Oct 13 2014 1:30pm

First Look: Manda Collins’s Once Upon a Christmas Kiss (October 14, 2014)

Once Upon a Christmas Kiss by Manda CollinsManda Collins
Once Upon a Christmas Kiss
St. Martin's Press / October 14, 2014 / $3.99 digital

When Sir Lucien Blakemore arrives at his cousin’s estate for a week-long Christmas party, he’s shocked to see Miss Winifred Nightingale among the other guests. Employed by his neighbor back in Yorkshire, the governess with the lovely eyes has always seemed off limits, but she’s visiting here as a guest—and there’s nothing like a little mistletoe to make the spirits bright…

Miss Winifred Nightingale never dreamed a holiday visit with her sister would lead to both ladies spending Christmas as the local lord’s guests. But the big surprise is when she finds the handsome Sir Lucien Blakemore staying there too. The attraction between them is undeniable, but will an old nemesis and a party guest bent on mischief make their first kiss under the mistletoe their last?

There is nothing more enjoyable than a house party to celebrate the Christmas season. A gathering of friends and relatives for fun festivities, caroling, gathering of holiday greens, and even sleigh rides.

Manda Collins’s novella, Once Upon a Christmas Kiss, celebrates the holiday with just such an assembly. Sir Lucian Blakewell usually stays home during the holidays or maybe visits his good friend Trevor, the Duke of Ormond. This year, however, the newly wedded Duke has plans of his own, so Lucian has finally agreed to give in to his cousin’s yearly invitation to a house party in the country. He fears he has made an awful mistake when he is accosted by the marriage minded mothers and their not quite charming daughters almost as soon as he enters the house. It isn’t until he sees a face he recognizes across the room that he realize he might have been given an early Christmas gift after all. 

Winifred Nightingale has been haunting his thoughts of late. Winnie is the governess to his friend Trevor’s younger sisters and their easy friendship has been growing into something more. Spending the next two weeks confined in the house with Winnie will give Lucian a chance to convince Winnie that maybe their futures lie together.

Lucian wasn’t sure what he’d expected when she said she’d like to ask a favor, but he was quite sure it hadn’t been this. It made a great deal of sense, however, and he was rather pleased that she felt sure enough of his friendship to ask it of him. He’d been rather hoping to move their relationship forward over the course of the house party, but he hadn’t wanted to rush her. Perhaps, however, there was a way to turn this pretend betrothal into a real one.

But not everyone is getting into the holiday season of peace on earth, good will toward men…or at least not good will toward the pretty, young Nightingale sisters. Lucian and some of the other eligible young men seem very distracted by the feisty governess and her sweet schoolteacher sister and more than one lady wants them gone from the party.

“I hope you won’t think me too terribly wicked, Sir Lucien,” she said with all the semblance of apology but none of the sincerity. “I simply thought to make light of the situation. To be frank, I find it a bit difficult to endure the presence of such downtrodden being amongst the rest of us. One always feels the sting of jealousy from them. And it’s not as if we are at fault for their situation, after all. Really, thought I can understand the need to make up the numbers, one has to wonder what Lady Helen was thinking.”

“I imagine she was thinking to do the ladies a kindness,” Lucien said with remarkable calm, given his true thoughts at the moment.

The guests pass the time participating in the usually holiday festivities of gathering greens, skating on the pond, and sledding. Except for Winnie, this simple fun comes with an equal amount of danger. Someone wants Winnie gone from the party desperately enough to cause her harm and as the attacks escalate, Lucien will do whatever he must to protect her from further injury.

“All we wanted was a merry and bright Christmas house party,” Jem said, pulling the decanter from the shelf behind his desk and pouring himself and Lucien a glass. “First we are invaded by waspish young women who are too dashed competitive for their own good, then we are beset by two of the most reckless young men in the beau monde who simply must have beds for the week, and now your Winnie has put herself in the path of a murderer—or at the very least, someone intent on harm. It’s enough to make one swear off holiday parties all together.”

“Where is your Christmas cheer, Jem?” Lucien deadpanned.

“Gone the same place as my human charity, I daresay,” Jem groused, though his eyes lit with amusement.

As the hot apple cider and the wassailing flow freely and the Yule log is lit, there is more mischief going on at this festive holiday house party than just stealing kisses under the mistletoe.

Learn more about or order a copy of Once Upon a Christmas Kiss by Manda Collins, available October 14, 2014:

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Lucy Dosch writes book reviews for her blog Her e-reader has turned her love of reading into an obsession. When she is not reading, she likes to spend time with her husband and two daughters.

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