A friendly holiday competition turns steamy in this Regency romance novella from the New York Times bestselling author of My One and Only Duke. Previously published in Virtues of Christmas. Advice columnist Patience Friendly's relationship with her stubborn, overbearing publisher, Dougal MacHugh, is anything but cordial. Dougal challenges Patience to take on a rival columnist in a holiday advice-a-thon, and sparks fly clear up to the mistletoe hanging from every rafter. Will Patience follow the practical guidance of her head or the passionate advice of her heart? "Grace Burrowes is a romance treasure." -- Tessa Dare
Release date: December 18, 2018
Publisher: Forever Yours
Print pages: 112
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Patience for Christmas
“Professor Pennypacker is wise, kind, cheerful, and witty. Why shouldn’t I loathe him?” Patience Friendly’s honest question met with smirks from her dearest friends in all the world, though she’d spoken the plain, seasonally inappropriate truth.
“You don’t loathe the professor,” Elizabeth Windham said. “You have a genteel difference of opinion with him from time to time, such as educated people occasionally do. More tea?”
Patience paid regular visits to the four Windham sisters because they were excellent company, though their lavish tea tray figured prominently in her affections as well.
“Half a cup, and then I must be going.”
Elizabeth obliged, her idea of a half portion coming nearly to the cup’s brim.
“It’s the first Monday of the month. Does Dreadful Dougal demand your time, again?” Charlotte Windham asked around a mouthful of stollen.
“Mr. MacHugh is my publisher. I ought not call him that.” In her thoughts, Patience called him much worse. “He might be lacking in polish, but Dougal P. MacHugh ensures my little scribblings find their way into many hands.”
Dougal referred to Patience’s advice columns as little scribblings, but the coin her writing earned was not so little to a spinster without means.
“Your advice to that boy who bashed his sister’s dolly was lovely,” Megan Windham said. Unlike her sisters, she wasn’t embroidering (Elizabeth), knitting (Anwen), or devouring tea cakes (Charlotte). Megan had a quiet about her that soothed, though Patience suspected that quiet hid a lively imagination.
All four sisters shared Patience’s red hair, but they were from a ducal family. If they’d gone swimming in the Serpentine, that would have become the latest rage. Their red hair made them striking, while Patience’s earned her frequent admonitions from her publisher to control her temper.
“I’ll take you up with me in the carriage,” Anwen said. “I’m to read to the boys this afternoon, and one wants to be punctual when setting an example for children.”
“You’re passionate about that orphanage,” Patience said. “I wish Dread—Mr. MacHugh permitted me to write about the plight of poor children in winter, instead of limiting me to an advice column.”
Nothing in all of creation compared to the pleasure of a good, strong cup of black tea on a cold December day, unless it was the same cup of tea shared with friends. Without the company of these four young women, Patience would likely have been reduced to rash acts.
Marriage to the curate, for example.
As Anwen put away her knitting and Charlotte wrapped up the stollen—most of the loaf for the orphans, but two slices for Patience—snow flurries danced outside the parlor window. A brisk breeze pushed them in all directions, and the gray sky threatened a proper snowfall.
Mr. MacHugh would call it a braw, bonnie day, but he was Scottish, and his view of life paid little heed to tea cakes, cozy parlors, or mornings spent with friends. He was all business all the time, the opposite of the company Patience treasured most dearly.
“You’ll come by the Wednesday before Christmas to see how we’re progressing with our holiday baking, won’t you?” Elizabeth asked as Patience accepted a cloak and scarf from the Windham butler. “We still use your mama’s recipe for lemon cake.”
A woman who lived alone didn’t bother with the expense of holiday baking. “I’ll see you on baking day, just as I do every year, and I’ll try to get Mr. MacHugh to publish a piece on Anwen’s urchins. If people won’t contribute to charity at Yuletide, then we’ve become a hopeless species indeed.”
The prospect of persuading Mr. MacHugh to do an article on Anwen’s favorite orphanage was daunting, and as Patience bundled into the Windham coach, a predictable melancholy settled over her, as heavy and familiar as the woolen lap robes.
How many more years would pass in this same pattern? Writing at all hours, battling with Dougal MacHugh over the content of the columns, envying friends their holiday luxuries, and hoping the winter was mild?
The problem wasn’t entirely poverty. Many families with little means found joy in one another’s company and celebrated the holidays cheerfully.
The problem was Patience’s life, and no advice columnist in the realm—not even her kindly, wise, dratted competitor, Professor Pennypacker—could tell her how to repair an existence that felt as bleak and barren as the winter sky.
* * *
“I have never met a female more inappropriately named than Patience Friendly,” Dougal MacHugh muttered. “If I ask her to meet me on the hour, she’s fifteen minutes early, and if our meeting requires an hour of her time, she’s pacing my office thirty minutes on. Send her in.”
“Shall I put the kettle on, Dougal?”
Harry MacHugh was a good lad, but he was a cousin—most of Dougal’s employees were cousins of some sort—and thus he presumed from time to time where prudent men would not.
“She’ll not take tea with me, Harry. Ours is a business relationship.” A lucrative one too. But for that signal fact, Miss Friendly would doubtless have ejected Dougal from her life as briskly as she dispatched her readers’ problems.
“Even business associates can share a cup in honor of the season,” Harry said. “I’ll just—”
“You’ll just show the lady in, and then dash off a note to your mum and da. It’s Monday.”
Oh, the martyrdom a fifteen-year-old could put into two words and a heavy sigh. Over the past year, as Harry had shot up several inches in height, his penmanship had improved, as had his vocabulary and grammar. Dougal had the boy review the ledgers too, and purposely made the occasional error to test Harry’s skill with figures.
Harry clomped out of Dougal’s office as the clock on the mantel struck a quarter till the hour. Miss Patience Un-Friendly whisked through the open door a moment later.
Once a month, Dougal endured the disruption of her presence in his office. Discontent accompanied her everywhere, a discontent she channeled into repairing the lives of readers without the sense to solve their own problems—bless their troubled hearts. Even the rhythm of her footfalls—rapid, percussive, confident—spoke of a woman determined on her own ends.
And the damned female had the audacity to be lovely. She wasn’t simply pretty—pretty was for daffodils and landscapes—she was…all wrong.
A woman dispensing advice as the practical, blunt Mrs. Horner ought not to have a full mouth made for kisses and smiles. She ought not to have features that bore the serene grace of a Christmas angel, and she had no business having a figure that put Dougal in mind of cozy Highland winters and a wee dram shared before bed.
He’d hoisted an occasional wee dram to Miss Friendly’s beauty, and many more to her blazing intelligence and nimble pen.
“Miss Friendly, good day. Perhaps your watch is running a bit fast.”
“Mr. MacHugh, greetings.” She pulled off her gloves and tossed them onto the mantel. “Sooner begun is sooner done. Shall we get to work?”
She usually remarked on how much Harry was growing, and how fat the office cat—King George—had become.
“Are you in a hurry, madam? We can reschedule this meeting if you’d like, but I’ve a special project to discuss with you.”
“No time like the present, Mr. MacHugh. Let’s be about it.” She took her customary seat at Dougal’s worktable, a battered, scarred article that had been in the MacHugh family since Robert the Bruce had been in nappies.
“Shall I build up the fire, Miss Friendly?”
“Why would you do that? Coal is dear, Mr. MacHugh, as you well know.”
From her twitchy movements and the bleak quality in her gaze, Dougal knew something was bothering her—more than the usual weight of the world she carried on behalf of her readers. The daft woman took her job seriously, considering her replies to each letter as if the fate of entire neighborhoods might rest on whether she could solve the reader’s dilemma.
Dougal added half a scoop of coal to the fire in the hearth. “You’re still wearing your cloak. I thought you might be cold.”
She shot to her feet and plucked at the buttons marching down the front of her cape. “You’re absolutely right. How silly of me. My mind is on this month’s stack of letters, and—”
Miss Friendly fell silent, her expression disgruntled as she fussed with the fastenings at her throat. In the clerk’s office, she would have had a mirror to aid her, but Dougal had no need to examine his own features.
“Allow me,” he said, brushing her hands aside. She’d knotted the strings more tightly rather than loosening the bow, and Dougal took a small eternity to get her free. In those moments, Miss Friendly stared over his shoulder as if he were a physician taking medically necessary liberties, while Dougal tormented himself with stolen impressions.
She smelled of damp wool, for the day had turned snowy, but also of lemons and spice. Clove, cinnamon, he wasn’t sure what all went into her fragrance, but it put him in mind of Christmas cakes, cloved oranges, and blazing Yule logs.
The backs of his fingers brushed against her skin, which was surprisingly warm, given the inclement weather. Also soft. For a moment, her pulse beat against his knuckles, and then the strings came free.
“There ye go.” His burr showed up at the worst moments, when he was angry or tense.
“My thanks.” Miss Friendly stepped away to draw the cloak from her own shoulders. She hung it over a hook on the back of the door and started fishing in the pockets.
Her hems were damp, and her boots were likely soaked. Dougal discreetly moved her chair closer to the fire and waited for the lady to take her seat.
“Are you looking for something?” he asked when she’d searched both pockets thoroughly.
“I’ve misplaced my glasses, or forgotten them. Without them—”
“Use mine,” he said, plucking the spectacles from his nose. “You’ll be able to see halfway to the Highlands with them.”
Her gaze went from the eyeglasses in his hand—plain gold wire and a bit of curved glass—to his face, back to the glasses.
“I couldn’t take your spectacles, Mr. MacHugh.”
Because he’d worn them on his person? “We’ll get nothing done if you can’t see the letters to read them. I have a spare pa. . .
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