A Kiss Upon the Wind
Twice-widowed Lady Isolde Doncaster doesn’t want to remarry, but her parents will stop at nothing to find her a new husband. Even the family ghost, a dashing Cavalier, insists she must wed again. When a masked stranger at the Christmas masquerade helps Isolde avoid her suitors, she is grateful—until she realizes he is the son of the neighboring family, come to steal a pendant their mothers have feuded over for years.
Gawain Burke sneaked into the Christmas masquerade with one goal: to retrieve the pendant that rightfully belongs to his mother. But his chivalrous instincts come to the fore, and protecting Isolde from lecherous men becomes his primary concern. He’s not a suitor for her hand. She has sworn never to marry again. They’ll just work together to return the pendant and stop the feud.
But neither of them reckons with the ghost, who has a far better ending in mind.
Setup: The night before, Gawain sneaked into the masquerade at Lady Isolde’s father’s estate to steal back the pendant over which their families are feuding—and while there, he protected Isolde from her lecherous suitors. She sent a secret message to meet him this morning. He thinks she has discovered that the pendant is missing…
Isolde turned from the shop window and found herself face to face with Gawain Burke. A blush rose to her cheeks. She’d hadn’t seen him this close for years—except last night, of course, which was different, for he’d been in disguise. How well she remembered that intelligent grey gaze and that mouth that always hinted at a smile! She had missed him, she realized suddenly. Such a beloved childhood friend—who had grown into a handsome, virile man.
Where had that thought come from? She had no interest in virility. None whatsoever!
Gawain said nothing, merely eyeing her warily. She pulled herself together and put out a gloved hand. “Mr. Burke! How delightful to have the opportunity to wish you a Happy New Year.”
He took the hand and brushed it with his lips. “And you, Lady Isolde.” A twinkle softened the wariness in his eyes. He offered his arm. “Let us take a stroll and demonstrate the Christmas spirit to the villagers.”
She placed her hand on his arm and walked away with him, and just like that, they were alone—or as close to alone as they could be on a busy village street. They ambled along as if they hadn’t a care in the world. As if they weren’t likely to incur wrath and reproachful tears from parents on both sides.
Isolde took a deep breath and let it out with a sigh. “Thank you for rescuing me from my suitors last night.”
“It was my pleasure,” he said, adding after a pause, “You wished to speak with me?”
“Yes,” she murmured, “but not where everyone can hear. It’s about the pendant.”
“I thought so,” he said. “I’m sorry, but—”
She shook her head. “I’m sick of this feud, and although I hate to be disloyal, I wonder if perhaps your mother is in the right.”
Another pause, and then: “You do?”
“It was hers to begin with, or at least your family’s.” They passed the last of the shops. A few cottages lined the street now, but they could speak more easily.
She stopped and turned to him. “I would like to hear your mother’s version of what happened.” She put up a hand. “Not from your mother, but from you. And not now, but somewhere private. If we are seen speaking at length, it will cause talk.”
“We are already causing talk,” he said ruefully.
“That can’t be helped.” She frowned up at him, trying to gauge his feelings, worried she was asking too much. “Would you please sneak into the Court again tonight?”
~ * ~
Gawain gazed down at her lovely face and wondered if Isolde realized what she was asking. He was perfectly willing to play along—which was reprehensible of him, perhaps, since he already had the pendant. He couldn’t decide. No, he couldn’t resist.
It wasn’t unacceptable for a widow to take a lover, as long as they were discreet. Unfortunately, she expected, or rather, trusted him to behave in a gentlemanly way. She probably had no idea how much he desired her. She thought of him only as her brother’s friend.
“I’ll leave the library window unlocked,” Isolde said. “Please?”
“Yes, I’ll come,” he said, but before she could suggest they meet in her bedchamber, which would not help quench his desire, he added, “I’ll be in the lumber room at midnight.”
“Thank you!” She smiled, and his heart turned over. He gazed down at her, rapt.
A whistle from up the street shattered the moment. One of the village lads, his cohorts at his heels, pointed gleefully above their heads at an oak tree bedecked by nature with mistletoe.
Damn. If he didn’t kiss her, they would be pelted with snowballs—which was good fun—and arouse some gossip, which wasn’t, and it would hurt her far more than it would him. If she disliked passion, she must have a good reason, but no one was likely to understand or respect that.
“It’s up to you, Isolde—if you don’t mind the snowballs and the gossip, nor do I. I know you’re averse to the custom of kissing under the mistletoe.”
She wrinkled her nose. “I’m not quite as averse if it’s you.”
He burst into laughter. “What a compliment that was!” He swooped in and kissed her.
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About Barbara Monajem:
Barbara Monajem wrote her first story at eight years old about apple tree gnomes. She published a middle-grade fantasy when her children were young, then moved on to mystery, fantasy, and Regency romance for adults. She lives near Atlanta, Georgia with an ever-shifting population of relatives, friends, and feline strays.
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