An Edwardian Romance
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Stir-it-up-Sunday only happens once a year, but a grandmother’s Christmas pudding doesn’t tempt Cecily’s appetite half as much as an appealing neighbor. Her deepest secret is safe until she whispers sugar plum nothings in her sleep, and awkwardly, someone overhears. A relationship doesn’t seem possible, but when it becomes apparent that their feelings are mutual, it’s not only class and social status hindering a relationship, but also one stubborn English father.
Logan Campbell, a skilled yet lowly veterinary surgeon, has a talent as an animal whisperer. Popular with the farmers and one English lady, his sentiments can’t administer common sense to the parental obstacle standing in his way. He’s willing to risk it all to secure his heart’s desire, even if it means singing in the church choir. But when a racehorse becomes seriously ill, the ensuing challenge tests his patience and skill. He’ll have to pull out all the stops to secure their future.
Does a veterinary surgeon have the practical knowledge to prevent a tragedy? Will a father accept his daughter’s heartfelt wishes? A Christmas carol and a little lady luck could make this season brighter.
November 19, 1905
Cecily drove the horse-drawn cutter across fields thick with snow, tolerating the change in the weather. The blizzard the day before had blown in a miserable cold, forcing everyone in Essex to seek shelter from the storm. If the temperature hadn’t fallen to a bitter thirty below, Cecily would have paralleled the winter scenery to a Victorian Christmas card: grasslands blanketed with snow, weeping spruces thick with frost, and the odd currant bush sequined with crystallized pearls. She flipped the reins, finding beauty in winter.
“Come on, Cisco,” she said, urging the horse to run, “give us a good trot, will you.”
Abigail squirmed on the bench seat, bundled in a thick fur coat and heavy woolen blankets. She shifted closer to her. “I’m glad we brought the blankets. The scenery is pretty, but the frost in the air has me chilled to the bone. The weather’s not fit for man nor beast.”READ MORE
“What did you expect?” Cecily asked. “It’s the third week of November. Winter arrives whether we like it or not. Sunshine and pleasant weather never last.”
Abigail pouted. “I’m not sure I expected anything.”
“I know you with your visions of sugar plums dancing in your head. You hoped for the impossible, that a warmer than usual fall would never come to an end.”
“Sure, it’s true, I wasn’t ready for this beastly weather. Can you blame me? Who doesn’t love the summer months? You’re not telling me anything I don’t already know.”
Cecily tsked her tongue. “I get it…you’re unhappy, the farmers are unhappy, no one wants winter to come. Not even me. Everyone’s complaining that the snow fell too soon. There’s still crops on the fields.”
“Father’s not happy, and his new racehorse hasn’t done anything to brighten his spirits. He’s been in a surly mood for days.”
“It wasn’t the expense that upset him. Poor Papa, he’s disappointed racing season is over,” Cecily said, making a face. “Winter always arrives, no matter that one might wish it otherwise.”
“There’s one positive,” Abigail said, glancing longingly at a six-foot spruce. “Winter brings us closer to the magic of Christmas.”
Cecily pondered Abigail’s whimsical expression. The closer they came to Advent the merrier her disposition. Who could blame her? The season imparted tidings of joy. A time of caroling, families gathering, and presents under the tree. Plenty of reasons to celebrate. “Is that why you’re smiling? Or maybe you fancy the Campbell tree?”
Abigail giggled; the wintry cold caused steam to waft from her lips. “It’s a fine tree. A full skirt at the bottom and its branches are nicely rounded to the top. I can imagine what it would look like with a silver garland and lit candles adorning the greenery. I wonder…”
Cecily snapped the reins, her eyebrows rising. “Forget it. It’s not possible.”
“Why not? Logan would give it to us. We only need to ask him.”
Cecily blushed, simply from hearing their neighbor’s name, but she wondered what Abigail was really thinking about? Her sister knew the procedure for selecting a tree and they were never included in the process. Abigail tried her patience these days, making unusual comments or asking cheeky questions. There was something in her expression that suggested she knew Cecily’s deepest held secret.
“Honestly, Abigail, you have a story hidden inside your head of curls, one that’s dying to come out. I see it in your eyes. I hear it in your laughter.”
Abigail shrugged, smothering a giggle. “You’re imagining things. I’m excited about the holidays. Who wouldn’t be after the first snowfall? We’re traveling to Granny’s house to stir up Christmas pudding. I know it’s cold outside, but the snow reminds me of my favorite season. Does it not do the same for you? What do you want for Christmas, Cecily?”
What did she want? Logan Campbell came to mind. He’d make a nice gift. Wrapped with a golden tie bow, she’d seek him beneath the mistletoe, hoping for a clandestine kiss, but wanting a gentleman for Christmas seemed inappropriate.
“I haven’t had much time to think about it. A new dress or a pair of shoes would suit nicely, though I suspect a pair of socks or mittens might be in the works. I’ve heard mother’s needles clicking at night.”
“It’s not what I thought you’d say,” Abigail said, a whimsical expression on her face.
Cecily glanced at her sister, suspecting an undercurrent of mischief. “Oh, what did you think I’d say? Shoes from Paris? A piece of jewelry? One could only hope.”
“It’s nothing. Forget it.”
But Cecily wasn’t imagining her sister’s odd behavior. Abigail’s persistence caused Cecily to consider gifts that a woman might desire to receive rather than material objects. Her thoughts gave way to Logan Campbell. Again. They’d passed a tree, the spruce belonging to the Campbell family and one handsome son.
He’d caught her attention a few seasons ago when the Campbell family purchased the neighboring land. Given they were of similar age, Logan had attended the same one-room schoolhouse. He had a Scottish heritage and with her customs being English, her father hadn’t supported their friendship. In fact, Papa had not spoken kindly of the Scottish family living near his farm, and that opinion hadn’t changed when Logan became a veterinary surgeon.
He had a reputation as an animal whisperer. Logan could whisper in her ear any day, even on Sundays, but having a skill with animals didn’t matter to Papa. John Carleton was particular about his horses and their care. His ignorance irritated Cecily, and likely had encouraged her feelings to rise to the surface. She’d loved Logan from the start. A woman’s heart sang its own songs and she’d found herself dreaming about the Scottish gentleman.
Had she voiced a sentimental word in her sleep? Is this why her sister was pestering her?
“Leave off, Abigail,” Cecily said, rounding the corner of the Campbell property. That’s when the man of her dreams came toward them, riding a large draft horse. Cecily urged Cisco to a stop.
“Good morning, lassies,” Logan said, his breath steaming from his lips.
“Hi, Logan,” Cecily said, thinking he’d never looked better. A plaid scarf wrapped around his neck, a Scots bonnet on his head and a gray woolen coat draped across his broad shoulders. A woman could get lost in those hazel eyes. “What brings you out in this miserable weather? It’s an unpleasant day to take a ride.”
“There’s no choice in the matter. A farmer’s animal needs care. Are you driving to your grandmother’s house?”
Cecily drew in a contemplative breath. “Well, it’s time for the yearly stir-it-up. I know the weather’s poor, but we promised to help Granny. Mixing the fruit requires arm strength and Granny hurt her hand recently.”
“Has she seen a doctor?”
“Not to my knowledge, but Mama assures me the burn isn’t serious.”
“I know I’m no more than an animal doctor,” he said, smiling as if he’d told a joke, “but I’d be happy to check on her if you think it’s necessary. Some people don’t like a visit from the local doctor.”
“Kind of you to offer. I’ll let you know,” Cecily said. “Is your mother mixing today?”
Logan glanced in the direction of his homestead, then at her. “Nah, not today. My mother’s been ill. She’s felt poorly for more than a month now.”
“We’re sorry to hear it,” Abigail said, nudging Cecily. “Is there anything you need, anything we can do to help?”
Cecily glanced at her sister, wondering why she’d make such an offer. It wasn’t proper.
Logan came closer, his horse meandering to Cecily’s side of the sleigh. “She hasn’t been able to cook. The smell of food spoils her appetite. My brothers and I, well, we’re helpless in the kitchen, yet we’ve done our best to help. Little sister is too young to go near the range.”
“Yes, she’s still playing with her dolls,” Logan said, staring at her in an appealing way.
Cecily took a deep breath, dreamily staring at his eyes and ginger tendrils of hair that escaped his Scots bonnet. She wanted to help him, but what could she do? Assisting the Campbells could bring on Papa’s wrath, and though her father was a good man, his sternness could be a problem. No one liked him when he was angry.
“We’ll keep your family in our thoughts and prayers, and we wish your mother a speedy recovery.”
“If you’re of a mind to help, maybe we could make a trade. Good trees on this land and lumber’s important this time of year. I could cut a few logs for Mr. Carleton. I could help him with his horses.”
“We saw a tree that would make the perfect trade,” Abigail said.
The comment upset Cecily. Why would her sister make such an offer? “Abigail, don’t be impertinent.”
“Cecily’s not a half bad cook either.” Abigail winked. Logan’s eyebrows rose.
Cecily’s face heated, flaming with irritation. A response was long in the coming, though she did kick Abigail’s foot. They had servants. She seldom cooked anything. Why was her sister acting out of character?
“I’ll speak to Father,” Cecily said, glancing at her sister, giving her a warning look. “I hope your mother gets better soon, but we won’t keep you. We must be on our way to Granny’s house.”
“Of course, I have to go as well.”
“A good day to you, Logan.”
He stroked his hat, giving her a meaningful look. “Nice to see you, Cecily. You too, Abigail.”
“And you, Logan.” Cecily flipped the reins. “Away we go, Cisco.”
After they travelled a short distance and were out of earshot of Logan, Cecily minded her sister. “What was that about?”
Abigail gave her a pleading look. “You have to help him, Cecily, you’ll never have a better reason to get closer to Logan.”
“What are you talking about?”
Abigail pulled the blanket tighter around her shoulders. “It’s obvious, Cecily, at least to me. You like Mr. Campbell.”
Why would Abigail say such a thing? Cecily’s brain hurt thinking about it. Yes, she liked Logan, but she wasn’t ready to disclose this information to anyone. Certainly not her sister. “I do not.”
“Yes, you do.”
“What gives you that impression?”
Her face wrinkled into a frown. “Well, there was that night when I had a bad dream, and you let me sleep in your bed.”
“Yes, what of it?”
Cecily waited patiently for an answer. Abigail glanced at her, nibbling at her bottom lip, trying hard to conceal the truth. “You’ve always had a talent for talking in your sleep.”
Cecily’s face heated, despite the cold, her cheeks flushing a rosy hue of pink. “What did you hear?”
“Not much,” Abigail said nervously. “A few silly words and Logan’s name.”
Cecily swallowed, wishing she could escape her embarrassment. “On pain of your life, Abigail, promise me you’ll not tell anyone what you think you’ve heard, not Mother, not Father. I like Logan, but no matter what the heart yearns for, there are practical matters to consider.”
“What could be more practical than love?”
This feeling wasn’t love. This crush on a handsome neighbor bordered on obsession. Cecily couldn’t get him out of her mind. She thought about him constantly. His perfect face, his hazel eyes, his full kissable lips. Talking in her sleep? How could she keep this fixation with Logan to herself?
“Whoa, sister. I don’t have feelings for Logan. We’re not even close friends.” He was only a sweet flirtation in her dreams, a secret crush, and could never be more than that.
Abigail’s eyebrows rose as if questioning her sincerity. “You could love him.”
She certainly wanted a relationship with Logan Campbell. What lady wouldn’t? She’d heard the gossip from the neighbors. Gentle care administered to animals. Respect accorded to people in the community. No matter what anyone said, a relationship with Logan Campbell wasn’t possible. “Father would never permit it.”
“This isn’t England. These fields are coated with milk and honey.”
“These fields are snowed in with hardship and bitter cold.” Cecily laughed, nudging her sister’s arm. “Dear sister, I don’t see it the same way. We may have begun a new life in a new country, but the cultural differences created in our homeland traveled with us across the sea. They separate us, even though Logan and I are neighbors. I would like to help the Campbells, though Father won’t trade anything with a Scot, and that includes his daughter.”
“Cecily, you couldn’t be more wrong. Our father is a giving man, especially when he knows a family is struggling. He’ll help the Campbell family. I know he will.”
“Maybe when he loses his hard head,” Cecily said, sighing. “Let me think about it.”
Though there wasn’t much to consider. Cecily knew her father was strong-willed, and talking about probable scenarios seemed pointless. A man’s opinion wasn’t easily changed. It was best to alter the direction of their conversation.
“Let’s focus on getting to Granny’s house and stirring up a dessert that will remind us of your favorite time of year. Christmas pudding… It requires a bit of arm muscle and a lot of patience. Do you think you have the strength to stir?”
“I’m more than equal to the work.” Abigail gave her a determined look. “I’ll help you stir the pot. A dessert suitable for our family and one certain gentleman.”COLLAPSE
Katie O'Connor on Goodreads wrote:
"Scottish charmers, controlling fathers, and a holiday miracle or two make A Gentleman for Christmas by Shelley Kassian a delightful Edwardian escape. Cecily and Logan are magnetic characters from opposite worlds whose ultimate fate may feel decided early on, despite the objections and obstacles to their connection, but their coupling still unfolds with delicately crafted tension. Showcasing a wise pen and a mastery of lyrical language, this seasonal read swings between scintillating and sweet, with richly painted players who romance readers will want to eagerly curl up with for the holidays, or any other time." Self-Publishing Review, ★★★★½
Samantha on Cat's Book Corner wrote:
Kassian instantly draws you into the past with accurate and incredibly realistic imagery. This love story goes beyond the usual tropes with a clash of cultures and social status that will have you groaning in frustration, even as you root for the charming and lovable characters. A sweet, historical, Christmas treasure you'll read over and over.
JudyAnnLovesBooks on Amazon wrote:
“The transition to miracles made this a truly wonderful story to read. Kassian is a brilliant storyteller and A Gentleman for Christmas yet another showcasing of her talents.”
This review first appeared in the anthology, Hugs, Kisses and Mistletoe Wishes, specifically mentioning A Gentleman for Christmas.
Roxy Boroughs on Amazon wrote:
This was an incredibly sweet and entertaining romance read. I enjoyed reading this historical romance, set around the Christmas season. Logan and Cecily are as different as night and day but there attraction to one another brings them together. Watching them navigate the issues keeping them apart, while convincing everyone around them of how right they are together, made for a read in one sitting romance. TBR and Enjoy!
Class and country provide the conflict in this delightful Christmas romance with a poignant message. Add a plumb pudding, festive music, a Scottish hero -- and you've got all the ingredients for a wonderful holiday read.