Once Upon a Highland Christmas by Sue-Ellen Welfonder
Warrior Grim Mackintosh understands why his friend Archibald MacNab has decreed there be no trace of Christmas in his castle. After a devastating attack destroyed everything-and everyone-in Archie’s life, he prefers to stew in his own misery until the holiday passes. But Duncreag has seen enough tragedy. Grim decides to throw a grand Yuletide feast, one that the bards will sing about for years to come, one that will remind his laird how beloved he is. He can’t do it alone, though. Grim needs an accomplice . . .
There’s nothing Breena O’Doherty won’t do for Archie, so she’s thrilled to help Grim with his plan. Yet she has a Christmas wish all her own-to win Grim’s heart-and this might be her only chance to make it come true. As Breena and Grim work together to bring the joy of the season to the cold, gloomy castle and to the heart of the cantankerous chieftain, an undeniable passion ignites between them. But when a shocking secret about Breena’s past comes to light, threatening everything she holds dear, will it ruin Christmas in Duncreag forevermore?
Sue-Ellen Welfonder is a Scotophile whose burning wish to make frequent trips to the land of her dreams led her to a twenty-year career with the airlines.
Now a full-time writer, she’s quick to admit that she much prefers wielding a pen to pushing tea and coffee. She makes annual visits to Scotland, insisting they are a necessity, as each trip gives her inspiration for new books. Proud of her own Hebridean ancestry, she belongs to two clan societies: the MacFie Clan Society and the Clan MacAlpine Society. In addition to Scotland, her greatest passions are medieval history, the paranormal, and dogs. She never watches television, loves haggis, and writes at a 450-year-old desk that once stood in a Bavarian castle.
Sue-Ellen is married and currently resides with her husband and Jack Russell terrier in Florida.
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Several of the younger garrison lads had tried to court her, wooing her with pretty words, gifts of woven cloth, and once—or so he’d heard—an armful of loveliest heather. Talk among the men was that she pretended not to hear the compliments, passed on the cloth to young mothers who needed it more, and placed the heather on graves of Duncreag’s fallen.
A few more persistent lads claimed she’d declined their attentions by saying her heart belonged to another.
And that she’d gazed wistfully into the distance when telling them so.
The lads said she looked toward Ireland.
Grim was sure she did. He was also certain the young man who held her affection ached for her as well.
It was a notion that pierced him to the core.
No saint, he swore beneath his breath, his blood heating all the same. Passion raged, fierce and demanding as he held her fast, claiming her lips with a bold roughness he just couldn’t help.
She was in his arms now.
And she tasted sweeter than the nectar of the gods.
When she lifted up on her toes and parted her lips to flick the tip of her tongue against his own, his agony was complete. Never before had a woman returned his kiss with such ardor. He believed most lasses feared him, big and rough-hewn as he was, without courtly manners. Breena was an angel beyond compare, a prize so rare he was stunned to have her in his arms, so soft and pliant.
He didn’t want to desire her.
Someday her Irish lover—if he’d survived the raid on her village—would ride up to Duncreag’s gates to claim her, taking her back across the sea. Grim certainly would if she were his. And he doubted Donegal men were any less possessive. He shouldn’t lay a finger on her.
Yet she set him aflame.
Knowing he was leaping into an abyss he could never escape, he nipped the lush curve of her lower lip and then deepened the kiss, letting his tongue glide into the soft velvet-warmth of her mouth. She kissed him back, her own tongue tangling with his, tantalizing and intimate, making him forget every reason he shouldn’t be touching her.
He pulled her closer, not caring. He shut his mind to the hurtful truth. That every time he thought she’d glanced his way, she quickly looked elsewhere. Indeed, she didn’t pay heed to any of the men at Duncreag. Not even bonnie younger lads so much more appealing than him.
Grim bit back a growl, not wanting to think of her yearning for an Inishowen lad in Donegal. Perhaps imagining such a lad now held her. Yet she was soft and warm in his arms. Her lips so yielding, her glossy tresses a spill of cool silk across his cheek, the dance of her tongue bewitching him. She even made a little mewing sound, responding eagerly as she returned the kiss.
What man could resist such temptation?
He surely couldn’t.
His For Christmas by Jennifer Haymore
Shy Lady Esme has a secret: the youngest sister of the Duke of Trent privately pens erotic stories! Her latest is the steamy story of two travelers who find themselves stranded in an inn when an unexpected snowstorm blankets the English countryside. Lady Amelia Witherspoon simply must get home to her beloved family on Christmas Eve. So when a terrible storm threatens to leave her snowbound, she refuses to admit defeat-even if that means sharing a carriage with Evan Cameron, the lastman she ever hoped to see . . .
Evan can’t fathom why his oldest friend is as icy to him as the winter wind. All he does know is that Amelia is still the loveliest, most tempting woman he’s ever laid eyes on. Their only option is to take refuge together at a nearby inn, sharing the one remaining room. Evan promises to be a gentleman . . . but it’s a promise neither of them wants him to keep.
As a child, Jennifer Haymore traveled the South Pacific with her family on their homebuilt sailboat. The months spent on the sometimes quiet, sometimes raging seas sparked her love of adventure and grand romance. Since then, she’s earned degrees in computer science and education and held various jobs ranging from bookselling to teaching inner-city children to acting, but she’s never stopped writing.
You can find Jennifer in Southern California trying to talk her husband into yet another trip to England, helping her three children with homework while brainstorming a new five-minute dinner menu, or crouched in a corner of the local bookstore writing her next novel.
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Back in the carriage, where she was hiding from the weather while Evan secured their rooms at the inn, Amelia sighed. Though she’d tried to be polite with him for the past hour, she’d been stewing in inner turmoil the whole time.
He was insanely handsome. More handsome than she remembered, and she’d already remembered him as the handsomest boy she’d ever known. His proximity did all sorts of wicked things to her body, made her skin feel sensitive and achy, and an intense erotic need furled between her legs. Everything about him called to her on a most carnal level, from the way he spoke to her to the hardness of his body to the rugged planes of his face, and her desire had grown ever stronger as the miles had rolled beneath the wheels of the carriage.
But her body didn’t know what her mind did—he was also the cruelest boy she’d ever known. He’d pretended to admire her, but in reality he’d scorned her behind her back. After she’d discovered that, she’d struggled for years with her self-confidence. Even now, after years of people admiring her beauty publicly, she sometimes still looked in the mirror and saw the pudgy, unattractive girl that Evan Cameron had seen for so many years.
She’d resolved herself to spending another few hours with him in his carriage, then escaping to Cheltham House, hopefully not having to see him again before she returned to London next month. But now they were stranded in Postcombe, and politeness would dictate he dine with her and ensure her comfort at the inn, then break his fast with her in the morning before the additional two-hour—or longer, with snow on the road—drive to her father’s house. Which meant more interaction with him than she thought she could bear.
She took a deep breath. She would bear it. First of all, she had no choice. Secondly, she was no simpering maiden. Not anymore.
It was what it was. Neither of them could control the weather. She would endure this with as good a nature as she could muster.
Evan slipped into the carriage beside her, his frown even deeper than it had been before. He wrestled with the wind over the door, finally gaining control and slamming it shut, before turning to her and saying in a low voice, “They haven’t any rooms.”
Her eyes went wide. “What? Why not?”
“The Duke of Dunsberg and his entourage were on their way to Oxford, and they were caught in the storm as well. They’ve taken all the available rooms.”
“The innkeeper did offer us lodgings, however…” Evan continued hesitantly. He took a breath. “It’s not a room so much as a closet. But they’ve an extra bed they can put in there for us.”
“Ah,” she said quietly.
Finally, he met her gaze. “I fear this is our only option. I will sleep on the floor, of course. I would not…er…take advantage of the situation in any way. I give you my word.”
Could this day get any worse? Amelia stifled a groan. She wasn’t worried about Evan not being a gentleman; she was far, far more worried about herself not being a lady. Lord knew what a fool she’d made of herself in his proximity in the past. And the way her body was responding to him…she felt like a giant magnet inexorably drawn to his compelling force. Her skin was prickly and hot, aching all over. And something told her that only his touch could soothe that kind of pain.
I’ll Be Home for Christmas by Jessica Scott
There’s nothing in the world Army Sergeant Vic Carponti loves more than his wife and his country. Smart-mouthed and easy tempered, he takes everything as a joke . . . except his promise to come home to his wife, Nicole, for Christmas. As he prepares to leave for his latest deployment into Iraq, Vic will do everything he can to shield his beautiful, supportive wife from the realities of war . . . and from his own darkest fears.
As a career army wife, Nicole Carponti knows just what to expect from her husband’s tour of duty: loneliness, relentless worry, and a seemingly endless countdown until the moment Vic walks through the door again. But when the unthinkable happens, Nicole and Vic’s bond is tested like never before and changes everything they believe to be true about the power of love and the simple beauty of being home for the holidays.
USA Todaybestselling author Jessica Scott is a career army officer; mother of two daughters, three cats and three dogs; wife to a career NCO and wrangler of all things stuffed and fluffy. She is a terrible cook and even worse housekeeper, but she’s a pretty good shot with her assigned weapon and someone liked some of the stuff she wrote. Somehow, her children are pretty well-adjusted and her husband still loves her, despite burned water and a messy house.
She’s written for the New York Times At War Blog, PBS Point of View: Regarding War Blog, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. She deployed to Iraq in 2009 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom/New Dawn and has served as a company commander at Fort Hood, Texas.
She’s pursuing a PhD in Sociology in her spare time and most recently, she’s been featured as one of Esquire Magazine‘s Americans of the Year for 2012.
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“You’re not serious.”
Carponti turned around, his shoulders covered in flecks of red hair. “What?”
Nicole grinned as she leaned against the door. “Garrison is going to kill you.”
“Garrison is going to love my new hair cut. It looks just like his.”
Nicole arched one blond eyebrow. “Except for the bright red fuzzy patch in the center of your head.”
Carponti shrugged and rubbed his hands over his freshly shorn scalp. “I can’t wait to see what the sergeant major says.”
“Isn’t he going to be mad?”
Carponti brushed the hair off his neck. “We’re going to war. My hair isn’t on the list of things he’s going to worry about.”
Nicole looked down at the pile of hair on the floor and sighed. “Then why do it?”
Carponti smirked. “Because it’ll get a rise out of him and I live to make his blood pressure go up.”
She laughed. “You need a hobby. Other than blowing things up.”
He sidled across the room and hooked his thumb into the waist of her jeans and tugged her close until their hips met. “I have a hobby. Keeping you well satisfied.”
She sniffed but her lips curled at the edges. “You’re going to be derelict in your duties for a while.”
“But I’ll be home soon enough and then I’ll make up for it.”
“I think I’m going to need a deployment boyfriend.”
He grinned wickedly. “Did you already get one?” He backed her up against the wall, his body hard against hers. God but she loved this man. “Can I see it?”
A slow flush crept over her face and she tried to look away. He threaded his fingers with hers and lifted her arms over her head. Her back arched with the movement.
“Please?” he whispered against her lips. “That would be an awesome memory to take with me downrange. Just think of me, alone in the middle of the desert. One visual of you with your deployment boyfriend and it could make a lonely night go by so much faster.”
Nicole giggled until the laugh overwhelmed her and she was gasping for air. He released her hands and she threaded them around his neck. She buried her face against his throat and laughed.
“There’s something really wrong with you,” she said when she could breathe again. “I’ll send you a video.”
He brightened instantly. “Really?”
“Yes. And dirty letters.”
“Promise?” He nibbled along the edge of her jaw, guiding her slowly backward toward their bed, stacked high with his two duffle bags and all the crap he still hadn’t packed.
But he didn’t care.
“I promise. And you’re going to be late.” Her voice caught in her throat.
“Screw it,” he whispered. “This is the last chance to make love to my beautiful wife before I have to go traipsing across the desert like Lawrence of Arabia.” He nibbled at her earlobe while his hand slipped down her belly to the moist head between her thighs. “Tell you what. You send me a picture of yours and I’ll send you a picture of mine. Maybe I can get him a little horse and saddle and send you a picture. Maybe a Barbie camel. I can put him in a little man dress.”
She laughed and Carponti’s heart swelled in his chest at the sound of it.
“I’m going to hold you to that.” She traced her fingers over his scalp, her body soft and warm against his erection. “I want a picture of him in a man dress in exchange for a video of the deployment boyfriend.”
Her legs bumped into the back of the bed and he followed her down. Tangled between the duffle bags and his uniforms, he made love to her one last time before he got on a plane and headed to war.
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