a dash of wickedness during the winter season, which for some of us also meant the holiday season. Hence the title, Mischief and Mistletoe. Most of the stories also involved an inn, named after a wench of some sort. Mine was the Wench and Haggis Inn, so you can guess where my story is set.

Mine's called The Mistletoe Bride and here's the set-up. Ronan McAllister must marry an Englishwoman to receive his inheritance but having one distastrous marriage behind him, he's reluctant to marry again. His lawyer offers to find him a dying woman to marry and reluctantly Ronan agrees.(You can read the scene here)

Of course the scheme goes wrong, there is a mix-up at the inn, and Marguerite Blackett-Smith finds herself with a wicked choice. Here's a tiny snippet of the story.

     The thought of having to leave this cozy, friendly house and take up residence with an uncle who was the most notorious skinflint in the county made her stomach sink with dread. But there was no help to it — they thought she was Peggy Smith and—
    
And Peggy Smith was dead.
    
Peggy Smith, who'd promised to marry a man for money and then disappear from his life, no questions asked.    
    
What if . . ?

I have to say, I really enjoyed writing this story. It did stretch me out of my comfort zone a little, writing a heroine who deliberately does something wicked, but I liked Marguerite and I really enjoyed watching Ronan open up to her in the end.(You knew it was going to end happily, right?)

I also really enjoyed reading the other wenches stories — it's a wonderful demonstration of our different voices and I have to say, I'm very proud to be part of this collection.

So, I'm giving away a copy of Mischief and Mistletoe, and I want to ask you, how wicked is wicked when we're talking romance heroines? Are heroines harder to redeem than heroes? Have you ever read a book where the heroine was, in your view, unredeemable? Did any author make you change your mind? Or if you don't want to wrap your head around wickedness, what's one of your favorite holiday stories?