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Her Christmas Fantasy & The Winter Bride

An Anthology

Her Christmas Fantasy & The Winter Bride by Penny Jordan
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Her Christmas Fantasy by USA TODAY bestselling author Penny Jordan

After traveling the world with her parents, Lisa yearns for the stability of marriage to solid, dependable Henry, and she's determined to make a good impression on his family when she visits them for Christmas. Only when she arrives, Henry's mother is more than a little aloof and the exasperating Oliver Davenport has taken it upon himself to ensure that Lisa doesn't become Henry's bride. Instead, he takes her to his own home, where he sets about making all her Christmas fantasies come true.

The Winter Bride by USA TODAY bestselling author Lynne Graham

Angie loved Leo Demetrios, but his desire for her was brief and meaningless. After all, he was heir to a Greek shipping fortune and she was just the butler's daughter. For over two years Angie has kept secret the legacy of her stolen weekend of passion with Leo. But then she and her small son are forced to spend Christmas with him. Leo is convinced that his cousin is Jake's father, and Angie is torn between telling him the truth and her fear of the consequences. If he does find out, one thing's for certainhe'll demand that Angie become his winter bride.

Harlequin; November 2010
384 pages; ISBN 9781426875472
Read online, or download in secure EPUB
Title: Her Christmas Fantasy & The Winter Bride
Author: Penny Jordan; Lynne Graham

Lisa paused hesitantly outside the shop, studying the very obviously designer-label and expensive outfits in the window doubtfully.

She had been given the address by a friend who had told her that the shop was one of the most exclusive 'nearly new' designer-clothes outlets in the city, where outfits could be picked up for less than a third of their original price.

Lisa was no fashion victim—normally she was quite happy with her small wardrobe of good-quality chain-store clothes—but Henry had seemed so anxious that she create a good impression on his family and their friends, and most particularly his mother, during their Christmas visit to his parents' home in the north that Lisa had felt obliged to take the hints he had been dropping and add something rather more up-market to her wardrobe. Especially since Henry had already indicated that he wanted to put their relationship on a more formal basis, with an official announcement to his family of their plans to marry.

Lisa knew that many of her friends found Henry slightly stuffy and old-fashioned, but she liked those aspects of his personality. They indicated a reliability, a dependability in him which, so far as she was concerned, outweighed his admitted tendency to fuss and find fault over minor details.

When the more outspoken of her closest friends had asked her what she saw in him she'd told them quietly that she saw a dependable husband and a good father.

'But what about romance?' they had asked her. 'What about falling desperately and passionately in love?'

Lisa had laughed, genuinely amused.

'I'm not the type of woman who falls desperately or passionately in love,' she had responded, 'and nor do I want to be!'

'But doesn't it annoy you that Henry's so chauvinistically old-fashioned?' Her friends had persisted. 'Look at the way he's fussing over you meeting his parents and family—telling you how he wants you to dress.'

'He's just anxious for me to make a good impression,' Lisa had argued back on Henry's behalf. 'He obviously values his parents' opinion and—'

'And he's still tied to his mother's apron strings,' one of her friends had scoffed. 'I know the type.' She had paused a little before adding more seriously, 'You know, don't you, that he was on the point of becoming engaged to someone else shortly before he met you and that he broke off the relationship because he wasn't sure that his family would approve of her? Apparently they're very old-fashioned and strait-laced, and Janey had been living with someone else when she'd first met Henry—'

'Yes, I do know,' Lisa had retorted firmly. 'But the reason that they broke up was not Janey's past history but that Henry realised that they didn't, simply didn't have enough in common.'

'And you and he do?' her friend had asked drily.

'We both want the same things out of life, yes,' Lisa had asserted defensively.

And it was, after all, true. She might not have fallen deeply in love with Henry the night they were introduced by a mutual friend, but she had certainly liked him enough to accept his invitation to dinner, and their relationship had grown steadily from that date to the point where they both felt that their future lay together.

She might not be entirely comfortable with Henry's insistence that she buy herself a new wardrobe in order to impress his wealthy parents and their circle of friends, but she could sympathise with the emotion which had led to him making such a suggestion.

Her own parents would, she knew, be slightly bemused by her choice of a husband; her mother was a gifted and acclaimed potter whose work was internationally praised, whilst her father's stylish, modern furniture designs meant that he was constantly in demand, not just as a designer but as a lecturer as well.

Both her parents were currently in Japan, and were not due to return for another two months.

It would have been a lonely Christmas for her this year if Henry had not invited her to go north with him to the Yorkshire Dales to visit his parents, Lisa acknowledged.

He had already warned her that his parents might consider her work as a PA to the owner of a small, London-based antique business rather too bohemian and arty. Had she worked in industry, been a teacher or a nurse, they would have found it more acceptable.

'In fact they'd probably prefer it if you didn't work at all,' he had told Lisa carefully when they had been discussing the subject.

'Not work? But that's—' Hastily she had bitten back the words she had been about to say, responding mildly instead, 'Most women these days expect to have a career.'

'My mother doesn't approve of married women working, especially when they have children,' Henry had told her stiffly.

Firmly suppressing her instinctive response that his mother was very obviously rather out of touch with modern life, Lisa had said placatingly instead, 'A lot of women tend to put their career on hold or work part-time when their children are young.'

She had hesitated outside the shop for long enough, she decided now, pushing open the door and walking in.

The young girl who came forward to help her explained that she was actually standing in for the owner of the shop, who had been called away unexpectedly.

The clothes on offer were unexpectedly wearable, Lisa acknowledged, and not too over-the-top as she had half dreaded. One outfit in particular caught her eye—a trouser suit in fine cream wool crêpe which comprised trousers, waistcoat and jacket.

'It's an Armani,' the salesgirl enthused as Lisa picked it off the rail. 'A real bargain... I was tempted to buy it myself,' she admitted, 'but it's only a size ten and I take a twelve. It's this season's stock—a real bargain.'

'This season's.' A small frown puckered Lisa's forehead. Who on earth these days could afford to buy a designer outfit and then get rid of it within a few months of buying it—especially something like this in such a classical design that it wasn't going to date?

'If you like it, we've got several other things in from the same per...the same source,' the girl was telling her. 'Would you like to see them?'

Lisa paused and then smiled her agreement. She was beginning to enjoy this rather more than she had expected. The feel of the cream crêpe beneath her fingertips was sensuously luxurious. She had always loved fabrics, their textures, differing weights.

An hour later, her normally immaculate long bob of silky blonde hair slightly tousled from all her trying on, she grimaced ruefully at the pile of clothes that she had put to one side as impossible to resist.

What woman, having bought such a luxuriously expensive and elegantly wearable wardrobe, could bear to part with it after so short a period of time?

If she had been given free rein to choose from new herself, she could not have chosen better, Lisa recognised as she sighingly acknowledged that the buttermilk-coloured silk, wool and cashmere coat she had just tried on was an absolute must.

She was, she admitted ten minutes later as she took a deep breath and signed her credit-card bill, buying these clothes not so much for Henry and his family as for herself.

'You've got an absolute bargain,' the salesgirl told her unnecessarily as she carefully wrapped Lisa's purchases in tissue-paper and put them into several large, glossy carrier bags.

'I think these are the nicest things we've had in in a long time. Personally I don't think I could have brought myself to part with them... That coat...' She gave a small sigh and then told Lisa half enviously, 'They fitted you perfectly as well. I envy you being so tall and slim.'

'So tall.' Lisa winced slightly. She wasn't excessively tall, being five feet nine, but she was aware that with Henry being a rather stocky five feet ten or so he preferred her not to wear high-heeled shoes, and he had on occasion made rather irritated comments to her about her height.

She was just on her way out of the shop when a car drew up outside, its owner double parking in flagrant disregard for the law.

He looked extremely irritable and ill-tempered, Lisa decided as she watched him stride towards the shop, and wondered idly who he was.

Not a prospective customer, even on behalf of a woman friend. No, he was quite definitely the type who, if he did buy clothes for a woman, would not need to exercise financial restraint by buying them second-hand.

Lisa was aware of his frown deepening as he glanced almost dismissively at her.

Well, she was equally unimpressed by him, she decided critically. Stunningly, almost overpoweringly male he might look, with that tall, broad-shouldered body and that hawkish, arrogant profile, but he was simply not her type.

She had no doubt that the more romantic of her friends would consider him ideal 'swoon over' material, with those frowning, overtly sexual, strongly drawn male features and his dominant masterful manner. But she merely thought him arrogantly over-confident. Look at the way he had dismissed her with the briefest of irritable glances, stalking past her. Even the silky gleam of his thick dark hair possessed a strong air of male sexuality.

He would be the kind of man who looked almost too hirsute with his clothes off, she decided unkindly, sternly suppressing the impish little demon of rebellion within her that immediately produced a very clear and highly erotic mental image of him thus unclad and, to her exasperation, not overly hirsute at all... In fact...

Stop it, she warned herself as she flagged down a cruising taxi and gave the driver the address of the friend who had recommended the shop to her.

She had promised her that she would call round and let her know how she had fared, but for some reason, once her purchases had been duly displayed and enviously approved, she discovered that Alison was more interested in hearing about the man she had passed in the street than discussing the likelihood of her forthcoming introduction to Henry's parents going well.

'He wasn't my type at all,' she declared firmly to Alison.

'He was far too arrogant. I don't imagine he would have the first idea of how to treat a modern woman—'

'You mean that Henry does...?' Alison asked drily, stopping Lisa in her tracks for a moment before she valiantly responded.

'Of course he does.'

'You just wait,' Alison warned her. 'The moment he gets that ring on your finger, he's going to start nagging you to conform. He'll want you to stop working, for a start. Look at the way he goes on about what a perfect mother his own mother she devoted her life to his father and himself...'

'I think it's rather touching that he's so devoted to her, so loyal and loving...' Lisa defended.

'Mmm... What's he like in bed?' Alison asked her curiously.

Even though Lisa was used to her friend's forthrightness, she was a little taken aback by her question, caught too off guard to do anything other than answer honestly.

'I...I don't know... We...we haven't... We don't...'

'You don't know. Are you crazy? You're planning to marry the man and you don't know yet what he's like in bed. How long have you two known one another?'

'Almost eight months,' Lisa replied slightly stiffly.

'Mmm... Hardly the type to be overwhelmed by passion, then, is he, our Henry?'

'Henry believes in old-fashioned courtship, that couples should get to know one another people. He doesn't... he doesn't care for the modern approach to casual sex...'

'Very laudable,' Alison told her sardonically.

'Look, the fact that we haven't...that we don't...that we haven't been to bed together yet isn't a problem for me,' Lisa told her vehemently.

'No? Then it should be,' Alison returned forthrightly. 'How on earth can you think of marrying a man when you don't even know if the two of you are sexually compatible yet?'

'Easily,' Lisa replied promptly. 'After all, our grandparents did.'

Alison rolled her eyes and mocked, 'And you claim that you aren't romantic.'

'It takes more to build a good marriage than just sex,' Lisa told her quietly. 'I'm tired of men who take you out for dinner and then expect you to take them to bed as a thank-you... I want stability in a relationship, Alison. Someone I can rely on, depend on. Someone who respects and values me as a person... Yes, all right, Henry might be slightly old-fashioned and...and...'

'Sexless?' her friend came back, but Lisa shook her head and continued determinedly.

'But he's very loyal...very faithful...very trustworthy... and...'

'If that's what you're looking for you'd be better off with a dog,' Alison suggested critically, but Lisa wasn't prepared to argue the matter any further.

'I'm just not the type for excitement and passion,' she told her friend. 'I like stability. Marriage isn't just for now, Alison; it's for the future too. Look, I'd better go,' she announced, glancing at her watch. 'Henry's taking me out for dinner this evening.' As she got up and headed for the door, she added gratefully, 'Thanks for recommending that shop to me.'

'Yes, I'm really envious. You've got some lovely things and at a knock-down price. All current season's stuff too... Lucky you.'

As she made her way home to her own flat Lisa was ruefully aware of how difficult her friends found it to understand her relationship with Henry, but then they had not had her upbringing and did not possess her desire—her craving in a sense—for emotional tranquillity, for roots and permanence.

Her parents were both by nature not just extremely artis-tic—and because of that at times wholly absorbed by their work—they were also gypsies, nomads, who enjoyed travelling and moving on. The thought of basing themselves somewhere permanently was anathema to them.

During her childhood Lisa couldn't remember having spent a whole year at any one school; she knew her parents loved her, and she certainly loved them dearly, but she had a different nature from theirs.

All right, so she knew that it would be difficult persuading Henry to accept that there was no reason why she should not still pursue her career as well as being a mother, but she was sure that she would be able to make him understand that her work was important to her. At the moment Henry worked for a prestigious firm of insurance brokers, but they had both agreed that once they were married they would move out of London and into the country.

She let herself into her small flat and carefully carried her new purchases into her bedroom.

After she had had a shower she intended to try them all on again, if she had time before Henry arrived. However, when she replayed her answering-machine tape there was a message on it from Henry, cancelling their date because he had an important business dinner that he had to attend and reminding her that they still had to shop for suitable Christmas presents to take for his family.

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