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An excerpt from Miss Brockhurst's Christmas Campaign

which is in the collection Mischief and Mistletoe
available in print and e-book.

On December 23rd Pen sat in a coach that approached Cherryholt fighting to show only appropriate expectation of seasonal amusement and pleasant company. In reality, her heart and dreams sped ahead so brightly she was surprised they didn't light the way through the evening gloom.
    "How lovely Cherryholt looks," her mother said, full of innocent delight. "It is a most gracious house, and with so many windows lit...."
    Ross might be in one of those lit rooms. Not all had curtains drawn and Pen couldn't help looking, seeking.
    She'd last visited here five years ago. Shortly after that, her father had retired, his health broken by some foreign fever. She and her mother had lived at Lowell Manor, caring for him, until his death nearly two years ago.
    The boys had flown the nest to careers in diplomacy, the army, and the church, but there could be no career for a daughter other than marriage.
    Mourning over, Pen's mother had set out to find her a husband, taking her to London, Brighton, Bath, and various house parties where eligible gentlemen might be found. The campaign had worked, except for Pen getting icy feet after the engagement was made.
    Three times.
    Lady Breakheart.
    There'd be no more of that, she'd resolved, not now she understood her inability to go through with the engagements. The truth had struck one November day in Oxford Street.
    She hadn’t seen Ross in years. She’d been at Lowell, but she might not have encountered him anyway. Mary Skerries’ letters to her mother had told her he’d been enjoying manly pursuits-- hunting in the shires, shooting at various estates around Britain, and managing the Irish estate traditionally allocated to the Skerries heir.
    Even if nearby they could be worlds apart. She’d visited Epsom racecourse in the summer, but she’d sat with the ladies far from the muddy areas where the men inspected horses and laid bets.
    She'd missed her friend, but hadn't thought it more than that until that encounter on Oxford Street. He'd been carrying a number of packages, which he'd explained as commissions for his mother.
    "Just back from Ireland," he'd said.
    She supposed she'd made a sensible response, but something odd had been happening inside her.
    He'd seemed older, in a way that improved a man of twenty-four. His cheeks had been leaner, and something or someone had polished him a little. He'd been wearing a cravat instead of a simple knotted cloth and his boots had been polished.
    They'd chatted about family and old times, but he'd not delayed. He was to set out for Cherryholt in a few hours.
    Pen hoped she’d shown none of the turmoil inside, but a week later she'd broken off her third and, she vowed, last engagement to wed. How could she marry another when she'd been in love with Ross Skerries since girlhood? But how was she to attempt to win Ross, especially when he didn’t seem to feel the same way about her. He’d shown no interest in lingering on Oxford Street, said nothing about meeting again in the future?
    Now she was approaching Cherryholt, which would give her an opportunity, and she was resolved to capture the prize if it was at all possible. After all, some men, especially the sporting types, seemed slow to arrange marital matters themselves, but happy enough when settled.
    It was do or die. If she left here uncommitted, she would remain a spinster all her days.
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