How The Dukes Stole Christmas
How The Dukes Stole Christmas
Published by Avon Books (2019)
This historical romance anthology, centred around the Christmas celebrations, certainly made an entertaining read in December. Four renowned authors – Tessa Dare, Sarah MacLean, Sophie Jordan and Joanna Shupe – teamed up to produce this light read that contained three main ingredients: Christmas, Dukes, and shortbread.
All four stories in this book were set during Christmastime, had a Duke as the main love interest, and featured the shortbread as a menu believed to have magical properties to help one search for their true love. In fact, there is a shortbread recipe towards the end of the book!
Meet Me In Mayfair (by Tessa Dare)
The Wards found themselves on the brink of getting evicted from their only home, and Christmas was just around the corner. Mr Ward had purchased a small townhouse in Mayfair using money he borrowed from his long-time friend the Duke of Thorndale. The Duke had been a generous man and had waived the debt, and the Wards had been living in the townhouse for decades. Until the old duke died.
James, the new Duke of Thorndale was a young man who hailed from outside London, and he had reluctantly inherited the title from his late uncle. The one who was supposed to inherit from the old duke would be James’ older brother, but he, too, had passed away suddenly. And now the responsibility lies on James, who was never groomed to become a nobleman, let alone a duke. He was into oat farming in Yorkshire before having to become the new Duke of Thorndale.
James then went to London to settle business matters regarding the old duke’s properties. He ordered his solicitors to collect all debts and sell all properties, with the intention of not returning to London anymore. Instead, he planned to use the money to develop the farmlands in Yorkshire. So James basically had no idea about the Ward family’s plight.
Meanwhile, the eldest daughter in the large Ward brood, Louisa, had to shoulder the family’s hopes that she could ensnare a rich husband who also happened to be generous enough to help the family out of their debt. If she failed to get a husband by New Year, the whole family would have to move to the island of Jersey. And the family realized that this could be their last Christmas in Mayfair.
Louisa had received an invitation from her best friend Lady Fiona Carville to attend the Carville’s Christmas party, and Louisa was determined to seriously find a husband that night. What she did not expect was for the Duke of Thorndale himself to make an appearance at the party – and having to waltz with him, too!
Usually, James would rescind all invitations to balls and parties, having an aversion to polite society and detesting the proper ladies who would fake an interest in him in order to marry him for his title. But this time around, he had agreed to attend the ball only because the Carvilles was his distant relations.
And the waltz he had promised to dance was supposed to be with Fiona, whom he did not mind to interact with for she was a distant cousin. When James found that Fiona had asked a Louisa Ward to take her place in the dance, James was immediately cold. He suspected Louisa had persuaded Fiona to let her take her place so that she could entice him during the dance.
But Louisa happened to be a different lady altogether. She was witty and honest, and she immediately understood that James was displeased to have to dance with her. Having no interest in him either, Louisa then made it clear that she had no intention to get further acquainted with him; she was only taking Fiona’s place because her friend needed her help to take her dances. But then, Louisa’s indifference towards James had a reverse effect on him: he found himself attracted to her instead!
Ever since he inherited the title, James longed to find a woman who would love him as he is and not because of his title and inheritance. He had so far found the ladies of the ton to be very fake, in which they always tried to please and to agree with him in everything, with hopes of attracting his attention. James did not wish to marry any of them, hoping to find a lady who had a mind of her own. And tonight, he found her, in the form of Louisa Ward.
Louisa was baffled by his sudden interest in her, when he had earlier showed his displeasure. She tried to lose him after the waltz but there was no getting rid of him anymore. To prove his earnestness, James even escorted Louisa back to her house after the ball.
When they arrived at Louisa’s home, the Wards had thought that Louisa brought the Duke of Thorndale home to convince him to release them from their debt. James was surprised to find that the Wards had been one of the tenants who had been at his mercy due to his actions. Initially, James was angry at Louisa and thought that she had orchestrated everything to trap him. But soon he realized that everything that happened during the party was never done on purpose: Louisa had tried to avoid and lose him that night, but it was on his insistence that he ended up on her doorstep.
James eventually forgo the Wards’ debt and let them live in their Mayfair townhouse indefinitely. He also decided to court Louisa properly to give her the chance to really consider whether to have him as her husband. James and Louisa finally married six months later.
The Duke of Christmas Present (by Sarah MacLean)
This beautiful but poignant love story was inspired by A Christmas Carol and a little bit of Apollo-and-Daphne myth (minus the tragic ending).
Eben, the Duke of Allryd, had been best friends with Lady Jacqueline Mosby – who lived next door – ever since they were little. Eben inherited his father’s title at a young age, and the responsibility had overwhelmed him to the point of abandoning the budding romance between him and Jacqueline.
Eben did love Jacqueline, but when he found that his estates were in shambles under his late father’s management, he had vowed to put his household finances to rights again before marrying Jacqueline. Numerous times, Jacqueline had tried to convince him that she need not him to be a rich duke; she had always loved him as he is and the one thing she really wanted was just him. But Eben had not believed her then. Instead, he had harboured a sense of unworthiness that made him believe that he must prove himself to be a capable duke (especially in terms of accumulating riches) before deserving to have Jacqueline’s hands in marriage.
Eben’s downright focus on his works had made Jacqueline felt sidelined, but she never gave up on him. For several years she tried to make him see that he should be enjoying life as it happened, and not enslaving himself to work to the point of missing out on the joys of life. But Jacqueline had failed incessantly, ultimately giving one last try on a Christmas day. She found Eben practically glued to his work table on that Christmas day, and he not only had refused to celebrate, but was almost being indifferent towards her. Jacqueline finally left him that day, deciding to accompany her widowed Aunt Jane in her travels across the world while trying to forget about Eben.
Only when Jacqueline left him that Eben realized his workaholic ways had repelled the only woman he had ever loved. For twelve years since she left – she never once returned during those twelve years – Eben became an even more miserable man. Although he gradually became wealthier, all the riches had not made him happy at all. He continued to occupy himself in work non-stop, and had had no friends except for his business partner Lawton. Come Christmas, Eben would drink himself to a stupor to forget the past Christmases without Jacqueline.
However, on the thirteenth year, Eben suddenly found Jacqueline in his kitchen on Christmas Eve, preparing chocolate drinks as if the twelve years had never happened. She was still as pleasant and caring as ever, and she even prepared a Christmas feast for him the next day.
Jacqueline had enjoyed her travels, but had discovered that as lovely as the places she had seen, nothing could be more wonderful than to enjoy it with a loved one. She had never once forget about Eben, and had always wished Eben was with her in her travels. One day, Jacqueline befriended a kind Scottish man named Fergus whom she met in her travels. When she admitted that she had loved someone, Fergus had encouraged her to return to Eben and see if their love can still be salvaged. If Eben rejected Jacqueline yet again, Fergus was ready to step in and marry her. Fergus’ encouragement was what had led Jacqueline to return to Eben and see if there was any possibility for a future with him.
It turned out that the love between them had not diminished even after twelve years without communication. For Eben and Jacqueline, it seemed as though the twelve years had never happened at all. Now that they knew they had been given a second chance at love, they had no intentions to let it go to waste. The day after Christmas, Eben and Jacqueline made a promise to marry and make each other happy for the rest of their lives.
Heiress Alone (by Sophie Jordan)
Annis Ballister was born into rowdy female siblings and a mother who insisted on her daughters being married to men with titles. One winter, the family went holidaying in a remote castle in the Scottish Highlands. Annis’ mother was aware that their castle neighboured with another, owned by the Scottish Duke of Sinclair, and thus had shoved all the Ballister sisters at the duke’s doorstep with hopes that one of them would attract him.
Calder, the Duke, found himself interested in Annis, the quietest and the level-headed of all the sisters. However, wary that all of them would only want to marry him for his title, had refused the Ballisters’ visit to his castle. The Ballisters had felt humiliated, and Annis herself vowed to never want to see the duke ever again.
More than a week later, the Ballisters packed up and left in a hurry after hearing that the area might be hit by heavy snowfall. Not wanting to be stranded in the Highlands for several months to come, they departed for London haphazardly and had oddly forgotten to bring Annis along. Annis had been sleeping in a chamber furthest from the rest of the family, and had not noticed when they leave early in the morning.
Fortunately for Annis, the groundskeeper, Angus, and his sister Fenella, the housekeeper, were living in the castle and so she would not be so lonely while waiting for her family to come back and retrieve her.
However, Annis’ contentment was short-lived. One night, the Duke of Sinclair appeared on their doorstep, warning that brigands of bandits were out looting and they were in danger. Calder offered to take them to live at his castle while the danger passed. At least his castle was fortified and guarded, compared to theirs which was resided only by two elderly staffs. Calder was surprised to find Annis had been left by her family, but he took her under his protection nonetheless.
While on the way to his castle, Calder got to know Annis better and he was convinced that he somehow wanted her. However, Annis was determined to not marry – she had promised to enrol at a convent in six months’ time. Calder thought it was a waste that such a lovely lady would want to be a nun, but soon he found that Annis’ ambition was not driven by sanctity at all.
Annis had only wanted to become a nun as a respite from her tiresome, rambunctious family – to gain her own freedom and peace – rather than to submit herself to the church. But she was not aware of this, and Calder was determined to make her notice it. And his first step was to try to seduce her – it was like killing two birds in one stone after all; he could make her see whether she was really prepared for a life of chastity, and he might get what he wanted to feel from the moment he set his eyes on Annis.
It did not take long before Annis found herself lusting over Calder, and then she began to realize that she did not really mean to be a nun at all. While taking refuge in Calder’s household, Annis also learnt that Calder had no family left and had always had a very lonely Christmas. The fact made Annis question her own wish to be apart from her family: had she not be thankful to have a family to be together?
Annis then realized her family was not that awful to warrant such an escape from her. And family would be even more better with Calder, the Duke of Sinclair being a part of it: he had proposed marriage to Annis on that very Christmas.
Christmas in Central Park (by Joanna Shupe)
This story differed a bit from the previous three because there was no duke in it. Set in Gilded Age America, Christmas in Central Park featured a man by the name Duke instead.
Duke Havermeyer III, owner of a large publishing house that included almost a dozen newspapers under its wings, was a workaholic who was very serious about maintaining his company’s image. When a bribery scandal involving one of its staffs had surfaced in public and the reputation of Havermeyer Publishing Company (HPC) was at stake, Duke was determined to win back the hearts of its board of directors through a lovely Christmas party.
One of HPC’s biggest asset was the Mrs Walker’s column, in which a Mrs Rose Walker shared household tips and recipes, as well as dispensing words of wisdom to readers in need of motivation. Readers loved Mrs Walker and her columns had always been very popular, despite her being a very secretive persona whom no one knew in person – except for the editor in chief. In real, Mrs Walker was Miss Rose Walker, who was actually unmarried, lived in a boarding house and was inept in the kitchen. She had a talent for writing, and had, all these while, collected tips from her mother and her friends who were more experienced in such matters. Everything had been going well, until Duke summoned her to host a Christmas party for HPC’s board of directors.
Duke had thought Mrs Rose Walker to be an elderly society matron, and was surprised to see an attractive young woman instead. He had no idea that Mrs Rose Walker was a non-existent persona, and so ordered Rose to carry out the Christmas dinner plan. Rose had thought to decline, but Duke was so adamant that he practically threatened to replace her column with another writer if she failed to see to the party. Worse, Duke wanted the party to be held at Mrs Walker’s ‘home’, with food prepared by Mrs Walker herself, and with the attendance of her ‘husband, Mr Walker’ as well.
Rose badly needed the job at the newspaper, as she wanted to save enough money so that her mother could retire from her back-breaking job as a household maid. So she enlisted the help of her friends – all of them servants at the Lowe household where her mother worked – to realize the Christmas party.
They had asked an estate agent to ‘rent’ an empty house on sale for them to use for the dinner. The dishes would be prepared by the cook and the maids. And Rose’s best friend Henry, who was a footman at the Lowe residence, would pose as Mr Walker himself.
On the night of the dinner, everything went well and the HPC board of directors were totally charmed. Duke also found himself totally smitten by Mrs Walker and jealous of Mr Walker for having such a lovely and intelligent wife. When Duke discovered ‘Mr Walker’ passionately kissing one of the maids in a hidden corner (in real, Henry was engaged to the maid), he was furious that a man lucky enough to have Mrs Walker as his wife would dare to betray her. When Duke confronted ‘Mr Walker’, Henry had misunderstood that Duke had discovered their ruse. As Henry had earlier seen how Duke looked at Rose longingly, he then gave Duke the ‘green light’ to make a move on Rose. Duke was baffled, for he did not comprehend why ‘Mr Walker’ was happy to let him have his ‘wife’.
Duke was ecstatic however, and wasted no time in seducing ‘Mrs Walker’, determined to be contented with having an affair with her if he could not have her as his wife.
However, the affair ended as soon as it started. After the dinner was concluded and everyone had left – leaving only Rose and Duke in the house – a stranger came to the house, claiming that Rose had illegally used his home to host the dinner. The stranger was the owner of the house, who had put it for sale for the past several months. Words had travelled that someone had moved in there – when he was not aware of the house being sold at all – so he came to see for himself to see who were the intruders.
Rose had to confess to her ruse and Duke was furious. Without trying to understand why she had put up the act, Duke fired her. Although the dinner had been a success and nobody discovered the truth except for the angry house owner, Duke found himself unmerciful over Rose’s deception of him. Duke had thought he would feel smug with the harsh decision on Rose. But he was not.
The Mrs Walker column was popular amongst readers not because of who she was, but the wisdom she had dispensed. It really did not matter if the real Mrs Walker was actually unmarried, had no home and could not cook. The second reason Duke was not at peace with the decision was because he had let Rose walk away from his life when deep inside his heart, he had wanted her so much. She could be his if he had not been too preoccupied with HPC’s interests.
On Christmas morning, Duke appeared on the doorstep of the Lowe household, intending to talk to Rose about it and make amends to his previous actions. Rose was initially reluctant, but Duke had cajoled her with promises that she could choose whichever column she would like to write in the newspaper. Rose immediately insisted that her mother write as Mrs Walker and she would do other columns. That way, her mother would be able to retire from her backbreaking job and settle for a more relaxing one.
But Duke had another reason for meeting Rose: he had already decided to propose her hand in marriage that very same day. And Rose said yes!