Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

A Small Early Christmas Gift–Under The Kissing Ball

Hello everyone. I wanted to share a little bit of my Christmas novella Under The Kissing Ball. It is out now for only $.99.

A Christmas kiss between friends is simple, until it isn’t… Clarissa Chalmers Simmons’ world is in turmoil. After fleeing an abusive marriage and her divorce, all she wants is to heal and create a calm, safe environment for her children. She’s returned to her ancestral home and the comfort of family, which includes a trusted childhood friend, Roger. She finds him handsome and sweet, but too set in his ways for her taste. With Roger’s encouragement and help, Clarissa takes on a new position in the family business and gains personal satisfaction she’s never known. What she doesn’t plan on is her and Roger’s ‘under the mistletoe ball’ kiss rocking her world. Roger Clarke, is the easy-going estate manager at Hartley Castle and a confirmed bachelor. He has always been there in Clarissa’s background but recently has become her rock-steady confidant. Despite his long-held secret feelings for the flighty, beautiful and willful Clarissa, he has never acted on them. He’s not a suitable match for her. After all he is an employee of his best friend and her brother, Lord Hartley. Even if given the chance, Roger has no desire to become the rebound guy. Despite that, if he doesn’t act on Clarissa’s passionate reaction to his kiss, he might lose his chance of having the only woman who’s ever stirred his heart. This book is a part of the Modern Masters of Their Castle Series.




“You have to kiss. You’re standing under the kissing ball!” Clarissa Simmons’s children Jonathan and Margaret called in unison as they looked away from the video game they had been playing to point at the mistletoe.  

Their uncle’s fiancé, Allison Moore had just explained at dinner the reason she’d hung the ball-shaped mass of greenery in the doorway of the Hartley Castle library, in Hartshire, England.  

Clarissa looked up at the orb and then to Roger Clarke, the estate manager who stood beside her. He’d been her friend, and her brother Ian’s best friend, for almost a lifetime. Roger’s handsome brown brows rose in question. Was he asking if he could or if she would?

It had been over a year since she’d last kissed a man. Her horrible marriage, ugly divorce and impossible ex-husband had soured her on anything related to kissing. Still Roger had been a friend who made no demands. She’d be participating in a tradition for the kids. What could be the big deal about a friendly kiss?

She gave Roger a direct look as if to say “you don’t have to if you don’t want to.” Her eyes widened as he stepped forward. His fingertips lightly touched her waist. Her body heated. That response she hadn’t anticipated.

Her gaze locked with his as his mouth lowered. Her eyes fluttered closed. She had no idea what to expect because she’d never thought of kissing Roger. But the feather brush of his full, firm lips stole her breath and sent her heartbeat flying.

Seconds later his mouth settled over hers and took possession. His fingers gripped tighter at her waist, yet he maintained his distance. Roger’s lips planted themselves on hers as if they belonged there. Her ears roared. She moaned and leaned toward him.

Then his mouth was no longer there, along with the heat that had washed through her. Roger was gone. He had stepped back, creating space between them. 

Clarissa shivered as cool air surrounded her. She took an unsteady step, struggling to keep her knees from buckling. Through a daze, she looked at Roger. His emerald eyes held a yellow flame of fire before he blinked, smothering it. Her gaze moved to his mouth. She licked her lower lip to ease the tingle lingering there. She quaked. What a kiss.

Jonathan and Margaret’s squeals of delight then giggles had her regaining her composure.

She glanced at the kissing ball as if it had some kind of magical powers. Who knew the straitlaced, always focused on business, and in her opinion rather dull, Roger Clarke could kiss like a top-dollar gigolo?

            Her brother Ian Chalmers, Lord Hartley, hand in hand with Allison took that moment to enter the room.

            “What’s all the commotion?” Allison looked to the children.

            “Uncle Roger had to kiss Mum because they were under the kissing ball,” Jonathan offered with a grin.

            Still stunned, Clarissa flickered a look at Roger who moved to the fireplace. He looked into it a moment before he turned and placed his hands behind his back as if warming them. He watched her as if what had passed between them had not impacted him one way or the other. Not even his eyes held any emotion. The audacity of the man. She wanted to kick him. Here she was barely standing with her nerves still shaking as if they were salt in a shaker.

            Allison looked at the kids with a teasing grin. “I told you what would happen if you stood under it.”

            Ian seized the moment to pull Allison into his arms. “You only hung it because you would manufacture any excuse to kiss me.” He gave Allison a quick kiss on the lips.

            Allison giggled. “With you I don’t have to get the kids involved to get a kiss.”

            He chuckled.

            Clarissa enjoyed seeing her brother so happy yet was envious she’d not found that same love and companionship in her life. It had always eluded her. With knees still trembling, she made her way over and joined her children on the sofa. At least with her sitting she didn’t have to worry about collapsing. 

            “Mum, when do we get to open our Christmas presents?” Margaret looked at her with longing, her five-year-old’s patience being stretched thin as seven-year-old Jonathan watched for her response.

            Clarissa looked to the beautifully decorated tree in the far corner of the room. “I’ve already total you, honey. We’ll do that on Christmas Day.”

            “How long to Christmas Day?” Margaret asked.  

            Daring a glance at Roger, she found him watching her. Her heart tripped. His look held hers for a second before it flickered away. What had that kiss been about? She still didn’t understand what had happened in those brief moments. Her world had tipped sideways. Didn’t she have enough turmoil in her life already after the move to Hartley Castle and the divorce?

            Roger said, “What you need is a calendar so you can mark off the days. That’s what my Mum used to use. Have your Mum bring you to my office tomorrow and I’ll let you use a big one I have. You can even mark it off yourself. How will that work?”

            “Can I Mum?” Margaret’s eyes widened with an eager look.

            “Me too?” Jonathan asked leaning toward her.

            Roger stepped away from the fire adjusting his sweater as if he had warmed himself enough. “Of course you may, but Margaret gets to do the marking.”

            “That’s very nice of you, Roger.” Clarissa offered him what she hoped looked like a full-on appreciative smile while not chancing direct eye contact. She’d just managed to get her heart to settle down.

            Fifteen minutes later, Roger excused himself, needing to check on some work before he departed for his cottage.

Clarissa watched his broad back as his long strides took him toward the door. Just a few years older than Ian, he had a few silver hairs intermingled within his dark waves. They gave him a distinguished look that added to his charm.

 She shook her head dumbfounded by the realization she found him attractive. Roger had been in her life for as long as she could remember. His father had been the estate manager before Roger. When his father passed away, Roger had stepped into the role. He was Ian’s right-hand man. She’d followed them around as a little girl. Where Ian had acted irritated to have her there, Roger showed compassion to the girl with no other play companions during her holidays at the castle. Since moving to the castle permanently, their friendship had grown, and he’d become her valued confidant.

She couldn’t get over her reaction to Roger’s kiss? Why had it affected her? Was it because it had been so long since she’d been kissed? Maybe it had been an abnormal occurrence. Her eyes widened. Or had it been because she’d kissed Roger?

*

Mid-morning the next day, Roger checked his emails in his office in the castle without much interest. He groaned. The evening before he’d had to make an excuse to leave the library before he acted on his impulse to tug Clarissa under the kissing ball again. How many times had he thought about kissing her over the last few months? Too many to count.  

At Jonathan’s and Margaret’s insistence he kiss Clarissa, he’d taken his chance. His fascination with her had become as much a part of him as his skin.  

When she’d run away and married he hadn’t been surprised. She’d always been a free spirit, pushing against the structure of the rigid social world Ian had accepted. She tagged along behind him and Ian when they were boys. Younger than them, more than once he had to defend her against Ian who didn’t always want his sister around. Yet Roger liked the joy Clarissa found in life. His seemed so gray in comparison. He found her invigorating.  

As she became a young woman he watched as men visited her at the castle. Just as mesmerizing as the other young men found her, Roger had too. He wanted the same attention she gave them while knowing it wasn’t to be. He was an employee of the family, not of the same position.

He heard footsteps in the hallway. Clarissa and her children were on their way to his office door. Jonathan and Margaret rushed to him without hesitation coming straight to his desk. Clarissa lingered at the door with an unsure look in her eyes.

Had he scared her last night? He believed he’d kept his feelings for her well covered.  Their relationship had always been an easy one. He had no desire for that to change. His gaze met hers as he gave her a reassuring smile. The children stood on either side of his desk chair. They’d been coming to his office at one time or another since they had come to live at the castle months earlier. He lifted Margaret onto his knee as Jonathan moved in close enough that his shoulder pressed against Roger’s arm.   

“Uncle Roger, we’re ready to look at the calendar. What’s a calendar?” Margaret looked at him as if he had all the answers to life.

Roger chuckled. Clarissa’s soft laugh washed through him like warm honey. When she’d first returned to the castle she been subdued and had lost some of that spirit he’d always enjoyed. Slowly it had started to return. Her friendship with Allison had helped. Yet shadows filled Clarissa’s eyes when she believed no one watched her.

“A calendar tells us the months and the days of a year.” He pushed some papers to the side so his large desk calendar could be clearly seen. “This is my big calendar.” He pointed to a square. “This is today.”

“Right there’s Christmas Eve.” Jonathan’s voice rose with excitement as he pointed at another box.

“That’s right. And Christmas Day is the next day.” Roger pointed to the next square.

A hint of a floral smell caught Roger’s attention. Raising his head, he saw that Clarissa now stood on the other side of the desk. He filled his nose with the enticing scent.

She wore a gentle smile, her eyes indulgent.

He returned his attention to the children. “I put out a special pen so you could mark the days with it.” He pulled off the top of the pen and handed it to Margaret. “You can draw an X across today.”

Margaret carefully made a squiggly mark.

Roger pointed to the square with December 19th in it then to Christmas Day. “Now see here, this is how long it is until you can open presents. Jonathan, why don’t you count the days for us?”

The boy stood taller in his importance. Roger grinned as he listened to Jonathan count off the days.  

Clarissa had shifted around the desk as if she were making an effort to see better. He looked at her to find a proud smile on her face. His chest swelled with pleasure as he watched her. He had to admit she had great kids despite their loser dad. Clarissa had done a good job raising them. His focus returned to Margaret. Lifting her off his knee, he sat her on her feet beside him. “Tomorrow, come back and we’ll mark off another day. Before you know, it will be time to open presents.”

Clarissa waved a hand. “Come on kids, we’ve taken up enough of Uncle Roger’s time. I’m sure he has other things he needs to do.”

 “It’s nice to have a break.” Roger stood. That was an understatement. Managing the estate and the additional duties Ian had given him with his new venture of the environmental studio had taken its toll. They had already talked about hiring more help after the new year but it couldn’t happen soon enough for Roger. He’d been drowning in paperwork lately. Add in overseeing the greenhouse construction and Ian’s absence, the stress had started getting to him. Yet he had no intention of letting on. “I’ll see you at dinner, okay?”

Clarissa placed a hand on Jonathan’s shoulder and gave him a nudge toward the door. Margaret followed. Clarissa turned to leave but looked at Roger once more. “Thanks. I appreciate that. This Christmas isn’t going to be anything like the others and it’s nice to see both of them smile. You’re wonderful with them.”

Roger moved closer to her. “It’s not a problem. They’re great kids. I enjoy having them around. I needed the break.”

She glanced at his desktop where stacks of folders and papers were strewn about. “You do look busier than normal.”

“A little. Uh…about that kiss last night.”

Clarissa’s eyes took on a caged animal wildness before she looked away. A hint of pink rested on her cheeks as her eyes darted around. “I’m the one who’s sorry. The kids shouldn’t have put you in that position.” She waved a hand as she headed toward the door. “It was no big deal really. I’ll let you get back to work.”

Roger swallowed hard. His heart dropped. No big deal, she says.

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