My Yuletide Earl – Tammy Andresen

Lady Holly Bailey crossed the town square of Maybridge Falls as the deep snow crunched under her boots. She lifted her dress higher, attempting to keep the hem of her red wool gown dry. It was her favorite, after all, and she’d hate to see the precious garment ruined. She likely shouldn’t have donned it all but the most exciting event in ages had happened this morning and it seemed to warrant her best winter dress. Her sister had rescued a baron from dying in the snow. A handsome one at that. She grinned to herself as she walked. Perhaps their lives were finally changing for the better. “Good morning, Miss Holly,” the baker called from his shop door. His round cheeks red from the heat of the oven, he looked even more jolly with the backdrop of freshly fallen snow. “Good morning, Mr. Wright,” she called back. Making her way toward him. “Have you got any loaves left?” “For you,” he winked. “Of course.

I save one or two every day, just in case.” Holly pressed her lips together to keep from giggling. She’d come to stay with her mother’s sister, Lady Tannenbaum, just one week prior, but she’d already learned that her aunt’s cook burned everything she attempted to cook. The entire village understood that too and made all sorts of allowances. “Thank you so much,” she replied as she stepped into the warm shop. She had to confess, everyone in this quaint village had been beyond kind. Still, this was not the place she wished to be. “It’s my pleasure,” he answered, going behind the counter to retrieve not one but two sticks of bread. “We can’t have you girls starving after you’ve graced us all with your company.” Holly nodded as she paid for the bread.

“You are too kind. Thank you.” She left the shop, making the rounds to collect some cured meat, cheese, a fresh minced pie, and a quart of milk. Her arms were brimming with goods as she finally turned back to her aunt’s home. Even if she hadn’t known the way, she could just follow the smell of burnt sausage that permeated the air. She’d wondered often why her aunt continued to employ such a cook but she didn’t know her aunt particularly well. They’d only met once when Holly was very young and it might have remained that way, except for her mother’s passing the previous Christmastide. That thought made Holly sigh. She missed her mother, of course. More than words could express.

But nearly as awful was how her father had retreated into a bottle of whisky and both her sisters had withdrawn into themselves at their mother’s passing. It was as though their entire family had come undone. Her chest ached with worry as she slowed her pace. She’d been racking her brain attempting to find a way to bring her family back together, but short of wishing upon stars, she’d come up with few solutions. Walking as she was, arms full, thoughts lost, she wasn’t watching where she stepped, not that she needed to. The square was almost always empty with only a person or two crossing at any given time. But as she watched the dark sky twinkle night after night, one plan had begun to emerge. Murky, the details still eluded her, but the vague outline of an idea was taking shape. Why couldn’t her father have sent her to London, or even Bath, or for pity’s sake, at least Dover, where there was some shred of hope that she might find a husband and her happily ever after? She drew in a deep breath of sharp, cold winter air, the sting in her lungs reminding her how poignantly she felt that wish. Her parents had been deeply in love and more than anything, she wanted that for herself too.

Believed in the power and magic of that depth of feeling. She didn’t want to sound naïve or silly but somehow, she knew if she could find that emotion, she might heal all of her family. But that’s where her plan fell apart again. How did one go about finding love? She let out a sigh as she stepped into what must have been a snow drift, her foot both sinking and twisting in the deep snow. Crying out, she lifted the items in her arms to inspect her feet. Holly was stuck in a three-foot drift, making it difficult to pull her leg out again. She clucked her tongue and took a step back with her free foot. Planting it on solid ground, Holly yanked her trapped leg up with all of her might. The snow held her in for a moment and then suddenly, she broke free, spinning out of the drift and wobbling back several feet. That was, until her back crashed into something solid.

A tree perhaps? Were trees warm? Holly doubted it. She made to step forward again and turn to inspect what she’d run into but as she moved, strong arms circled her, bumping her own and knocking the contents of her morning’s shopping into the snow. She cried out, “Our breakfast.” Dismayed, she bent down to retrieve the items before the snow ruined them and yet another meal was destroyed. As she leaned forward to pick them up, the arms around her loosened but her derriere pressed back into the warmth. All at once several circumstances became completely apparent. One, what she’d run into was a man. Two, her behind was now pressed into his front. And three, he must have been part tree because some sort of branch was most definitely poking her. * * * Bloody blue blazes, what the hell was happening? Jack looked down to where a delightfully rounded ass was currently pressed into the cradle of his hips.

As the Earl of Tidemore, he’d grown accustomed to women overtly propositioning him, but this might be the most vulgar and delightful invitation he’d ever received. Which was saying something. He’d once had a Russian princess greet him naked wearing nothing but a large gold necklace that had hung to her hips. The things they’d done with that necklace had been wicked and so wonderful, he’d thought nothing could top it. But this just might. The little miss pressed to him now wiggled and cried out, retrieving several items from the ground. His own body stiffened in response, his manhood hardening, even as his muscles tensed. Without thought, he reached down and held her hips in both his hands. The swell of them filled his palms in the most delightful way and he pressed her tighter to his body. In response, she shot up to standing, crashing her head into his chin.

Damned unfortunate. His eyes squeezed shut and he let go of her hips to grab his face as he let out a guttural cry of pain. “Christ,” he pushed out through clenched teeth. “You hit me.” “You squeezed me,” she said back, her voice rising in volume and tone, which added a definite note of disapproval. “What sort of gentleman does such a thing?” He rubbed his face, glaring back at her. Clearly he’d misunderstood her intentions. Much the pity. Her blonde hair was pinned back in a loose coif, but thanks to the tussle they’d just had, several strands had fallen about her face adding an air of soft mystery. Her large eyes sparkled, the color of new grass, offset by her ivory skin and pink cheeks.

Full lips were drawn into a tight line of disapproval, which did little to hide how delightfully plump they were. Her cloak hid her figure, which he would have liked to inspect in great detail, but he already knew that it was curvy in all the right places. His cock throbbed again in memory. “The sort of gentleman who is minding his own business, crossing the square, when a woman literally runs into him.” She reached down to the ground and picked up several more items. Grabbing a loaf of bread, which was squished and broken in the middle, she held it out to him. “You’ve ruined our breakfast.” He blinked, working his jaw to make certain it wasn’t broken. “I ruined it? You ruined it.” She tossed the loaf back on the ground, stepping closer.

“And did I force you to push yourself into my…my…” She failed, heat filling her cheeks. Jack drew in a deep breath. She had him there. He’d misunderstood her intentions. Not that he’d admit it to this little minx. But damn, she was lovely with her cheeks and her voice colored in irritation. “Your ass?” She gasped in a breath, picked up the loaf of broken bread, and promptly hit him directly in the chest with it. “You are horrible.” “Lots of women find me delightful,” he said in reply, crossing his arms as she continued to beat him with bread. She tossed the loaf in the snow again.

“Impossible.” Her chest heaved from the effort and he watched the rise and fall, wishing he could part her cloak for a better view. She was annoying, that was for certain, but her spirit held an undeniable appeal. “Am I to assume you are a fair maiden in this sleepy little town?” “You are,” she sniffed, taking a step back. “And am I to assume you are the devil sent to earth to inspire bad deeds of all kinds?” He quirked a small grin, despite his sore face. “I don’t think you meant that as a compliment, but I actually liked it. And I have been called a devil before but most oft, people refer to me as the Earl of Tidemore.” Her brows lifted as her eyes did a slow perusal of his person. He found his shoulders squaring and his chest puffing out as she inspected him. His own pulse beat faster.

“Well?” She snapped her green eyes to his again. “I thought an earl would be taller.” “You little minx,” he muttered as he took a step closer and she one back. How had she sensed his Achilles heal so quickly? He’d found her amusing up to that moment, but now irritation prickled along his skin. The real Earl of Tidemore had been quite tall indeed. She held up a hand, motioning him to keep his distance. “You may address me as Lady Holly Bailey.” Then her chin notched higher. “Or don’t address me at all. I, for one, hope never to see you again.

” His mouth dropped open. “You do understand that I stopped you from crashing full-on into the snow, don’t you?” She clutched her items tighter, her gaze narrowing as she assessed him. “I’m sure you can understand why I am not going to thank you.” He shook his head slowly back and forth. “I do not understand, but I also find I don’t care. Goodbye, Lady Holly Bailey. I’d like to say this meeting was interesting but…” “Same to you,” she replied, spinning about. She then sidestepped the snow drift she’d first caught her foot in and continued on to a lovely cottage at the far corner of the square. He’d meant every word about her being uninteresting. Which is why he didn’t quite understand why his gaze followed her until she disappeared from view.

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