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by Nina Coombs Pykare
Category: Romance/Historical Fiction
Description: Three tales of Regency ladies who are found by love: a country maiden whose only knowledge of love comes from the ancient writers she studies; a lonely young woman whose greedy mother says she's not good enough to bring them a husband who will support them; a young widow who has never been a wife and now has a secret admirer? Regency Romance Novellas by Nina Coombs Pykare; originally published by Zebra Books in A Touch of Christmas (1993), A Mother's Love (1993), and A Valentine's Day Tangle (1993)
eBook Publisher: Belgrave House, 2010
eBookwise Release Date: March 2010
15 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [283 KB]
Reading time: 178-250 min.
"But Hector," said Galatea Haslett, eldest daughter of Baron Haslett, to her younger brother that November morning, "Why on earth should I ask Papa to invite guests to a Christmas house party here?" She frowned, pushing her wire spectacles up on a nose that was actually rather cute but too small to properly hold them in place. "Papa knows I have no use for fashionable entertainments. Why, my translation of the Aeneid is only just begun. And out here in the Cotswolds, as we are, where shall we find enough people for such a party? No, I am not --"
"You are precisely the proper person," Hector insisted. "Please, just think about it. At least think about it."
He sighed. He didn't like deceiving his sister, even for her own good, but Papa had made it exceedingly clear. He must persuade Galatea to ask for this Christmas house party, and he must involve her in the preparations for it so that she would have to forsake her books--those stuffy old books that kept her out of the marriage mart--for at least a little while. That would not be quite so hard if he didn't, at the same time, have to keep her from discovering that the whole scheme had actually been hatched in Papa's fertile brain, a rather last-ditch endeavor to procure for Tea, who was already approaching four and twenty, a husband of the proper sort.
Hector swallowed another sigh. Papa had been adamant about this, saying that if Hector wanted his last racing wager paid off -- the trifling sum of a few hundred pounds, but more than his pocket could bear at the moment -- he must persuade her.
Tea stood there, clutching one of those musty old books she so loved, her pale brow wrinkled into a pensive frown. The sunlight pouring through the breakfast room accented the ink stains on the front of her gown, the smudges on one cheek. Tea had always been something of a puzzle to him, engrossed as she was in the ancient past.
But she had been kind to him, always kind, even when he'd been a toddler and she'd found him playing with one of the old books that were already precious to her. Kinder than Mama, when he'd inadvertently defaced one of their mother's Greek texts by drawing a stick horse on it. Now if Tea were enamored of horseflesh, that would make some sense. But those dusty old books? How could anyone get excited about books?
She should have a husband, he supposed. There wasn't much else in life for a woman. Yes, a husband -- a good one, of course --and some little ones to cling to her skirts. That would bring Tea out of her preoccupation with musty old tomes. Of course, it hadn't brought Mama out of hers. But it was worth trying. And Papa . . .
"Hector," Tea said, still frowning. "I have thought. And I just don't think I'm the person to do this. Ianthe is the one who knows about entertainments, balls, and that sort of thing. She's the one to ask. Not me."
Hector knew that as well as she did. But Papa had said Tea must ask, Tea and only Tea. "Perhaps," he agreed with a nod, "but Ianthe is always asking Papa for something. You know how she is. He says he's getting tired of giving in to her every demand." Hector looked around, then lowered his voice and added, "Just yesterday he told me he means to refuse any request of hers for some time. Just to teach her a lesson."
Tea nodded. No one in the family, even one as immersed in books as Tea was, could avoid knowing that Ianthe, though beautiful -- very beautiful, Hector admitted -- had a disposition far different from her looks. Truth to tell, Ianthe was shallow, all looks and no heart. And very vehement about having her own way.
And Hypatia -- at fifteen Hypatia was horse crazy, which was fine with him -- was just too young to be given responsibility for a party. Hypatia, he repeated silently. What a name for an innocent baby!
For the thousandth time, Hector wished Mama had never heard of the ancient Greeks. His own name had been a curse to him all through public school. Only since he'd attained manhood had he been able to give off bloodying noses and pounding heads in order to receive the respect he deserved.
But that had little to do with this. He'd best give off woolgathering and get on with it. "Please, Tea," he begged, putting on his most winning smile. "Do it for me? You know how deadly dull it can get here during the holidays. And Papa won't let me spend them in the city."
He held his breath. Would she give in? "Please," he begged, "do this for me. And after the New Year, when I go back to London, I'll --" He cast about in his mind. What could he offer her? A ribbon? A bonnet? No. He had it! "I'll look for a book for you, whatever book you wish."
Tea's face lit up with delight. "Really? You would do that for me?"
"Yes." Feeling guilty, he made his voice as sincere as possible. "Of course I would."
She gave him a sly look, accompanied by a sad smile. "But I have asked you before, Hector, and you always said --"
"I know. I know." She had asked and he'd made excuses, most of them really transparent. "But you know I always keep my word. And I give it to you now. Do this for me and I'll search out your book, whatever book you want, even two, through all the dusty, musty, ancient and smelly shops of London. I promise," he finished fervently.
Tea laughed. For the first time he thought about her laughter, really thought about it. It was a lovely sound, sweet and trilling, not like the shrill staccato of young city women. And now that he looked at his sister closely, he was a little surprised. She wasn't actually bad to look at. If she were washed up and gowned proper, she might even turn a few heads. Her hair was blond, of course, and the fashion this year was brunette; she was tall, and the fashion was short. But still and all, properly groomed, she could be quite a looker. She might even snag a husband. Did Papa have someone in mind?
"All right," she said. "I'll do it. I'll ask Papa. But you must go with me."
Outside the door to Papa's study, Galatea paused. She didn't really want to do this; she wanted only to go back to her books, to a most intriguing passage about Queen Dido that she hoped to get just right. But there'd always been a soft spot in her heart for Hector, ever since that long-ago day when Mama had put the squalling red-faced infant in her four-year-old arms. So little and so helpless he'd been. Galatea had loved him from the first moment, wanting to keep him safe, to make him happy. But this--this was more than kissing a bruised knee, cleaning a scraped elbow, or telling an exciting story. This house party would take a long time, a lot of work.
"Hector, maybe I should go freshen up first. I mean, you know Papa doesn't like to see me with ink on my face."
Hector put on his little-boy-hurting look. "Please, sister dear. I ain't asked you for much."
"Really," Galatea said. "Why must you say ain't when you know better?"
Hector looked even more crestfallen. "All the chaps say ain't, Tea. It's fashionable."
"Oh, very well." Galatea sighed. She really knew very little about the ways of the fashionable. She much preferred her life in the country, alone with her books.
"Please, Tea," Hector begged again. "Please?"
Even though she knew better, she felt her heart softening toward him. And anyway, it wouldn't hurt to ask. More than likely, Papa would say no to the whole idea. Then she wouldn't have to do a thing; she could go right back to her books. And Hector would still be satisfied.
She took a deep breath and tapped tentatively on the door.
"Enter," Papa said. As she came into the room, he looked up from his desk and smiled. "Galatea, my dear, do come in."
"Thank you, Papa." Hector stood close behind her, so close it was a wonder he didn't tread on her heels or her hem. He must be terribly bored to want this party so strongly.
She took the large chair Papa gestured to, perching on the edge of it, and Hector took up his stand beside her.
"What is it, my dear?" Papa asked. "Did you wish to see me about something?"
"Yes, Papa." Now that she was here, she knew this wasn't a good idea. But Hector coughed and looked at her pleadingly, and not wanting to disappoint him, she forged ahead. "Papa, I was thinking, with Christmas coming and all, it would be nice to . . . maybe . . . well, maybe invite some guests."
Papa smiled. "Guests?"
"Yes, some guests." Beside her, Hector coughed again. "For Christmas. For a house party," she went on timidly. Surely Papa would say no to that. She knew he really didn't care to have noisy people about.
But to her surprise, he said, "Yes," his smile growing larger. "That's a good idea. It's time we livened the place up. You may enlist any of the servants to help you," he went on. "And you may invite . . . oh, say, a dozen or so persons."
"A -- a dozen?" Tea choked on the word. "Where shall I find-?"
"I have some friends," Hector interrupted, "who've been eager to see the place. I'd like to invite them up. That is, if it's all right with Tea."
Galatea swallowed, but before she could reply, Papa answered for her. "I'm sure she won't mind at all. Your friends will improve our holidays. And Ianthe will enjoy their company."
"Yes, Papa," Galatea said, feeling a little better. Perhaps a party would make Ianthe more charitable. Lately, deprived of her London friends, she'd been quite snappish. The other day she'd almost bitten poor Hypatia's head off. "I'm sure Ianthe will like that. I know! She can plan --"
"No," Papa said, his voice becoming stern. "You must manage the affair yourself."
Herself? "But, Papa, I know nothing about --"
"That doesn't matter," he said firmly. "It was your idea and you must manage it."
Hector lingered in the study after Galatea left. He waited till she had closed the door behind her, then turned back to Papa.
The old gentleman was beaming and Hector felt his spirits rising. Surely he wasn't the cad he'd been feeling. He hadn't done such a terrible thing. Tea needed to get away from her books.
"Very well done, my boy." Papa was actually rubbing his hands in glee. "Now, about those friends of yours . . ." He paused.
"You may go into the city for a few days, but just a few. To issue your invitations. But be sure to include Barnaby, Baron Tragon's eldest son."
Hector felt a rush of cold dread. Papa couldn't mean . . . "That bookish chap? The spindly one with the spectacles?"
Papa rubbed his hands again. "Yes. That's him. He should suit Tea admirably, don't you think?"
"I --" Suddenly mindful of his still-outstanding debt, Hector nodded, though feebly.
"See to it then," Papa said, turning back to his papers. He looked up again. "Oh, by the by, my boy, I shall send payment directly to your bookie. This time."
Hector stumbled out, shuddering at the vision of a houseful of miniature Teas and Barnabys marching solemnly about, their ink-stained fingers clutching moldy old books, their little noses supporting identical wire spectacles. Ghastly! Absolutely ghastly! He could not doom Tea to such a dire fate. Something must be done.