Seducing a Lady at a Christmas Masquerade (Preview)

Kensington, England, July 1793

Earl of Kipling’s country home

The sound of stones plunking into the cool depths of the pond didn’t make thirteen-year-old Lord Gabriel Wentworth feel any better. Not that he had thought it would, but he couldn’t stand to be in the house any longer. It only reminded him of the sick room and staring at the cold, pale body that had been his mother. She’d died two weeks ago, yet he couldn’t get the image out of his mind. 

She is buried now, at rest and peace at long last. 

She was never coming back, his mother. She would be gone forever and ever, and Gabriel had to figure out a way to live without her, to somehow close up the yawning chasm in his chest. His little brother, Stephen, was grieving just as much as him, but Stephen was still young enough that he could curl up in Nanny’s lap and cry for hours. Gabriel had to be strong. 

It was summertime, and that was usually his favourite time of year. At his father’s estate, they could ramble and play for hours in the countryside. They could listen to the birds in the trees and the ripple of the nearby brook. They could climb trees, make paper boats, and pretend to be pirates. Not far away was another family, the Earl of Denver’s family, and the young girls and Gabriel and Stephen would play together endlessly. 

He threw his last stone, heard the satisfying plonk, and then turned. But he jumped when he saw a young girl standing next to a nearby tree. She was wearing a white dress and had bright blonde hair. She smiled at him and waved. 

***

Lady Seraphina Ashcroft wasn’t sure when she’d decided she loved Gabriel Wentworth. At ten years old, her life hadn’t been so long, but she felt like she’d been in love with Gabriel since she first met him. And once she’d heard his mother died and realized that he wasn’t going to come over to her house for his usual summer rambles and games alongside his brother, Stephen, Seraphina knew that she needed to take matters into her own hands. 

So, that very morning, she’d told her housekeeper, Mrs Janet Winters, that she needed a picnic basket. 

“And just where will you be taking this basket, love?” Janet had asked. 

“To Gabriel! He’s mourning, so they tell me. And I want to see him smile again, and I am taking him his favourite book, Little Red Riding Hood.” She scurried away and found him at the edge of the pond. 

Walking closer to him, she decided to wait until he wanted to talk. She put down her basket, sat right on the pond’s pebbled shoreline, and let out a contented sigh. 

Yes, this will do very well. I am going to make Gabriel smile again. 

Opening her book, she cleared her throat and began to read. Gabriel stood there for a few minutes, but she could tell he was listening. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see that he was interested but unsure what to do. And when he finally sat down quietly, facing out towards the water, Seraphina’s heart beat even faster. 

Her voice softened as she felt more and more nervous that he wasn’t saying anything, but she stopped when he said, “Read louder, Seraphina.” 

She smiled, a big bright smile, and she kept on reading. When the story was over, she slowly closed the book and looked up at him. 

“Why did you come?” he asked, his eyes moving to the picnic basket. 

The sunlight played in his brown curls, making them look a bit lighter. She put a hand over the basket. 

“I thought you might be hungry. And you’ve been forgetting to come and play with us, Gabriel. So, I thought I would come to you and bring your favourite story.”

And so, they ate and said no more about the book, his mother, or the fact that he’d been crying. When they were done, he held the basket and the book and walked back with her to her house. 

“Will you come to the pond again tomorrow?” he asked as he returned the things to her just outside the door. 

“Yes, yes, I will,” she said quickly, nodding. 

“Good.” And then he stuffed his hands in his pockets, turned around, and strode away through the meadow. 

***

Over the next couple of weeks, Gabriel got used to seeing little Seraphina meeting him at the lake. Sometimes, she brought biscuits, or sometimes, he brought little treats from his house, but she always brought a book. Sometimes, Stephen or her little sister, Emma, would come too, and they would listen and try to steal treats. But always, it was Seraphina, and Gabriel felt his grief slowly letting go of him as the summer went on. 

It was the first time he’d seen someone outside his family show real kindness and compassion to him. He would go back to school soon, and there would be no more of that, so he was going to savour it while he could. When the end of the summer came, however, and it was time to return to school, he and Stephen went to say goodbye at the Earl of Denver’s house. 

“You’ll keep reading, won’t you?” Seraphina asked when they all met in the garden. 

“I have to,” he said. “I’ll be at school, and that’s what they make you do all day.” 

Stephen and Emma laughed, but he nodded at Seraphina in thanks. “Until next summer,” he told her, and then he was gone.

 

***

Six years later, 1799

Christmastime, Earl of Denver’s country home 

Gabriel stood in the sitting room of the Denver house, his thumbs tapping on the present he had in his hand. He couldn’t wait to give it to Seraphina but was nervous, too. She was the only one he’d told about his starting to draw, and he knew she would be the only one not to laugh at his attempt. And so, he stared out the large window, hoping she would come in from outside soon. She and the other children had gone to play some outdoor games, skating on the pond, throwing snowballs, and riding in the sleigh, but he’d stayed inside to prepare his gift properly. He wanted to give her the present before anyone else could come inside.

“There you are,” she said suddenly from the doorway, and he turned around, his face melting into a smile. 

There was something about his dear friend that always made him smile. “Here I am. I wondered when you were going to come in.” 

She rolled her eyes, her blonde curls bouncing as she rushed towards him, her light blue eyes fixed on the small gift in his hands. Over the years, her hair had darkened a little from a hay colour to burnished gold. Her smile and eyes were the same, though, and he always had the impression that the sun was coming out when Seraphina smiled. She wore a blue dress, and her cheeks and nose were red, having just been outside in the cold. 

“What’s this?” she asked, trying to hide her smile.

“I told you I wanted to give you a gift before anyone else could see. Here it is.” 

She snatched it from his hand and tore it open quickly. He watched her face change from surprise to delight. He had begun to draw in little snatches here and there in a secret notebook while he was in school, and now that he was back home and celebrating with friends and family, he thought he would try to draw Seraphina. The gift in her hand was a small sketch of her. 

Breathing out slowly, he tried to guess her thoughts. “Do you like it?” he asked. 

“Oh, Gabriel,” she said, her eyes widening. “I love it. My goodness! You have such a gift!” 

Gabriel couldn’t help the puff of pride that gave him, and he smiled from ear to ear. “I hoped you would,” he said. 

She then tore her eyes away from the drawing, and she leaned forward and surprised him by kissing him on the cheek. 

***

Seraphina got the sensation that she was floating underwater whenever she was near Gabriel. Now that she was growing older, sixteen, soon to be seventeen, in fact, she became all too aware of what her feelings for Gabriel meant. She thought him the best boy she knew and the handsomest, but he was older now and studying to go to Oxford. He would forget about her soon enough, so Emma kept telling her. 

“You have a few years until you come out, Seraphina, and by then, you will have scores of suitors. You don’t need to think only about silly old Gabriel. He’s like a brother!” 

And so, he was to Emma and Seraphina’s older brother, Arthur. But to her, he was something entirely different, and when he handed her the gift of the drawing, Seraphina felt something like joy burst open in her heart. She kissed him on the cheek, and when she pulled back, her face heated.  

“Oh, sorry about that,” she said, stepping back. 

He put a hand to his face and gave her a soft smile. It was the smile of a brother; she knew it. He would think he was too old for her anyway. 

If only I could grow up faster! He might think of me then as a woman, as someone he might care for, too!

“Oh, that’s fine, Seraphina. I’m glad you liked it. You’re the only one who knows about my drawings, remember?” 

“I remember.” She placed the drawing against her chest. How could she forget that he’d honoured her with such a beautiful little secret? “But I don’t know why you should be ashamed with such a talent as this. I will treasure this little pencil drawing forever and ever.” 

She blushed even further that perhaps she ought not to say such a thing. Her mother was slowly beginning to despair about her lessons for Seraphina and her deportment as a proper young lady. She couldn’t seem to help saying exactly what she felt. And in this situation, it took everything she had not to tell Gabriel that he was the handsomest boy she ever knew and the kindest.

“Well, that’s good,” he said, and his own cheeks were pinking a little. “I would ask that you not tell anyone about it, though, especially not Arthur.”

“Very well, although I don’t know why you should keep it a secret. But I will.” There was a moment of silence between them, and she realized she had not given him the same courtesy of a Christmas present.

“Oh, Gabriel, I’m very sorry. I didn’t get you anything.”

He laughed, the sound reminding her of the summer days by the lake when she would read to him to help get him out of his thoughts of his mother. It seemed he was much happier now, and that made her happy, too. Although she always hated when the holidays ended.

“It is no matter, Seraphina. I only showed you the picture because you’re the only one who knows about my drawing. It was not as if I could give it to anyone else.” He laughed again and turned, and walked out of the room. 

Seraphina stared after him. Her heart hurt. She let out a long breath. So, it was not a true Christmas gift in which he thought only of her and her pleasure in receiving it. When the sound of Christmas songs echoed through the halls, she knew she would be requested to join them in the sitting room.

One day, Gabriel will see me as a woman. I just need to have patience.

And with a tiny smile, she left the room, tucking the picture into her pocket.

Chapter One

In the early spring, Gabriel’s family continued to stay in the countryside so that Gabriel could continue his studies in peace without the distractions of London. Stephen was very happy with that, for he rushed out into the forests each day and played as much as possible, coming in for his own lessons whenever he needed to. The Earl of Denver’s family also remained in the country for their daughters were yet too young to enjoy the Season. But they would return in a few weeks since Arthur had his studies. Gabriel sighed, staring down at the book in front of him. The tutor was at his left, talking to him about some dull nonsense. 

“Pray, what is that noise?” the tutor asked, thankfully stopping his droning on. 

Gabriel lifted his head to realize there was a slow tapping sound against the window. “I don’t know,” he said with a frown, standing up.

When he went to the window, he grinned and tried not to laugh, for his tutor was a serious sort, the kind of man who only wore black and only made the most severe expressions. Outside the window, he spotted Seraphina holding up a fishing pole. It seemed that she, too, was eager never to grow up, and he was glad for the reminder.

“Forgive me, Mr Smythe,” Gabriel said, turning around and looking as solemn as possible. His hands were behind his back, and he frowned a little, an expression that Mr Smythe knew well. “I do believe a small break is in order, sir. I’m not feeling very well, and I think a quick rest will put me to rights, and then I will be able to focus wholeheartedly upon my return.”

Mr Smythe’s frown grew sharper, but he closed the book and stood. “Of course, My Lord.” He bowed. “I will see you in an hour.”

When he found Seraphina outside, he clicked his tongue at her. “For shame, Lady Seraphina. Young ladies of your age are not to be trouncing about in the grass with no shoes as well as a fishing pole in hand. Nor are they to disturb young viscounts from their studies. How very unladylike.”

To his surprise, Emma bounced out from behind Seraphina’s skirts and grinned, showing that she was missing a tooth now.

“I’ve told her all that already! Mama will not be happy to know she has run away yet again. The dressmakers have come to the house, and we are to have a whole new batch of dresses.”

Seraphina grimaced, scrunching up her nose. “They are just so we can look presentable for the dancing instructor. Oh, how I wish I could never dance again. Such a ridiculous thing. I think fishing is far more practical and fun.” She held up the pole again, making Gabriel laugh.

“Come along, then. I suppose we have a bit of time to do our far more practical and fun activity.” He grabbed Emma, lifted her upon his shoulders, and the three of them walked together towards the pond. 

***

To Seraphina, the hour was not enough. She had laughed long and hard and even learned a few new tricks with the fishing pole. Nothing fun ever lasted long enough, especially now that she was fifteen. She had to be a proper young lady. She couldn’t seem to get it right. Nor could she bear the fact that Gabriel—bright, vibrant, funny Gabriel—was stuck inside all day in his shadowy house with the black-clad tutor hovering over him.

She was relieved when Gabriel came outside with a bright smile and a shake of the head and eagerly walked with them to the pond.

“We ought to go now,” Gabriel said, picking Emma up again with another shriek. “My tutor will be wondering where I am, as will my father.”

“I suppose so,” she agreed, and they packed everything up and walked back to the house. But just as they did, her heart froze in her chest when she looked up from the window and saw the frowning black-clad Mr Smythe looking down at them with narrowed eyes.

“Blast,” Gabriel swore. “I told him I was going to be sleeping, but it seems that he’s found out, and so now I will have an afternoon of misery to contend with.”

He gently put Emma down, and Emma frowned at him, reaching for his hand. “We’re sorry, Gabriel. We only wanted to have fun.”

“As did I, Emma.” He patted her head and looked up at Seraphina. “Don’t you worry about it, Seraphina. We all have our consequences for having fun.” He winked at them and walked off, whistling as he put his hands in his pockets.

Hand in hand, Emma and Seraphina walked home, Seraphina deep in thought. She had expected her own rebuke, but she had not expected that Gabriel would get into trouble. It was only an hour, and he would have plenty of time now to finish whatever dull thing he’d been reading that day.

The girls were giggling when they got home, but as they entered the hall, she heard her father’s sharp voice calling out for her.

“Seraphina, come in here, please.”

With a little chill running down her spine, Seraphina handed the fishing pole to a waiting footman and walked towards the sitting room. To her surprise, she saw that Gabriel was there. She and her sister had taken some time to walk back, going the more scenic route and path. But she was still surprised to see him.

“Is everything alright?” she asked, peeking her head through the door and then walking in, placing her hands behind her back to keep them from trembling.

Her father stood before Gabriel, who had been seated, but then he rose to his feet when she entered the room. Her mother was sitting nearby, her embroidery on the table beside her. 

“No, it is not all right.” Her father sent her a stern glance. 

He had the same light blue eyes as she did, and they were so alike that it sometimes felt strange to stare into them as he spoke. 

“It has come to my attention that you have used devious means to take Gabriel from his studies. How many times must I tell you, my dear, that you are a young woman now and not a child? You must comport yourself as such. Running over to an earl’s home with a fishing pole in hand? This is not the behaviour of someone your age.” He frowned, his dark eyebrows twisting together, and Seraphina blushed deeply. 

“I did not mean any harm,” she said softly. “It is only that he is sitting in there all day!” 

“He is studying! For he has a lot of responsibility on his shoulders for the future, Seraphina! His father sent me word of your behaviour, once it had come from the tutor. He has sent Gabriel here as his messenger to tell me of this nonsense.”

“Please, My Lord,” Gabriel said suddenly. “Even though I have been sent as messenger, I am afraid I do not agree with my father. I did indeed need a break. She was kind to help me find a way to do so.” 

Her father’s expression softened when he looked at Gabriel. “You are kind to protect her, my boy, but she must learn. Seraphina, you will not—” His voice had been raised, but it was cut off quickly by Gabriel. 

“No, I beg you, do not scold her,” Gabriel said, stepping between them. “It is not her fault. It was my choice to leave the schoolroom.” 

The earl blinked at Gabriel, surprised to find him doing such a thing. When he said nothing, Gabriel turned around and grasped her hand. They ran from the room, with Seraphina robbed of breath; she was so surprised. 

Behind her, her father chuckled and shook his head. “What a brave boy, there. Kipling will have his hands full, no doubt, as time goes on. I find I cannot be angry after that.” 

“Remember that we also have our hands full, my dear,” Lady Denver reminded him, picking up her embroidery again. “But I think we might have a fine match on our hands, too, one day.”

Lord Denver stared after the boy and his daughter. “You know what happened all those years ago, my love. Too many debts on my shoulders, and we had to fight through it tooth and nail.” He took her hand and sat down. “We will have to see what young Gabriel makes of himself. But I have always hoped for Seraphina to find herself a wealthy duke so that she would never have the concerns that plagued you and me.” 

Lady Denver smiled at him. “Surely Lord Kipling is solvent. Gabriel will have a fortune to inherit. And her becoming a countess like me is surely not so bad.” 

He kissed his wife’s hand. “Not so bad at all.” His eyes trailed to the door again, worried for his young, impetuous daughter. “But we shall see.” 


“Seducing a Lady at a Christmas Masquerade” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Lady Seraphina Ashcroft has been in love with her childhood friend Gabriel for as long as she can remember. Yet, Gabriel has no idea for years until her first Season, when they begin to court. As the flames of their courtship ignite, Seraphina is convinced that all her scandalous dreams will finally come true. However, unexpected challenges threaten their passionate union.

Can she summon the strength of her unwavering love to overcome the obstacles?

Lord Gabriel Wentworth, tied to Lady Seraphina by the bonds of friendship, witnesses their written exchanges evolving into an intimate wind whirl of emotions. Yet, it is only when she has her first Season that he realizes he could lose everything if he does not act fast. As the Season concludes and Gabriel is ready to ask for Seraphina’s hand, the joyous moment is eclipsed by unforeseen chaos.

Will Gabriel manage to confess his passionate love before it’s too late?

In the sultry arena of passion, Seraphina and Gabriel find themselves at the crossroads of choice. Their once steadfast plans now teeter on the edge of intimate uncertainty. Though their love is strong, circumstances may prove to be stronger. Can they navigate challenges and emerge triumphant, or will undisclosed desires push them to surrender their most sinful dreams?

“Seducing a Lady at a Christmas Masquerade” is a historical romance novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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