’Twas the Rogue Before Christmas
The Honorable Rogues®, Book Seven
They’re utterly wrong for each other, even if one forbidden kiss suggests otherwise…
Lenora Audsley owes what little standing she has in Polite Society to her brother, the Earl of Keyworth. So, she’s determined to behave like a proper lady and make him proud. But then she brashly foils a robbery attempt and makes a spectacle of herself. Now, she can’t stop thinking about the charming rogue who rescued her, even though he’s entirely unsuitable as a beau…
Captain Jason Steele wants to set sail and put as much distance between himself and England as possible. He knows he has no business trying to court an English lord’s sister—and the lord in question heartily agrees. But that doesn’t help him forget about the flame-haired beauty. Not even for a moment.
With their happily ever after at stake and a sea of differences between them, will Jason and Lenora surrender to the magic of the holiday season—and each other—before it’s too late?
See What Readers Are Saying!
“A delightful story with great characters.” ★★★★★ ~ PeggyC51
“Love this sweet romance of Jason and Lenora.” ★★★★★ ~ Linda Bug
“An entertaining read with humor, romance, some tender and emotional moments that brought a few tears to my eyes…” ★★★★★ ~ Lana Birky
This book was a quick read, but not lacking at all…the trope was…interesting. ★★★★★ ~Annglez
A sweet story about a young lady who meets a man who is an American Captain. ★★★★★ ~Patricia Schuette
“This book was a quick read, but not lacking at all. I really booked all the characters and the trope was an interesting one” ★★★★★ ~ Annglez
“I gave the book 5 stars because I really thoroughly enjoyed it.” ★★★★★ ~ MJVH
“I so enjoyed the story of Jason and Lenora. It was a bit different with some interesting twists and turns. ★★★★★ ~ DeAnne Tobias
28 October 1820
Two years and still, Lenora Audsley hadn’t entirely adjusted to her new life amongst the upper ten thousand. Hers was the proverbial rags-to-riches fairy tale. From a meager existence in Brighton to a lavish lifestyle amongst the haut ton. All thanks to her brother Landry Audsley, Earl of Keyworth, and his persistence in searching for her for eight long years—a half-sister he’d not known existed for the first decade of her life.
Had she wanted to, Lenora couldn’t have suppressed the smile curving her mouth as she and her adopted mother, Ruth Smith, and her sister-in-law, Celestia, the Countess of Keyworth, slowly wandered Burlington Arcade’s long, elegant passage.
Even the arcade was new and wonderous. All manner of high-end merchants lined either side of the tidy walking lane. Lenora tried not to gawk as she looked from side to side into the large, ornate windows. This was her first visit to the quaint shopping area the upper salons were all abuzz about.
Lenora shook her head at the marvel of it all.
The exclusive, covered market was one of the first of its kind, having been completed the previous March by George Cavendish, Earl of Burlington. Geared toward luxury items and extravagances only the upper crust could afford, Burlington Arcade provided a safer shopping venue for women than Oxford or Bond Streets. Or, truth to tell, the myriad of other fashionable streets the ton favored for their shopping excursions.
Usually, Landry insisted at least one footman accompany the women on any outing. Still, he’d acquiesced to his wife’s entreating smile when she explained Burlington Arcade was explicitly designed so that women might shop unaccompanied by a male. He’d reluctantly conceded that they might wander Burlington Arcade without Chambers, their burly footman. Nevertheless, Chambers, a former pugilist and reformed street youth, would still accompany them everywhere else.
Lenora supposed that was what marriage was about—compromise and concession. Putting your spouse’s desires before your own. A willingness to make sacrifices to keep them happy because your loved one’s happiness made you glad.
Lenora cut her smiling sister-in-law a side-eyed glance.
Celestia and Landry were so ecstatically content that it was embarrassing at times. Opposites in almost every way; theirs had been a love match. It was quite a romantic tale, in truth.
That had not been the relationship between Lenora’s adopted parents. Mama believed Lenora ignorant of her father’s indiscretions. Or that his last lover, pregnant and enraged, had shoved the vicar down a flight of stairs. Papa had refused to leave Mama and Lenora and make off with the tavern wench. Lenora imagined that as a man of the cloth, even Papa had moral boundaries he wouldn’t cross—adultery not being high on that list.
Mama would go to her grave before she discussed the final disgrace that drove them from Lancaster. Still, she must’ve known the townspeople gossiped—and were careless when a young girl was about. Especially a bashful girl with a tendency to hide amongst the bushes, behind draperies, or under tables and desks where she went unnoticed.
Lenora inhaled a purgative breath and purposely returned her focus to the much more pleasant present. Earlier today, she, Mama, and Celestia had visited their modiste, Mademoiselle De la Cour, owner of Le Belle Haute Couture, on Bond Street before walking through Burlington Gardens to the Burlington Arcade on this fine autumn day.
Even Mama’s cheeks held a rosy tint from the brisk wind that had cleared the skies of coal dust before a sweep of silver-edged clouds once more claimed the heavens as was their wont in late October.
Chambers had placed their packages, including Lenora’s exquisite new ballgown for the Wimpletons’ Christmastide ball, into the coach and now awaited the women near Burlington Arcade’s Piccadilly entrance.
A pair of striking dandies—one wearing a saffron yellow waistcoat and the other a fuchsia and peacock blue striped travesty—approached the trio. The men’s gazes lit with masculine interest as they raked their bold perusal over Lenora and Celestia.
Flashing roguish smiles, the young bucks brazenly doffed their hats in Lenora’s direction as they passed by. One dared to wink and place his hand over his heart theatrically.
“Hmph,” Mama harumphed beneath her breath, prickling like an irate porcupine.
Celestia’s family owned a used bookstore—Tolmans’ Tomes and Tobacco—and Lenora had read several fascinating books acquired from there. One text discussed animals indigenous to the Americas, including porcupines and a smelly, striped creature called a skunk.
Mama’s hand tightened on Lenora’s arm as she speared the men with a frosty glare, her lips pinched in disapproval. “Audacious as the devious serpent in the Garden of Eden, the unrepentant rapscallions. I shall pray for their wayward souls.”
Once a vicar’s wife, always a vicar’s wife.
Mama had very stringent ideas about propriety and morality. Gentlemen flirting with a woman they’d not been introduced to most definitely was a black mark against them. Flirting, in general, was frowned upon.
“I fear it cannot be helped, Ruth,” Celestia put in with a wide grin and a mischievous wink toward Lenora over the top of Mama’s unadorned green bonnet. “Our Lenora is a diamond of the first water. A true original. Men cannot help but be besotted upon seeing her. Landry refused no less than nine offers for her hand last Season and four the previous year.”
Lenora had only been aware of six of the proposals. The others Landry must’ve felt were unsuitable, and the men weren’t even given permission to ask her to marry them.
Familiar heat crept up her face. She prayed the shadows from her ocean-blue bonnet and the arched ceiling would hide her blushes. Naturally, she would never admit it aloud—Mama would be scandalized—but Lenora was flattered, even if the masculine attention flustered her somewhat.
What woman didn’t enjoy a little harmless admiration?
In truth, she wasn’t ready to marry yet. Not when she’d just found her brother. Besides, she loved Celestia like a sister. Eyeing Celestia’s rounded tummy, Lenora smiled. No, she wasn’t going anywhere until she’d come to know her new nephew or niece.
Regardless, though she knew Celestia meant well, it made Lenora deucedly uncomfortable to be the object of such conjecture. Landry protected her from the worst of the smitten swains with a steely glare or a stern word. He was a most protective brother, and she adored him for it.
Well, most of the time.
On occasion, she wished he’d let her defend herself. She was capable of a smart setdown if the need arose.
Nonetheless, after each social event, numerous flowers arrived along with poems and an assortment of gifts from chocolates to a custom pink quill in its very own ivory velvet case. That novelty had been one of Lenora’s favorites. And, of course, the would-be suitors crowded the salon for days afterward.
All of the attention was exhausting and made Lenora feel rather like a mare on the auction block. To be precise, Landry had bestowed a ridiculously generous dowry upon her, and she couldn’t be certain her beaux’ interest wasn’t influenced by her wedding portion.
In point of fact, the Season was known as the Marriage Mart. Lenora had endured two Seasons so far, and in truth, preferred the months when the elite fled London for their country estates.
This year, their household hadn’t departed for Faringcroft Park, Landry’s country seat, due to Celestia’s pregnancy. She wanted to be near her family in London when the babe arrived.
Most women preferred the tranquility of country life, but not Celestia. She adored London’s hubbub and racket. The bustling activity, the people, the nonstop energy, as she called it.
“Lenora is in no hurry to wed,” Mama murmured, a trifle more subdued as they strolled along. Or perhaps she was hopeful that was the case?
Landry had said as much too.
“You’ll only marry because you want to, Lenora. You shall have your pick of a husband,” he’d said before giving her a fond peck upon the top of her head. “Take your time. I would have you as happily married as I.”
Landry had scandalized le beau monde by cocking a snook at Society and marrying a commoner. That he was blissfully happy and a powerful lord tempered much of the disapproval. Not all of the censure, however. But then there were always those prepared to judge others.
Neither Landry nor Celestia seemed to care a jot.
“Well, I cannot say I like it,” Mama pointed out, leveling another would-be admirer a look that would freeze mangoes off the trees in the Caribbean. Mangoes did not tolerate freezing temperatures—another tidbit Lenora had learned by way of a fascinating book.
“Those scoundrels”—Mama tossed a vexed look over her shoulder—“ought to know better. Ogling young women in such a bold manner. Hmph. They’re fortunate the good Lord doesn’t smite them for their impure thoughts.”
Smite them? Impure thoughts?
The earth would be uninhabited if God went about slaying people for their thoughts.
A vision of purple lightning bolts flashing from the sky and simultaneously striking the men came to mind. Hiding a grin, Lenora quickly turned her head to inspect a picture window display. At least a dozen porcelain dolls ranging in size from six inches to two dolls that stood over four feet tall stared sightlessly back at her.
She hadn’t a doubt their cost was very dear. Likely more than a servant made in a year. As a child, she’d always yearned for a beautiful doll with long curly black hair, wearing a ruffled yellow gown and dainty blue slippers. Although money wasn’t a concern now, she was too frugal to consider such a triviality.
Besides, what did a grown woman of twenty need with a doll?
Seeking the toy store’s signage—Tippton’s Novelties & Nostalgia – Toys for All Ages—she tucked the name into her memory. She’d need to buy a gift for the baby when it arrived in a few months.
Realizing Celestia had asked her something, Lenora drew her attention away from the display. “I beg your pardon, Celestia. I didn’t hear you.”
“I asked if you wanted to go inside the toy store,” Celestia said.
“No, thank you,” Lenora declined. “Perhaps another time.”
They neared the arcade’s northern entrance.
Celestia smiled at the dapper beadle attired in a top hat and a double-breasted, navy-blue tailcoat adorned with white accents. Two neat rows of six silver buttons, nearly the same shade as the overcast sky, gleamed upon his barrel chest. Brandishing a polished mahogany scepter topped with an ornate silver ball, he held himself with the regal dignity of the loftiest monarch.
Cordially greeting each arriving guest or bidding them farewell, a genial twinkle lit his merry blue eyes. He swept into a flourishing courtier’s bow. “Ladies.”
Over the top of his broad back, Lenora perused the bustling tableau a few feet away. With a small jolt of alarm, she realized a pair of young, profoundly brazen footpads had set upon an elderly noblewoman and what might’ve been her lady’s maid.
The taller, older blighter viciously shoved the companion to the ground while the other attempted to wrest the reticule from the lady’s frail wrist. The elderly dame wasn’t having any of it, however. At once, she began thwacking him with her parasol. The plethora of pink and black feathers adorning her bonnet writhed with each blow she landed.
Not that a parasol was necessary in London in October. An umbrella was most prudent. The lacey accessory did, nevertheless, make a rather admirable weapon.
“Let go, you impudent bounder,” the woman demanded in an imperious tone.
“Blighter. Blackguard. Rotter.” Thwack. Thwack. “Thinking to rob an old lady.”
Before Lenora gave a thought to the possible danger or her imprudence for interfering, she sprang into action. She grabbed the flabbergasted beadle’s staff and charged at the assailants.