Do you love Christmas stories? I do, and I’ve been lucky enough to be asked to write a few as well. As you might know, I blog regularly (about every fortnight- that’s every two weeks for those not familiar with the term) with the Word Wenches. In the lead-up to Christmas, we’re doing Sunday posts containing an excerpt from our stories in the Last Chance Christmas Ball — one each Sunday.
The anthology was such a fun—and tricky— thing to do. We wenches had written a Christmas anthology before based loosely around a theme, but for this one we decided all the stories would be linked, and based around an annual Christmas ball, held by Lady Holly.
Some of us wrote interweaving stories, some of us made our stories linked, but separate, several of us had our people not actually make it to the ball. But we all had such fun doing it, we wanted to share it again.
Here’s the blurb for the collection: Christmas 1815. Upstairs and downstairs, Holbourne Abbey is abuzz with preparations for a grand ball to celebrate the year’s most festive—and romantic—holiday. For at the top of each guest’s wish list is a last chance to find true love before the New Year…
My story is called Mistletoe Kisses, and it’s about Allie Fenton, a young woman who, for various reasons, has never been able to attend a ball. Now orphaned and on the shelf (and only just out of her mourning period — see the black and white outfit above) Allie has to leave her home and become a teacher at a girl’s seminary in Bath. But first there’s her last Christmas at home and then, Lady Holly’s famous annual Christmas ball. . .
Here’s a short excerpt:
“You’ll come to my Christmas ball, then,” Lady Holly told her. “Don’t bother trying to think up any excuses — you’re coming and that’s that. Your year of mourning will be up, and you have no reason to stay here moldering away when I’ve gathered an excellent range of eligible gentlemen for your perusal.”
Allie laughed. “For my perusal? As if I’m going shopping?”
“That’s exactly what you’ll be doing.”
“Don’t the gentlemen have any say in it?”
The old lady sniffed. “Women have been making men believe they have a choice for generations. Now don’t be frivolous, Allie — I am determined to give you one last chance to find a husband before you go off and bury yourself in this, this school of yours.” She pronounced ‘school’ as if she really meant ‘zoo.’
Allie smiled. For all her caustic tone, Lady Holly had a very kind heart. “I would love to attend your ball, Lady Holly. . . “
The old lady frowned. “I hear a ‘but’ coming.”
“Not really—I would truly love to dance and flirt and be madly frivolous, and your Christmas balls are legendary, and you know I’ve never been able to attend. But the only ball dresses I have were made for the eighteen-year-old me, and not the seven-and-twenty version. Alas” — Allie indicated her hips and bosom and grimaced — “I’m no longer the slender young thing I was.”
Lady Holly snorted. “You were a scrawny young twig back then — no bosom or hips to speak of. Now you’ve a fine womanly figure. Besides, I’ve thought of that. Took the liberty of getting a dress made for you — left the box with Meadows. It should fit — got Mrs. Meadows to take your measurements from one of your current dresses.”
Allie blinked in surprise. “You had a dress made for me? A ball dress?”
“Now don’t get all stiff-necked on me, Allie Fenton,” the old lady said in a fierce tone that didn’t deceive Allie for an instant. “I was very fond of your dear mother and this is for her, as much as for you. She was so looking forward to your making your come-out and was devastated that her illness prevented it.”
“I’m not being stiff-necked, truly I’m not. I’m just. . . surprised.” There was a lump in Allie’s throat. She was deeply touched by the old lady’s brusque kindness. And thoughtfulness. A ball dress. . .
Lady Holly reached over and patted her hand. “Now don’t look like that, my dear — I promised your mother I’d see you dancing in the arms of a handsome man, and though circumstances have prevented it in the past — and I quite see that it would have been the height of impropriety for you to go dancing when first your mother and then your father lay dying — there is nothing to prevent you now, and you will come to my ball!”
Allie smiled mistily. “Just like Cinderella. And you’ve even provided the gown.”
. . . . SNIP (in which we skip a bit of the story). . . .
The parcel, tied with string and wrapped in brown paper, lay on her bed. She untied the string and under the wrapping paper found an elegant box with a stylish gold emblem on the front. She swallowed. This was no dress from the village seamstress — it was from Lady Holly’s own London mantua maker.
She eased off the lid, parted the layers of protective tissue paper and gasped. Almost holding her breath, she drew the dress from its nest of tissue. It was beautiful.
The underdress was a light shimmering lilac shade that she just knew would go perfectly with both her recent mourning, and also her coloring. But the lovely silk underdress was quite cast in the shade by the delicate overdress in some kind of gauzy fabric through which the lilac silk shimmered. Embroidered here and there with tiny rosebuds in silver thread, it was finished with bands of delicately gathered silver lace around the hem and at the elbows of the puffed sleeves, and a line of silver embroidery around the neck.
In the box, hidden beneath the dress, was underwear — not the kind of underwear that Allie had ever in her life worn — delicate, lacy, flimsy, exquisite underwear — a chemise, a petticoat, the daintiest, most feminine drawers, and even a corset. All were trimmed with lace, and everything but the corset was practically transparent. Almost scandalous.
She remembered Lady Holly’s comment that she had the figure of a woman now, not a girl. Allie had never really given it much thought. But now . . . these were certainly underclothes for a woman, not a girl. Smiling to herself, she put the lovely, naughty underclothes back in the box. She’d probably die a spinster, but she would treasure these forever.
She picked up the dress again, held it against her body and turned to gaze at her reflection in the looking glass. It was the most beautiful dress she’d ever owned. And it suited her perfectly. The lilac color complemented her pale complexion and her dark hair, and even seemed to make her very ordinary gray eyes look almost exotic. The silver thread gleamed and shimmered in the light. It was a dress made for dancing. . .
How many years since she’d danced? And never at a ball.
Delight bubbled up in her. After what felt like years wearing mourning black and gray, this dress felt like a breath of spring. And yet even the highest sticklers could not look askance at her — lavender and lilac were approved colors for half mourning.
But would it fit? She stripped off her old black gown and, holding her breath, she carefully slipped the ball gown over her head. And breathed. It was perfect. It was more than perfect.
She gazed at her reflection, gave a sudden laugh and twirled around and around, as if she were a giddy, carefree girl again.
She felt just like Cinderella. And she was going to the ball.
I hope you enjoyed my little snippet from The Last Chance Christmas Ball. If you haven’t read the story or the anthology, you can buy it as a paperback or an e-book at all the usual places.
Did you like the dresses in this post? The first is clearly a mourning outfit — no colors. The second is simply pretty — I do like a green dress, and I sometimes wonder if this is the “pomona green” mentioned in several of Georgette Heyer’s novels. And the third is the dress that inspired Allie’s dress in the story. I know hers isn’t pink and doesn’t have a train, or lace — but that’s how a writer’s imagination works — take something real and turn it into something else for a story. It’s the impression that counts.
I’ll post another Christmas snippet in a couple of weeks.