Update: We have winners! Congrats to Ora and Melody May. They’ll be receiving Barbara’s A Lady’s Lesson in Seduction. Mary Marvella won a copy of My Lady Below Stairs from me! If you didn’t win this week, don’t despair. Come back next Monday when my blog guest will be the fabulous Vanessa Kelly!
Please welcome my friend Barbara Monajem to Read, Write, Love. Barbara and I first met when we were both writing for Dorchester. She’s moved on to Harlequin now and I know you’re going to love her style! Take it away, Barbara.
When I was a kid, we stayed up late on New Year’s Eve, and at the stroke of midnight, the whole family went onto the front porch and banged pots and pans. While staying up late was in itself a real treat, getting to make a huge racket in the middle of the night was FABULOUS. I never questioned why. It was fun, and therefore good.
It turns out we were driving away evil spirits. Whoa! How cool is that?
I found this out when researching the Christmas drink wassail and the customs surrounding it. The practice of wassailing has pagan origins (no surprise — don’t all fun celebrations?) and it has been going on in one form or another for a long, long time. Door-to-door wassailing was a way of cleansing houses of evil spirits so as to start the year out right. Householders would deck their doorways with greenery. (Here we go a-wassailing, among the leaves so green…) There was an exchange of sung verses at the doorway, and the wassailers would parade through the house, GOING INTO EVERY ROOM (what a cleaning nightmare for the house-proud, before and after) making a huge hullabaloo with pots, pans, musical instruments, and so on, to drive the evil spirits away.
In return for driving out the poor, beleaguered spirits (come now, they couldn’t all have been evil), you would feed the wassailers snacks and, of course, your home-made wassail. Sometimes, groups of men would come a-wassailing and wreak vengeance on anyone who didn’t give them enough to eat and drink. (I hope the spirits indulged in a little retaliation against these unsporting fellows.)
Then there’s apple tree wassailing, which took place on Twelfth Night. (And still does in some locations – how fabulous is that?) Villagers selected a wassail king and queen, who would lead a procession from one orchard to another. The oldest tree in each orchard was given a taste of the wassail made from its fruit, to encourage it to produce abundantly the next year. A huge racket was made to drive the evil spirits from the trees. People got to kick back and have a grand old time before settling down to the business of the New Year. (And it was nighttime… perfect for illicit romance, as long as you could find someplace warm.:))
Wassailing the apple trees is one of the many traditions on the estate of the hero, the Marquis of Warbury, in my Christmas novella, A Lady’s Lesson in Seduction. When I started writing it, I thought he and Frances, the heroine, would have a romantic tryst in the orchard… but the story starts just before Christmas, and they couldn’t wait that long! I guess a Twelfth Night dalliance will have to wait for another story.
Once a notorious rake, Camden Folk, Marquis of Warbury, is now consumed by desire for only one woman: beautiful young widow Frances Burdett. The Yuletide festivities at his country estate present the perfect opportunity for seduction…
After her brief, unsatisfying marriage, Frances swore never to become tied to another man. Then a passionate kiss under the mistletoe reawakens longings she thought buried forever. Can she give in to the pleasures of the body with a rogue like Cam—without losing her heart?
Frances should never have agreed to go to the orchard with the Marquis of Warbury—to gather mistletoe, of all things. She sent him a fierce, furious glare. “If you must have it, I don’t enjoy kissing.”
He eyed her from behind the apple tree. “Not at all?”
“No.” She pressed her lips together.
“Come now,” he teased. “Surely you’re exaggerating.”
Her voice was low, suffused with passion. “You can’t possibly judge how that—that invasion made me feel.”
“That bad, was it?” The marquis reached up and snipped with his shears. “You’re right, I can’t judge, but the general popularity of kissing tells me you were merely unlucky.” He came around the tree, a sprig of mistletoe in his hand.
What a fool she was; in spite of bitter experience, she wanted to kiss him, wanted kissing to be wonderful. How stupid! She was much better off—much safer—as she was.
He kissed the fingertips of his gloves and blew. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”
He picked a berry from the mistletoe and dropped it. “We’ll make it a very light kiss,” he said, coming closer. “Short and sweet.”
She didn’t trust him; she wanted yet didn’t want—
A flurry of snow tumbled from the branches above, distracting her. He swooped in, dropped a swift, cold kiss on her lips, and drew away—but not far. “Was that too unbearable?” Another mistletoe berry fell to the snow.
“No, of course not,” she said, “but—”
“Well, then.” He took her hand and pulled her behind the tree. “If you don’t want me to invade you—accidentally, needless to say—you’ll have to keep your mouth shut.”
“You mustn’t do this—”
“Of course I must. No talking.”
She gave up, shutting both her mouth and her eyes. It was her own fault for coming to the orchard this morning, but she’d enjoyed their time together in the middle of the night so very much. It was only a kiss.
Nothing happened. She opened her eyes again. He was contemplating her mouth from under his lashes. “You have lovely lips.”
Through her teeth, she said, “Get it over with.”
“I’ve never kissed a martyr before.” His lips curled in a lazy smile, and then he pressed his mouth coolly to hers and withdrew again. “It requires a more careful approach than we disgustingly hasty men are used to.” He flicked another berry off the sprig.
She couldn’t help but watch his mouth. What was he going to do, and when?
“Close your eyes, and whatever happens, keep your lips together.”
This time his mouth lingered on hers a few seconds, then pressed light kisses from one corner of her lips to the other. Kiss. “One.” Kiss. “Two.” Kiss. “Three.”
What’s your favorite holiday custom? How about your least favorite? Two lucky commenters will win free downloads of A Lady’s Lesson in Seduction for either Nook or Kindle from Barbara. One other randomly drawn commenter will win my Christmas enovella–My Lady Below Stairs!