SINFUL NIGHT, SILENT NIGHT
'Tis the season for sweet seduction and passionate pleasure. Let visions of sultry sex sweep away your inhibitions and savor the delights of these three erotic encounters...
"Naughty Or Nice?" by Melissa MacNeal
Anxious to escape her memories of Christmas past, Tess Bennett takes a train west to the mountains of Colorado. And when she meets the sexy and seductive Johnny Gazara, she realizes that a naughty night of erotic delights is just what she needs...
"Wicked For Christmas" by Sharon Page
Every Christmas, Amelia Weston is reminded of the night Lord Dante Rivington asked for her hand in marriage, took her body in passion, then vanished the next day into the snow-covered streets of Regency London. Every Christmas, she wonders if it will happen again...
"Stolen Chances" by Chloe Harris
Winston Matthews knows a thief when he sees one, even if she is stunningly beautiful. And so he offers himself as an easy target for a sensually sinful Christmas Eve seduction...
Kensington Aphrodisia (September 27, 2011)
Late November, 1895.
"It came upon a midnight clear, that glorious song of old . . ."
Tess Bennett left the vestibule before she burst into tears. It wasn't Margaret's fault the carolers outside put her in such a dreadful mood: her housekeeper had been doing everything possible to bring Christmas cheer into their lives. But without Henry and little Claire, this place would never again feel like a home—much less a place to spend the holidays.
"And ye, beneath life's crushing load, Whose forms are bending low . . ."
What a depressing image! But it reflected her attitude perfectly, didn't it? If she had to spend another day stringing cranberries and popcorn for a tree she didn't want, and watching Margaret and George fail so valiantly at lifting her spirits, she'd simply—
"I'm so sorry, dear. The first year-the first holiday season—is the worst." Margaret placed her warm hands on Tess's drooping shoulders. "Do try to smile and enjoy tonight's dinner, won't you? Mr. Mahaffey will join us at—"
"I don't want to see him." Society wives were expected to be genteel, but some occasions demanded calling a spade a spade—and Reed Mahaffey was digging. "I may have led a sheltered life, Margaret, but I'm fully aware of his motives. He wants to marry into Henry's share of the firm—and mark my words, he'll be buying my half of the company rather than screwing me out of it!"
Tess immediately regretted her coarse language, while poor Margaret's cheeks turned the color of the cherry cake she'd baked today. She sighed, fogging the dining room window with her breath. Clouds shrouded the afternoon, hanging over the Mississippi as though it might snow, although that rarely happened here in Memphis. "I'm sorry, Margaret," she murmured. "I'm not myself—"
"None of us are, after yellow fever has claimed so many we loved."
"—but I cannot pretend to enjoy Reed's company. Encouraging his attentions would be the ultimate insult to Henry's memory." Tess turned, detecting her butler's presence in the hall. "George, please give Mr. Mahaffey my regrets before he leaves the office. No sense in his making the trip here for nothing."
"Yes, of course, Miss Tess."
Margaret sagged. "Begging your pardon, dear," she began in a whimper, "but you can't keep hiding yourself away—"
"I'm sorry about your dinner, Margaret. You've made every effort—all my favorite dishes-but there's just no pleasing me right now," she replied quietly. "And I'm sorry about that, too."
Sorry, sorry, sorry, Tess mused as she headed for the stairway. Would she ever stop apologizing for her black mood? The Delaneys craved the company of someone more cheerful this evening: it wasn't as though she was the only one who missed her husband and the fair-haired daughter who'd brightened all their lives.
"Look now! For glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing. O rest beside the weary road and hear—"
"The angels may sing," Tess muttered, "but I'll believe in those golden hours when I see them! And not a moment sooner!"
Had the spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge overtaken her? Was she doomed to make everyone's life as bleak and miserable as her own? Tess hurried up the sweeping staircase, unfazed by the bright paprika carpet runner she'd bought last week. If Henry's money couldn't bring her happiness, she had no use for Reed's, either!
She entered her room and slammed the door. Acting like a spoiled child, she was-like Claire, having one of her foot-stomping hissy fits—
Images of her six-year-old daughter made her grip a post of her canopy bed as another wave of grief washed over her. Enough already!
Tess inhaled deeply. She went to the window, hoping the view would lift her spirits . . . the boats on the river . . . the stately homes across the way . . . why is that green carriage coming down the street? It's only three o'clock!
Tess cleared the fogged window. Yes, indeed, that could only be the Bennett-Mahaffey coach rolling smartly toward the house, with white-gloved Warren Coates gripping the reins.
Panic seized her. Reed was arriving blatantly early, figuring to catch her off-balance. And with George already gone—
She hadn't a moment to lose! Margaret would admit the dashing Mr. Mahaffey as a part of her own little scheme, and with more than three hours before dinner was to be served—
Tess snatched up her reticule and a hooded cloak. She could not be here when her housekeeper announced Reed's arrival! But where would she go?
As her thoughts raced, Tess slipped out of her pumps and padded down the narrow back stairs to the kitchen. The sonorous door chime echoed in the front foyer . . . Margaret's footsteps pitter-pattered to answer it . . . and as the housekeeper's excited welcome rang out, Tess exited through the back pantry door, where they took delivery of their ice and milk. Heart pounding, she put on her pumps. Could the wild idea in her mind possibly work?
Around the back of the house she rushed, waving her arms to catch Mr. Coates's attention. Her husband had trusted this sturdy fellow to deliver bank deposits and investment checks. Would Warren play along with her now, or would he betray her?
"Why, good afternoon, Mrs. Bennett! I-"
"No time for chit-chat, Warren!" she said, pointing toward the house. "You must get me away from here before Reed knows I've slipped away! I can't endure an afternoon of that man's romancing! We all know what he's really after, don't we?"
For a heart-stopping moment, the driver gazed at her as though he might put her in her place: the widow of Memphis's most esteemed cotton factor had no business playing cat-and-mouse like an impudent child. Tess gazed at him, clutching her cloak . . . imploring him with the blue-eyed smile that had derailed many a Memphis gentleman's train of thought.
Warren chuckled gruffly and hopped down to open the carriage door. "He's not the most subtle Romeo, is he? When I suggested that such an early arrival wouldn't impress either you or Mrs. Delaney, he told me to keep my opinions to myself!" Coates waited for her to settle on the soft leather seat. "Where shall I take you?"
"I haven't the slightest idea. But we'd better go before they realize I've escaped!"
"Right you are, ma'am. Warren Coates at your service."
As the carriage lurched, the rapid clip-clop, clip-clop of the horse's hooves made Tess's heartbeat accelerate with happiness like she hadn't known since—well, since before her she'd lost her husband and child! She was running away! Having an adventure!
And what'll you do when they discover you're gone? Reed won't be happy when he learns the company driver was your accomplice.
It suddenly didn't matter what anyone thought—or what Mr. Mahaffey did! She was tired of following everyone else's rules and she was damn sick of feeling so useless, so alone in her own home. If she didn't want to suffer through the holidays in this black dress, why should she? Surely there was a place she could celebrate Christmas—honor Henry and Claire's memories in her heart—without Southern society looking down its nose at her. There had to be something more to life than matrons who smothered her in their honeyed pity and ambitious men who wanted what Henry Bennett had left behind.
Tess rapped on the carriage ceiling.
The slot above the opposite seat slid open. "Yes, ma'am?"
"Take me to the train station!"
She could imagine the furrows in Warren's forehead. "The train station, Mrs. Bennett? Might I ask-"
"You know how Henry always spoke of crossing the country by rail? Hiring a private Pullman car to take in the scenery from its picture windows?" she replied, her excitement rising. "The advertisements look so enticing—special holiday trips through the Rockies, and such! I'm going to do it! No time like the present—and no present like time away from Mr. Mahaffey! Don't you agree?"
The coach turned down the next busy street and within minutes they stopped. All around the railway station, people strode with a purposeful air, some dressed in high style with a manservant wheeling their trunks on a cart, while others appeared to be penniless immigrants. But they were all going places! Tess had never in her sheltered, privileged life set foot away from home without servants, or without her father or Henry making her travel plans. What if she boarded the wrong train or—
What if Reed catches you? You'll never be out of his sight again.
Tess straightened her shoulders, fixing a grin on her face. She couldn't let her driver see her fear as he handed her down from the carriage. "Thank you so much for understanding, Warren," she said in the firmest voice she could find. She reached into her reticule. "I hope you'll accept this gift as my—"
"Keep your money, my dear." He gently closed her hand around the greenbacks. "Allow me to assist with your ticketing, and then I'll deal with the Delaneys and Mahaffey."
"What will you tell them?"
"I'll make up something."
An unladylike snicker escaped her as she grabbed him around the shoulders. The old fellow hugged her, beaming. "Henry always spoke of a mischievous streak—a sense of purpose that set his wife apart from other women. He would be proud of you, Miss Tess."
Her heart swelled, but it was no time for tears. "I'd be eternally grateful if you'd arrange my fares and transfers, Warren. I'll keep you posted on my travels—"
"And I shall assure the Delaneys I've seen to your safety, without hinting at your whereabouts to Mahaffey." He gave her another purposeful look. "If you need anything—anything at all, dear lady—I'm but a telegram away."
She swiped at her eyes. "What if Reed fires you? I'd hate to think I cost you your position."
"Plenty of firms need dependable drivers. Hasn't been the same since Mr. Bennett passed, anyway." He bussed her knuckles. "Come inside where it's warmer. I'll have you on your way in no time."
Once Warren left her beside a long wooden bench to go to the ticketing window, she had a chance to think about this unexpected turn she'd taken. How will you cross the country in a luxury Pullman with only the clothes on your back? You don't even know how much money's in your reticule! Who do you think you are, believing everyone will grant your every wish like Henry—and Warren Coates—have?
Was it the airlessness of the crowded station, or did she feel faint? No time for turning tail, though.Tess lowered herself to the bench and inhaled to clear her head. No time for feeling like a weak-kneed sissy, either-and what was taking Coates so long? As she gawked over her shoulder, to view the line at the ticket window, something slithered across her feet.
It was a newspaper page, caught in the current of people coming in from the cold. As a train whistle blasted and a hissssss of steam rose around the platform outside, Tess froze in the moment . . . as though she'd been meant to peruse this segment of the Rocky Mountain Times. How odd. She hadn't read a paper since she'd sent copies of Henry and Claire's obituaries to family back East.
Tess quickly scanned the columns of print, not sure why she felt so driven-so destined-to find whatever beckoned her. Pulse thumping, she turned to the other side and—
Santa seeks a special helper.
The advertisement was positioned in the Help Wanted section. Why on earth did she linger over this page when she'd never worked a day in her life?
Santa seeks a special Helper: Excellent compensation and a sweet future indeed for an Applicant who's both Naughty and Nice—and who believes in Magic! Only those of childlike mind and stature need apply. Box 8, Cascade, Colorado.
Tess blinked. Warren was now at the ticket window, so she quickly turned her attention to the quaintly phrased text again. Both Naughty and Nice . . . believes in Magic . . . childlike mind and stature. Whoever wrote this had a whimsical mind and a different perspective on the world than, say, Reed Mahaffey. Her heart thrummed: she was petite—a Dixie pixie, Henry had always called her! And she so wanted to believe in whatever magic had whisked her from the house to the train station.
But Naughty and Nice? The idea sent a delicious tingle through her body: she'd been told all her life she was nice—mostly when somebody wanted something. But naughty?
Her grin flickered. Tess studied the signs and arrows posted on the walls and then scurried toward a small office a few yards from where Warren counted out money to the ticket agent. "I need to send a message, please," she said breathlessly. She thrust the newspaper beneath the window bars, jabbing the address with her finger.
The telegrapher handed her a pencil and paper. "Please write legibly and—"
Tess's hand flew at the speed of her thoughts: Don't you dare hire anyone but Tess Bennett! I'll be in Cascade shortly and you'll see why!
The man in the booth paused, his fingers poised over his telegraph key. Then he gazed quizzically at her. And was it any wonder? Why on earth had she presumed to—she had no idea who had written such an ad, or what she might be getting into when she disembarked—
Does the train even go to Cascade?
Tess blinked. She clearly needed to consider the consequences of her bold, brash actions. A woman traveling alone had no safety net—no Warren Coates to turn to, should this ad have been penned by a man with nefarious ways of putting women to work.
But the expression on the telegrapher's face, and the fact that Coates was searching the crowd for her, pulled out all her stops. "Please, sir! I've a train to catch!" she urged him sweetly.
"Thirty cents, if you please."
As she dug in her reticule, Tess's mouth went dry. Wasn't that awfully expensive for such a simple message?
As though spending thirty cents is a hardship! Get over yourself! And get on with this Christmas adventure, naughty girl!