Deck the Halls

Can the Ladies Wagering Whist Society help bring Christmas joy to a desperate man and a nurturing woman?

Quinn Ainsby wants only one thing for Christmas – for his mother and his aunt to end their thirty-year feud. When the ladies of the Wagering Whist Society suggest he host a Christmas house party, he knows it will be just thing to bring the two warring sisters together. What he doesn’t anticipate is his grandfather’s new caregiver, the beautiful Charlotte Moore. Not only can she deal with his grandfather but does so with grace and an incredible sense of humor.

Charlie is just happy to have a roof over her head and someone to care for. After her father’s death left her with nowhere to go and no way to live, she is grateful her distant cousin was good enough to take her in and is more than happy to tend to the crotchety old man. But when her cousin’s grandson comes home Charlie’s heart discovers that there’s more to life than just caring for the elderly and infirm–there are young, handsome men who need care as well.

When Christmas comes and the halls are decked with greenery there is no better time to find your true hearts’ desire.

Chapter One

~November 25, 1807~

Quinn Edwards, Viscount Ainsby strolled slowly down the cold, gray London street. He was so deep in thought he nearly missed the greetings sent his way by two esteemed ladies sitting in a tea-shop window. He paused, taking note of Ladies Ayres and Blakemore before sketching them a brief bow as he stood out on the footpath. He then continued on his miserable way—until it hit him that those ladies might very well hold the answer he’d been searching for. He turned right around and went back.

“Ladies, do please excuse my interruption,” he said, approaching them as they sat nibbling at pastries and nursing their cups of tea.

“Of course, Lord Ainsby. I hope this dreaded weather finds you well?” Lady Blakemore said.

“Dreaded, indeed, but then it is nearly December. At least it’s not raining—or worse, snowing,” he said. He paused as the women nodded their agreement and then asked in the most apologetic manner possible, “Would you mind very much if I joined you for a few minutes in order to impose on you both for some advice?”

The two ladies looked at each other and then back up at him.

“Not at all, my lord. Do, please, have a seat,” Lady Ayres said, indicating the third chair at the table.

“You are too good.” He sat down, pulling the chair close to the table, then pushing it away again. He folded his hands on the table and then moved them into his lap.

“What is it we might be able to help with, my lord?” Lady Blakemore finally asked.

“Er… yes, well…” Quinn searched for the most delicate way of phrasing his dilemma.

“Is it a young lady?” Lady Ayres suggested.

“What? No! Oh no,” he gave a little laugh. “No, no, it is rather my aunt, Mrs. Aldridge and, er, my mother,” he started.

The two ladies gave him their undivided attention at the mention of one of their fellow members of the Ladies’ Wagering Whist Society.

“What about them?” Lady Ayres asked.

“I do hope they are both keeping well?” Lady Blakemore asked.

“Oh, yes. I’m sure,” he said quickly. “It is just… As I’m sure you know, my aunt is to be married this coming January.”

Both ladies nodded. Naturally, they would have received invitations just as he had.

“I have been trying to convince my mother to attend her sister’s wedding, but she steadfastly refuses. Short of physically dragging her there, I don’t know what to do. They were close as children but haven’t spoken since my aunt married Mr. Aldridge, instead of my father as my grandfather had arranged. Of course, that allowed for my mother to marry him, but my grandfather never forgave my aunt. He absolutely refused to allow anyone in the family to speak with Aunt Penelope ever again.”

“Goodness! But that was over 30 years ago,” Lady Blakemore exclaimed.

“Yes. I had thought that with the passing of Mr. Aldridge, my mother would have relented, but she did not. Now, my father is gone too and still my mother refuses to speak to her sister. I was even hoping the fact that she is to be a duchess would hold some sway but…” He lifted and lowered his hands in defeat.

“Is it merely your mother who will not speak to Mrs. Aldridge or is the silence on both ends?” Lady Ayres asked.

Quinn thought about it and then shook his head. “I’m afraid I don’t know. I haven’t asked Aunt Penelope if she is willing to speak with Mother, only the other way around.”

“And you have no sense of whether Mrs. Aldridge would be equally stubborn?” Lady Blakemore asked.

“I’m afraid not.”

The two ladies sat in thought for a few minutes. “It is a difficult problem,” Lady Ayres said. “Family disputes usually are.”

“Indeed, but I would truly like to end this one. I am now the head of my family, and I simply will not stand for such a ridiculous feud to continue. Honestly, I don’t know how my father and grandfather allowed it for so long.”

“Perhaps for the same reason you are now experiencing—because they didn’t know how to end it,” Lady Blakemore said, giving Quinn’s hand a reassuring pat.

He could only sigh. “Well, I am not inclined to simply let this go on any longer. Aunt Penelope is getting married. She will have a fresh start, and I would like my mother to be a part of her new life. I think it will be good for both of them.”

“Have you tried putting the two of them into a room together to see what might happen?” Lady Ayres asked.

Quinn blinked, then called himself all manner of names silently in his mind. “Of course! What an idiot I am. That is, naturally, the most obvious solution!”

“Or it might lead to nothing,” Lady Blakemore said. “They haven’t spoken for over thirty years. It might not be so easy to start again.”

“That is very true,” Lady Ayres agreed.

“Then how do we help them?” Quinn asked.

“Perhaps the presence of others would ease tensions?” Lady Blakemore suggested.

“The presence of others,” Quinn repeated, thinking this through. “Like a gathering or a party?”

“Yes.” The lady nodded.

A smile slowly grew on Quinn’s face as an idea occurred to him. “Like a house party, say, for Christmas.”

Lady Blakemore’s hazel eyes widened a touch, but then she inclined her head. “Yes, just like that.”

“Well then, ladies, prepare yourselves, for you are about to receive an invitation,” Quinn said, jumping to his feet. “All the ladies of the Wagering Whist Society are. And thank you!”

He strode out the door, a man on a mission.

The 1807 Season