Dec 24 2012 1:30pm
“Caroling Off-Key on Christmas Eve”: A House of Brady Vignette
While getting ready for the holiday season, Team H&H found this previously released story from Kieran Kramer's House of Brady Series, originally featured at Not Another Romance Blog. We hope you enjoy it!
First, a special message from Kieran:
Holiday greetings, everyone! When I decided to write this vignette involving an off-key carol singer within the Brady household, I laughed out loud imagining it unfold—because I’m from a family of extreme singers! What does that mean? Well, we all love to sing, and we harmonize together so well that people often say we’re like the Von Trapp family from The Sound of Music, and they wonder why we didn’t have stage parents who made us form a group like the Osmonds. But my family just enjoyed singing for singing’s sake, especially around the holidays. Christmas Eve was a big deal because we’d all pile on a wagon that my dad pulled behind his tractor, and we’d go down the dirt road from house to house in the country neighborhood we lived in and sing carols.
I still remember being twelve and sitting in that wagon on a pile of hay. I remember looking up at the starry night sky and seeing one special star twinkling—I was sure it was the Christmas star. It was such a wonderful feeling, knowing that we were all together and singing and that the next morning, Christmas would be there…
Next thing I knew years passed, and I married a man who can’t sing his way out of a box! He’s so cute, though, when he does sing, and it makes me realize listening to him that the best singing is heartfelt. It doesn’t matter if you don’t sound real purty—just sing! Let your heart express in song what words can’t always do alone.
And that’s what I love most about music. It says things words can’t—and as a writer, that’s a pretty big thing for me to admit. But I’m glad to—I love music, and without it, my life would feel incomplete. And that’s a fact. Especially around the holidays, I want my Thanksgiving songs and my Christmas carols!
Now that you know where I’m coming from, I hope you’ll enjoy this scene I wrote from the heart (and I played Christmas carols while doing it):
Enjoy this story from Kieran Kramers's House of Brady Series, Caroling Off-Key on Christmas Eve. And look for the newest book in the House of Brady Series, The Earl is Mine, available Febuary 26, 2013.
Everyone at Ballybrook should be as happy at Christmas as I am, thought Marcia Lattimore, Lady Chadwick, and said a quick prayer that each resident, from the lowliest stable boy to the wine steward to her parents, the Marquess and Marchioness of Brady themselves, felt as loved as she did at that moment.
She finished fastening the pearl earring bobs her new husband Duncan had just presented her and sat back from her looking glass to admire her appearance. She couldn’t help it—she was so madly in love with her man that she knew she looked the best she ever had.
What you do in bed with him has everything to do with it, a naughty voice in her head reminded her. She gave a little giggle. They were spending an awful lot of time away from the Christmas festivities, weren’t they? Ballybrook was filled to the brim with family and good friends. Her parents’ estate in Ireland was never prettier than it was around Christmas, and there was so much to do, every single minute.
But at least three times in the past two days alone—since they’d arrived there with their son Joe, his nurse Aislynn, and a few other beloved servants from their London home—Marcia and Duncan had sneaked out of the charades, the decorating, and the sipping of hot chocolate to rendezvous for a few stolen moments of intimacy: once in their bedchamber, on the rug before the fire; once in the greenhouse, which was warm and cozy; and once outside, in the bright, clear sunlight against the trunk of a tree in the woods behind the estate.
She couldn’t resist Duncan. And it made her heart melt even more with love for him to realize that he couldn’t resist her, either. Together, they were a fire that was almost dangerously out of control. But it was thrilling—and oh, so right—to let herself surrender completely to passion with the man she loved.
“I get so tired of being proper all the time,” she said to her reflection.
With Duncan, she needn’t be.
Which was why her cheeks glowed so pink, why her eyes were the clearest blue they’d ever been, and why her lips felt soft and plump and looked red as raspberries.
The earrings swayed on her earlobes, and she stood.
It was time to sing. It was her favorite part of Christmas, how on Christmas Eve the whole family gathered with friends and sang carols around the pianoforte. And of course, that family included Alice, their housekeeper. She sang louder than everyone else. This was her house and her family, and no one dared argue with her on either point! And on Christmas Eve, Alice wanted everyone to sing their very best. She couldn’t stand a bit of squeakiness or a note sung off-key.
Marcia was so excited when downstairs, all the out-of-town friends staying with the family were gathered, and all the family’s local friends—the shopkeepers, the vicar, and various neighbors from the nearby village—had arrived. Indeed, everyone was already crowding about the pianoforte, where Marcia’s beloved Duncan sat. He would play the Christmas carols this year instead of Alice, giving the housekeeper even more time to ensure that the gathering went off famously.
Marcia blew Duncan a kiss and felt butterflies in her stomach when he sent her a look that she knew was meant only for her. It promised lots of kisses—and more—after midnight, when the house was quiet, awaiting Christmas. But she had to put aside those warm, fuzzy thoughts of Duncan for now. It was time to sing!
She had to restrain a giggle when she saw Alice lift an eyebrow and glance around the company. Was there anyone there who needed some coaching? Alice wasn’t averse to that. Oh, no. In fact, she found great pleasure in taking poor singers aside and conducting an impromptu practice with them, if needs be. But no one had ever objected in the past, as being asked to spend any time at all with the august housekeeper was considered quite an honor by all—such an honor, in fact, that some people even faked being bad singers. They knew that after practice, Alice—if she were in an extra jolly holiday mood—would wink at the lucky person she’d singled out and tell him that she’d sneak him her own special whisky cake—an entire one—to carry home with him when they left!
But Alice saw through the phony awful carol singers every time. No, she was after only genuinely bad ones. Her mission on Christmas Eve was to ensure that everyone at Ballybrook, which was a little piece of heaven, sang like true angels.
So when a newcomer to the group, Samuel Waterson, the new butcher in the nearby village, began singing, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” off-key, why, Alice’s face grew bright pink. And on top of the pink were two bright red circles where her pale white cheeks usually were.
Marcia waited. And waited. So did everyone else.
When was Alice going to intervene and give Samuel Waterson a quick bit of singing practice while the rest of them continued on as if nothing were happening? Because, of course, that was the polite thing to do—act as if you didn’t even notice the poor person—or lucky person, depending on how you looked at it—being trained to sing on key by Alice.
But nothing happened. Samuel was such a bad singer that everyone’s mouths curled up in gentle smiles. Except for Alice’s. She acted as if Samuel didn’t exist.
Marcia caught Duncan’s eye, and in that one-second exchange, they each read the other’s thoughts: Alice has a tendrefor Samuel.
There was no other explanation for it.
At the conclusion of the song, Duncan rested his hands on the edge of the keys. “Alice, I have a special favor.”
“Name it,” Alice said in her usual brisk manner. “I’ll do it.”
Duncan and Joe were the latest male additions to the household, and Alice did her best to lavish every bit of love and attention she could on her two new favorites.
Duncan sent the housekeeper what Marcia thought was quite simply the most devastatingly charming grin she’d ever seen. “Please take Samuel away for a few minutes to practice the harmony for ‘Away in the Manger.’” Duncan’s tone was kind but firm. “You two would sing it splendidly together. When you come back, we’ll sing it for the vicar and his wife when they arrive.”
“I’ll sit that one out,” said Samuel after a beat of taut silence. “I’m the worst singer in the world. I’m off-key all the time.”
Marcia smiled. “But challenges are Alice’s specialty. She’ll get you back on key in no time. She says she’s never met someone whose singing she couldn’t fix.” She nudged her sister Janice in the side.
“That’s right,” said Janice, her golden hair twisted in an artful chignon. “Alice will get your confidence back, Mr. Waterson. That’s all you need.”
“Some cases are hopeless.” Alice stared stonily at Marcia and Janice.
“But Alice, no singing challenge is too great for you.” Duncan smiled at her again—that special, heart-melting smile that made Marcia’s toes curl. “You’ve said so yourself.”
“I must agree with Duncan,” Marcia’s mother Caroline said. As mistress of the house, she was resplendent in a deep emerald gown and three matching feathers in her hair.
“And I agree with my wife,” affirmed Marcia’s handsome Irish stepfather Michael, the Marquess of Brady. He was well turned out in a black coat, silver waistcoat, and a diamond stick pin in his pristine white cravat, but the twinkle in his eyes reminded Marcia of how charmingly boyish he could be, especially when he was home at Ballybrook.
Everyone else nodded and murmured the same agreement. Alice must take Mr. Waterson away.
The housekeeper stared round at the company. “If you insist,” she eventually said in a tight voice, then glared at Mr. Waterson.
“Right, then.” He grinned, not afraid of her at all. “It’s Christmas. Maybe a miracle will happen.”
“Maybe it will,” Alice said again in that tight-lipped fashion. “And maybe it won’t.”
When she strode off, Mr. Waterson rushed to catch up with her. “Wait a minute.” He took her arm. “A lady doesn’t open doors.”
He waved aside the approaching footman and pulled open the drawing room door for Alice himself.
“Thank you, Mr. Waterson.” She still sounded grumpy—but not as grumpy as she had a mere few seconds ago.
Marcia hid a grin.
“My pleasure,” she heard Mr. Waterson say to Alice in the corridor. “Now tell me, Miss O’Grady, why is it that everyone is so afraid of a lady as pretty as you? That blue gown of yours brings out the blue in your eyes….”
The singing started again, but Marcia sped to the door and peeked out.
The couple was moving slowly away.
“That’s enough flattery, Mr. Waterson.” Alice’s tone was firm, but Marcia heard a distinct wobble when she said his name. “You sing like a dying beaver, and I don’t think there’s a thing I can do to save you.” She tried to yank her arm away from his.
But Mr. Waterson wouldn’t let her. “Oh, yeah? I know something that could save me—not my voice, maybe, but my heart.”
Alice’s eyes narrowed, but Marcia saw a telltale flush on her cheeks. “Mr. Waterson, that is enough—“ She finally yanked her arm away from his and went striding down the hall alone, her back perfectly straight. “Now follow me to the study,” she said over her shoulder. “We have only half an hour to practice before the vicar arrives. I’m going to whip your voice into shape if it’s the last thing I do.”
“I have another sort of practice in mind, and it’s got nothing to do with my voice.” Mr. Waterson caught up to her in two long strides and caught her hand.
Even without being able to see Alice’s face, Marcia could sense that their wonderful housekeeper had somehow softened. Her shoulders looked less square. And while railing at the butcher, a tendril had escaped her tightly bound hair.
“There’s not a bit of mistletoe in sight,” Mr. Waterson said. “You’d better remember that when you wake up tomorrow and start making excuses about why I did what I’m about to do.” He took her upper arms gently. “I’ve been wanting to kiss you since I first set eyes on you in my store, Alice—since you first yelled at me for not tying the string on the package of meat with a pretty bow instead of a knot. You and your girly ways….”
“Me? Girly?” Alice asked in a soft voice.
“Of course, you’re girly!” Samuel tugged her close. “Do you really hate hearing me sing off-key?”
Alice paused, then shook her head. “No. I love it, actually. I don’t know why. It makes no sense, really. You’re the worst singer I’ve ever heard.”
And now it was time for Mr. Waterson’s face to soften. “Happy Christmas, Alice,” he whispered.
Marcia closed her eyes and pulled herself back into the drawing room to give the couple privacy.
Everyone was still singing, but she caught Duncan’s questioning gaze. She bit her lip and nodded. He grinned and winked. She smiled and blew him a kiss. There was nothing off-key about what was going on in that corridor between Alice and Samuel.
Marcia squeezed in beside Janice again, wrapped her arm around her sister’s waist, and joined in the singing. It was going to be a very happy Christmas, indeed.
Copyright © 2012 by Kieran Kramer
”Caroling Off-Key on Christmas Eve" was originally posted to Not Another Romance Blog
Want more? Check out the House of Brady e-novella The Earl with the Secret Tattoo by Kieran Kramer:
And don't miss the second novel in Kieran's House of Brady series, The Earl is Mine, out on February 26, 2013:
Kieran Kramer, author of the Impossible Bachelors series, was born in Washington, D.C., to an Air Force pilot father and actress/singer mother. She grew up mainly on Johns Island, a rural sea island near Charleston, South Carolina, where she helped build her family’s log home. Having worked for the CIA and as journalist for The Charlotte Observer, Kieran is now a stay-at-home mom. She once won $34,000 on Wheel of Fortune, and also won on Family Feud. She’s been married to her naval officer husband, Chuck, for twenty-one years, and they have three children.