The Kissing Bough
"The Kissing Bough is an absolutely charming book that succeeded in putting a big smile on my face. I'm a big fan of MMF ménage stories, and this one was a delight to read"Amazon Reviewer
Viola Marsh has been forced to live an austere life, locked away under the watchful eye of her spinster aunt. Only on Christmas Eve is she allowed her freedom, to take part in the tradition of wassailing. Cousins, Percy Gilling and Lord William Ricborough share a close and special relationship, and they require a very particular woman to satisfy their needs. What they're not expecting is to find her poised beneath the mistletoe on a snow-covered hilltop.
A Regency menage about a wronged young woman and the men set upon claiming her.
Release date: May 8, 2015
Publisher: Incantatrix Press
Print pages: 90
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The Kissing Bough
Knasebrook Hall, Rutland, 1816
“It’s awful cold, m’dear. Are you sure you want to go out and risk a chill?” Aunt Clara asked.
What an utterly preposterous thought. Given this was the one night of the year when she was allowed her freedom, Viola Marsh intended to make the very most of it. Hence she had no intention of staying home and mouldering any longer within the confines of the old nursery. In the village, folks would be ambling from door to door, bringing songs and winter cheer. There’d be hot chestnuts and apple tarts to buy on the green, and loving cups full of spiced ale to pass around. Everyone would be full of joy and might even spare a nice word for her.
Excited by that prospect, she snatched up her muff and turned eagerly to the door.
She didn’t care if the worst blizzard in history struck Knasebrook; she intended to go a-wassailing all the same. She’d sing until she grew hoarse, and then she’d stand beneath the branches of the stately oak tree all hung with mistletoe and apples, close her eyes and perhaps this year a miracle would occur and her dearest wish would be granted.
“Viola, you do remember you’re to join the family tonight?”
“Heavens, Aunt Clara, as if I’m ever likely to forget it.” The imminent Marsh family Christmas ball had consumed her thoughts for weeks. It was the highlight of the season, and as the only social engagement on her calendar, her one chance to shine. Ever since an unfortunate incident during her one and only London season four years ago, she’d been barred from attending anything but the most intimate of family dinners. More often than not, she and Aunt Clara ate together in the old nursery wing. Tonight was to be different though; she had a new dress to wear, made of the finest white muslin and cut in the very latest style, with a rich gold fringe at the hem and beautiful embroidery on the sleeves, and she’d get to dance, even if it was only with her brothers. For a few hours she could be normal again.
“Don’t worry, Auntie; I’ll be home in plenty of time to make myself presentable. I promise.” She kissed Aunt Clara’s whiskery cheek.
“Be good now, and do as your brother, Tom says.”
“Are you finished with your goodbyes yet?” Tom muttered querulously. He already stood by the door muffled to his earholes. “Heavens, you’d think you were going to the moon. We’re only headed to the village and back.”
“I just have my bonnet to tie on.”
“Well do hurry.” He stamped his feet impatiently as she tied the ribbon.
Tom continued to grumble as they followed the bridle path toward the village. There was snow on the ground which made the going treacherous, so he was forced to offer her his support. Being chivalrous toward her didn’t come easily. Tom much preferred making her squeal with his horrid tricks.
“I suppose you mean to go and embarrass yourself standing beneath the kissing bough,” he remarked humourlessly, as they crossed the stile. “I do wish you wouldn’t. It’s a pointless activity. A future husband is hardly likely to float down like a snowflake and bless you with a kiss, and nor is anyone about to carve their initials into the pie you’ve spent hours baking either.”
Tom liked to believe he was a pragmatist. In truth, he merely lacked imagination.
“It’s traditional,” she replied waspishly. It did no one any harm for her to cook in silence or to stand beneath a decorative garland and make a wish. “Besides, as you’re always so ready to point out, I’m not likely to find a husband any other way.”
“And whose fault it that?”
Viola sniffed. Not hers, no matter what everybody thought.
“Vi, everybody knows what you did. No one reputable is ever going to offer for you, and none of the villagers would dare to give you a kiss. Father would skin them alive, and rightly so in my opinion.”
“I suppose you think I should content myself with sitting in the dreary little nursery parlour for the rest of my days, growing sour and grey. I want a life, and a husband, and maybe children of my own. I don’t see what harm it does for me to stand beneath a tree on Christmas Eve and wish for that.”
“You should have considered all those things before you chose to go canoodling with two men.”
“I didn’t,” she protested, coming to a standstill. Tom plodded on without her, so that she was forced to slip and slide in order to catch up. “I’ve told you a thousand times. All I did was attempt to get out of Sarah Walsingham’s way. The wretched woman had already stood on my train, snatched a feather from my hair and spilled punch down my front. A further encounter would likely have resulted in serious injury.”
“She’s Lady Oglvive now, Vi. And really, when are you going to stop pretending and own up to your actions. You were seen by a whole roomful of people, and with two men no less, as if being debauched by one weren’t scandalous enough.”
If what she’d experienced was genuine debauchment, then it wasn’t nearly as interesting as the rumours made it sound. It seemed to her that ravishment ought to leave one feeling more exhilarated and blissful. She felt sure too that it involved more than a quick peck on the cheek and a slight ruffling of one's clothes, else what was all the fuss about?
“Those people only saw what they wanted to see.” As Sarah Walsingham had been among the first to decry her, it was hardly surprising things had ballooned out of all proportion. The minx had wanted Viola out of the way so she could firmly sink her talons into Lord Oglvive. He’d paid Viola one or two compliments prior to that incident. Sarah’s endeavour had evidently been a resounding success given her new status.
“I saw you,” Tom insisted, puffing out his chest. “I saw exactly where you had your hands.”
It was hard to argue with that, as Viola had no clear memory of where her hands had been. Given that the two men had just manhandled her into a position between them, she didn’t doubt they’d been on their bodies somewhere, but not out of any prurient desires on her part. “I’m innocent,” she stated simply.
“Wicked more like, and definitely wicked stubborn. Oh do as you please when we reach the green, but don’t complain to me when you end up with a frost bitten nose and your skin turns red and blistered.”
They walked in silence after that, until they crossed the canal and rounded the side of the coaching inn. “What will you do if I go to the tree?” she asked.
Tom peeped shrewdly at her. “Visit the good villagers, of course, and bring them father’s blessings along with the gifts of song and merriment. Isn’t that how the tradition works?”
She didn’t believe a word of it. Tom had other plans in mind, or she was as guilty as folks made out. “Do you even know any carols?”
“One or two.” Tom adjusted his collar so that it almost met the brim of his hat. “Also, I said I’d meet some of the fellows that father has staying with us. They came out earlier for a stroll.”
“You don’t mean to go house to house at all,” she said shaking her head. “Don’t even pretend. Honestly, Tom, and you say that I’m wicked. Father gave you those pennies to dish out, not for you to squander on ale and…and…”
“And what? Perhaps you ought to think carefully before open your pretty mouth; you wouldn’t want anything unladylike to spill out.”
“Buttonholes,” she said, not caring what knowledge she was admitting to. She was already a pariah, refusing to turn a blind eye to his whoring, was hardly likely to change her fate. “I swear you’re the biggest hypocrite in the world, Thomas Marsh. You pay women to do exactly what you condemn me for.”
“You’re the daughter of a gentleman, not a common tart. Go and stand beneath your tree, Vi, and you’d better not say a thing to father about this, or I swear I’ll tell him you kissed a whole line of men and charged them a penny each for the privilege.”
“Beast,” she spat as he strode off toward a group of gentleman revellers on the green. Why could she not have been born into a family who looked out for one another? Other girls of her acquaintance had come from families like that, and they’d all made desirable matches.
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