Tag Archive | The Yuletide Countess

Alicia Quigley: The Highlander’s Yuletide Love

We all enjoy our family Christmas traditions at this time of year, and for many of us that includes putting our feet up with a nice romance novel in between decorating trees, wrapping presents, baking cookies, and all of the other Christmas fun. When the setting is the Regency period, we need to have a look at how people celebrated the season at the time. Last year I published The Yuletide Countess, and this year’s Christmas release is a sequel, The Highlander’s Yuletide Love. Both take place in Scotland in the late Regency period.

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Hogmanay

Early 19th century Christmas customs in England differed quite a bit from ours, and those in Scotland still more. For example, the Christmas tree only became common in the Victorian era, although their presence in the German-influenced royal court was documented in the 1700’s. In Scotland, there was an even bigger difference. In much of Scotland, Protestant believers viewed Christmas as a holiday that was far too Catholic, and it was seldom celebrated.

Before the Reformation occurred in 1560, Scotland celebrated Christmas as a religious holiday, in much the say way as other European countries. However, the Church of Scotland associated it with Catholicism and frowned on it. In 1640, the Scottish Parliament actually made what were referred to as “Yule vacations” illegal. Even though this was repealed in 1686, the Grinch pretty much stole Christmas in Scotland for the better part of the next 400 years! It only became a public holiday in 1958.

However, all was not cold and dark in Scotland during Yule season. Hogmanay, or New Years, had a long history of celebration including gift giving to family and friends and any number of other local superstitions and traditions. One of the best known is First Footing, or the arrival of the first guest on New Year’s Day.

A tall dark man (much like the hero in The Highlander’s Yuletide Love) bearing gifts as the “first foot” was supposed to be a sign of good luck. Gifts were also given to friends and family members on Hogmanay. Various regions of Scotland also had specific traditions. In The Highlander’s Yuletide Love, the hero hails from the Trossachs, a region near Loch Lomond. Traditionally, the men of this area would march in torchlight procession to the top of the Lomond Hills as midnight approached.

The English custom of Boxing Day, in which gifts were given to servants, tradesmen, etc. on the day after Christmas, also had an analog in Scotland. On the day after New Years day, known in the 19th century as Handsel Day one would give gifts or money to those who had waited on or worked for you during the year. The word “handsel” originates from an Old Saxon word that means, “to deliver into the hand”. During the 19th century, both of these holidays were celebrated on the first weekday after Christmas or Hogmanay, rather than always on the day after as is the present custom.

The Highlander’s Yuletide Love Final-FJM_Kindle_1800x2700 copy

Excerpt 

It was the fashionable hour of the promenade, and all around them the cream of London society swirled, the ladies glowing in their finest walking dresses, strolling arm in arm or riding in elegant carriages, while the men tooled their phaetons or rode well-bred horses. They circled one another, now and then stopping to converse, all eager to learn of the latest scandal or fashion.

Isobel tucked her arm through Sophy’s. “I think we shall outshine all the other ladies here this afternoon,” she teased.

Sophy took in Isobel’s elegant appearance in her plumed bonnet and emerald green pelisse worn over a pale yellow muslin gown. “You look fine indeed, but Miss Durand has been acclaimed the beauty of this Season, and I fear we cannot challenge her,” she laughed.

Isobel made a wry face. “That simpering nitwit? I’ve never understood what Society sees in her. Let us enjoy our drive all the same.”

Their carriage moved some ways down the path, the ladies nodding here and there to an acquaintance, and even stopping once or twice to talk briefly. Suddenly Isobel gave a little start.

“There is Colonel Stirling!” she said. “How very surprising. I haven’t seen him for an age. Francis will be delighted to know that he is in Town.”

As it would be bad ton to display her very real pleasure at seeing a friend, she waved rather languidly at a tall gentleman some distance down the path from them. He clearly saw and recognized the occupant of the barouche, and, nodding at the gentleman he was conversing with, made his way towards Isobel’s carriage.

As he drew nearer, Sophy noted the breadth of his shoulders, his narrow waist, and the powerful thighs under his fawn-colored pantaloons. His gait had the ease of an athlete, and she perceived as he reached the barouche that he was very handsome; a strong jaw, straight nose, golden brown eyes, and cropped black hair were set off by the elegant tailoring of his black coat, his perfectly arranged neckcloth, and gold-tasseled Hessians which he appeared to have been born in, so closely did they fit about the ankle.

Despite his attractiveness, Sophy also perceived an aura of arrogance surrounding him, as though he held himself aloof from his fellows, but it was countered by an air of confident masculinity that was extremely appealing. As he sauntered towards them, she was confused by the conflicting impressions that flooded her. She tried to imagine painting such a man; one whose surface was so alluring, yet who also possessed an inner chilliness, and found her mind awash in ways of translating such conflicting impressions into images. As a result, when Colonel Stirling arrived beside the barouche and Isobel introduced him, she found herself in a state of confusion.

“Lady Sophia Learmouth, may I present Colonel Stirling? He is a dear friend of Exencour’s,” she heard Isobel say.

The Colonel bowed elegantly. “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Lady Sophia. I believe I have encountered your father upon occasion.”

Sophy did her best to bring her thoughts back to the moment. “Oh thank you, Colonel Stirling. I’m delighted to be sure.”

She flushed slightly at her nonsensical response, and saw with a twinge of annoyance that Colonel Stirling, whose face had shown a touch of curiosity, now assumed a look of bland politeness. He had clearly dismissed her as a foolish girl beneath his notice, and the thought stung.

Isobel stepped in, drawing the colonel’s attention. “Have you been long in London? I hadn’t heard from Exencour that you were here, and I feel certain he would have mentioned it if he had encountered you. He speaks often of you, you know.”

A smile glimmered on the colonel’s lips. “No, Lady Exencour, I have missed much of the Season, and I seldom venture to London of late. After the death of my older brother this past year, I decided it would be best to spend some time in Scotland with my father, learning more about the estate. I shall have to sell out, I suppose, if I am to be the next laird.”

“My condolences, Colonel Stirling. You must feel the loss of your brother deeply,” Sophy said gently.

Ranulf switched his gaze from Isobel to her companion, and looked at Sophy closely for the first time. Her charming bonnet made of chip, trimmed with a garland of pink silk roses and matching silk gauze ribbons framed an expressive face, with large blue eyes fringed by dark lashes and a mouth that was full, yet surprisingly firm. Dark curls peeked out from under her hat, emphasizing the slim column of her neck. He raised his eyebrows.

“Why would you think I must necessarily miss my brother, Lady Sophia?” he asked, his voice faintly mocking. “My chief memories are of him teasing me mercilessly when we were boys, and as I embarked on a military career over a dozen years ago, I’ve seen little of him since.”

A spark of annoyance lit Sophy’s eyes. “I was being polite, and attempting to sympathize, Colonel Stirling, as you doubtless know. But I can tell you that I have a brother as well, and, as much as I wish to throttle him from time to time, if he were to suddenly disappear from my life, I would be heartbroken,” she replied, a touch of acid in her voice.

The smile grew broader, and Sophy blinked as the colonel’s handsome face grew even more attractive. “Well said, Lady Sophia. I do indeed miss my brother a great deal, if only because his death makes me take on the responsibilities of the family lands.”

Isobel glanced from Sophy to the colonel, her eyes alight with curiosity. “Colonel Stirling’s father is the Laird of Spaethness,” she said.

Sophy received the information with apparent disinterest. “Are you from the Highlands, then?”

“Yes, Spaethness is in Argyll, hidden away in the Grampians,” he replied. “We are wild Highlanders through and through.”

“No wild man out of the glens has his coats made by Weston, as yours clearly is, or wears boots with a shine such as yours,” said Sophy dryly.

A touch of amusement crept into his sleepy eyes. “I see I shall have to take my tales of kelpies and banshees elsewhere then.”

Sophy gave a gurgle of laughter despite her annoyance. “I may be a lowlander, but you must definitely find a more gullible female to impose upon than me.” She turned toward him and their eyes met and, though she relished the opportunity to give this confident gentleman a bit of a set down, she realized she had not managed to chase away the pull of his personal magnetism.

After a moment he looked away and gave her a careless reply. The conversation turned to the doings of the Season, and particularly of the Exencours’ and Colonel Stirling’s mutual acquaintance, while Sophy listened in silence. After a few minutes Isobel held her hand out to the colonel with a cheerful smile.

“We must not keep you any longer,” she said. “But do call upon us at Strancaster House. Francis will be very pleased to see you again.”

“I am always happy to see Lord Exencour, and his charming wife as well,” said the colonel. He turned to Sophy, and nodded. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Lady Sophia.”

Sophy inclined her head coldly, not failing to note that this caused the colonel’s lips to twitch slightly. She watched, annoyed, as he bowed politely while the barouche pulled away.

About the Author

AQ Twitter Avi copyAlicia Quigley is a lifelong lover of romance novels, who fell in love with Jane Austen in grade school, and Georgette Heyer in junior high.  She made up games with playing cards using the face cards for Heyer characters, and sewed regency gowns (walking dresses, riding habits and bonnets that even Lydia Bennett wouldn’t have touched) for her Barbie.  In spite of her terrible science and engineering addiction, she remains a devotee of the romance, and enjoys turning her hand to their production as well as their consumption.

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Alicia Quigley: Lady Morgan’s Revenge: Letitia’s Naughty Novella

Experimenting With Books: How Do We Get It “Just Right?”

by Alicia Quigley

Thank you for giving me a chance to be a guest blogger at Susana’s Parlour again!

Today I want to talk a bit about experimenting with our work, and how that is a big part of where I am in my writing. I started writing Regency romances almost twenty years ago, but it was just so hard in those days to get published that although I had a few houses take a second look, I never got a book contracted. So, when I decided that the indie author route was interesting, I had quite a few manuscripts to work with. But, they were kind of dated. They needed some rework, and one of the questions I had was whether I wanted to do sweet traditionals, or handle sex in the more modern “pull up a chair next to the bed and get some popcorn” kind of way. In the end, the answer was “both” as I mentioned in my previous guest post.

What I’ve learned from that experiment so far is that the plot and the characters seem to dictate which stories will sell best in which format. So, in the Bluestocking series, which begins with The Secret Bluestocking (Traditional) and A Lady of Passion (After Dark), and continues with The Yuletide Countess (Traditional, no After Dark version) and most recently An Honest Deception (Traditional)/An Indecent Charade (After Dark) the sweet traditional version of the book has outsold the more modern one. These stories are all driven by the heroine, and her need for independence as well as love and the financial security that marriage was the only real provider of for women in the early 19th century. However, A Collector’s Item (After Dark) far outsold That Infamous Pearl (Traditional) in the first book of the Arlingbys series, which will all include a little suspense or intrigue as well as romance. As a result, there will probably not be a Traditional version of the second book, The Contraband Courtship, which I expect to release in the first half of June. It seems that romantic intrigue/suspense is a lot more interesting to readers when the sexual tension is overt.

Right now, I’m interested in whether there is a “just right” length for a romance as well. In December, I released my first novella, The Yuletide Countess, which was the #1 Historical Fiction book on Amazon in the US and UK for about a week, and a top seller for most of December and January. I wonder if this was related to the length, or just enthusiasm for Christmas-themed books. It definitely seems that shorter format works are growing more and more popular, especially in e-books. This makes sense for a lot of reasons – costs to produce and publish aren’t affected by length in e-books, and readers may find novellas more user-friendly if they are taking their e-reader on a road trip or just want something quick and easy to read on the airplane. They can also be priced well, which gets them a lot of promotion on sites that feature low cost books.

We received some feedback that An Indecent Charade was too long and slow, and that the troubles the heroine’s deceased husband and living male relatives cause her in the story detracted from the love element with the hero. So, as an experiment, we decided to do a third treatment of this book, which is titled Lady Morgan’s Revenge and we are subtitling it Letitia’s Naughty Novella because who doesn’t love alliteration? and some sex scenes that were “left on the cutting room floor” as being perhaps a bit too spicy for Letty’s character, have been included in this one. It comes in at a slim 47,000 words instead of 82,000, like the original book, so it is also an experiment in the shorter format.

We made these decisions after considering what readers said, and thinking that a stronger, more independent, take-charge Letitia might have greater appeal for our After Dark audience. So, we focused entirely on the hero/heroine relationship, as well as putting the “extra spicy” back in the text. We want to make an offer, by the way to any readers of this post who have purchased An Honest Deception or An Indecent Charade, and don’t feel they should have to buy the novella as well in order to enjoy the limited new content: email us at aheyerlove@gmail.com and we will send you a free copy of Lady Morgan’s Revenge.

Traditional publishers are finding that their business model, which doesn’t always serve authors or readers that well, but does seem to serve highly paid editors and executives with lovely offices in expensive cities very nicely, is being disrupted. Indie and small press authors are inventing a new business model, and I am all in favor of using the speed and lack of friction in e-book platforms to understand better what readers enjoy, what suits the amount of time they have in their lives to devote to books and to experiment with providing them those things.

To that end, I invite your readers (and their friends) to take the following survey. Their answers will be very valuable in helping me plot out (no pun intended) the course of my books for this year and beyond. As a thank you for participating, I’ll be randomly selecting five (5) survey takers and sending them a free copy of The Contraband Courtship when it launches in June. Thank you in advance and have a lovely summer!

Click here for the survey!

About Lady Morgan’s Revenge: Letitia’s Naughty Novella

Author’s Note: This version of the story is a “modified” version of An Indecent Charade. You spoke, we listened: you said that An Indecent Charade was too long and that Letty’s interfering male relatives bogged down the story. We agree! We want to present you with Lady Morgan’s Revenge: Letitia’s Naughty Novella, in which the bumbling idiot relatives have been removed, the hot sex scenes kept (one even extended!) and the inclusion of a very hot scene that was left on the cutting-room floor.

If you want the Traditional, no sex version, please see An Honest Deception: Letitia’s Traditional Regency Romance.

Lady Morgan's Revenge Cover copyWill passion purge her long-suffering heart of the sorrow from her previous marriage?

After the death of her wastrel husband, Alfred, Lady Letitia Morgan wants nothing more than to settle into the peaceful life of a widow. Her limited finances are enough to provide Letty and her two children that simple life.

Phillip Masham, Marquess of Eynsford and long-time friend of Francis, Lord Exencour, finds himself very much interested in Letty. Unfortunately for him, Letty’s opinion of men of the ton was quite soured by the late Baron Morgan. Not one to give up, the creative marquess becomes Mr. Phillip Markham, a solicitor in the Inner Temple, in hopes that Letty will get to know him for who his is, beyond his title. Letty and Phillip embark upon an affair that may deepen into love, but will it survive the truth?

More importantly, will Letty’s revenge for Phillip’s deception satisfy her and open her heart to happily ever after?

Find out in the latest by Alicia Quigley, chart-topping author of The Yuletide Countess and The Secret Bluestocking.

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Excerpt

Letty turned away, tears welling up in her eyes. “I have tried to tell you that I am too recently widowed, and that Alfred’s behavior and your deception make it impossible for me to know my true feelings toward you, but you will not listen to me!” she cried. “These past moments are the some of the first we have spent together since I became aware of the truth, and – and – and this what happened! I know no more about you than I did an hour ago, but I have learned I cannot trust myself near you. If you cannot wait for me, perhaps I am better off without you.”

“This happens” Phillip growled, “Because we love each other, even though you will not admit it.”

Letty gazed speculatively at Phillip. “So, you think I should simply forgive you for your deception,” she snapped.

He faced her squarely. “Yes, I do. I acknowledge my faults in pursuing your acquaintance before you were ready, and lying to you about my name and occupation, but I am in earnest when I say I love you and want your forgiveness.”

“What if I am not in the mood to just let bygones be bygones?” she asked, arching a brow at him enquiringly.

“Take some revenge on me then,” he exclaimed. “I hurt and disappointed you; what would make you in turn feel that the score is settled between us?”

Letitia pondered his words.   Her body still felt a lingering arousal from the lovemaking they had shared, and a pulse beat in her breasts and between her legs, a drumbeat reminding her of the desire his caresses always provoked in her. There was no denying that she missed Phillip’s company in bed as much as his conversation, and that she wished for a permanent break from their relationship as little as he professed to. So what might effectively banish the specter of his betrayal?

“What punishment would fit your crime?” she wondered aloud. Phillip eyed her from under his lashes.   How daring might his delightful Letitia be, he wondered.   As memories of her enthusiasm during their trysts ran through his thoughts, it occurred to him that she might be quite inventive, if given enough encouragement.

“I have gravely insulted you, Lady Morgan,” he responded. “You may need to discipline me rather, ah, severely.”

Letty looked somewhat surprised as he answered her, but she noted a bit of smirk on his handsome face, and a sudden recollection of her cousin’s complaints about discipline at his boarding school arose in her mind. “Indeed I may,” she answered coolly, allowing herself to look him slowly up and down, with a considering gaze.

Her insolent inspection sent a frisson of arousal through Phillip, and he felt himself begin to harden again as he waited, silent and impassive, for her to speak. Letty, who had noted his excitement, allowed her eyes to linger on his crotch just long enough to make him even more uncomfortable, before looking up at him.

“Very well,” she said imperiously. “You may present yourself at my house for your punishment in the afternoon, two days hence. Do not attempt to contact me before we meet.” She turned her back on him and walked out of the little passage, closing the door behind her. Phillip stood looking after her, astonished at the way their conversation had ended.

About the Author

AQ Twitter Avi copyAlicia Quigley is a lifelong lover of romance novels, who fell in love with Jane Austen in grade school, and Georgette Heyer in junior high.  She made up games with playing cards using the face cards for Heyer characters, and sewed Regency gowns (walking dresses, riding habits and bonnets that even Lydia Bennett wouldn’t have touched) for her Barbie.  In spite of her terrible science and engineering addiction, she remains a devotee of the romance, and enjoys turning her hand to their production as well as their consumption.

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