Monday, December 31, 2012


It's New Year's Eve and besides giving my wishes to all of you for a very Happy New Year and all the best in 2013, I thought I'd also share with you which books and authors hit my Fave List for 2012. Just in case you missed one.  *wink*
I've met some awesome new authors this year, I've started reading some fabulous new series, and I've fallen in love with so many new characters that I want to say they are all my absolute favorites. Had to narrow it down. Hope you approve.  

*** Best New Romance Authors of 2012 - these are authors who made their debut in 2012 and who I believe we'll be seeing a lot more from in 2013 and the coming years. Click on the author's name to learn more about her and her books.
Joan Swan - author of INTIMATE ENEMIES, and the Phoenix Rising Series.
Anna Randol - author of SECRET IN HER KISS, and the Sinners Trio series.

Jaye Shields - author of the Sex Demon Trilogy and Immortals in Alameda series.
Carey Baldwin - author of FIRST DO NO EVIL. I'm hoping to see a new book from this lovely lady in 2013.

Jennifer Bernard - author of the Bachelor Fireman series.

Aimée Duffy - author of MONSTER OF FAME. This lady got me to read to a story about reality television and I loved it.
***Best New Romance Series of 2012 - series that I have fallen in love with and will not be missing a single one! I hope you've experience some of these for yourself!
VAMP CITY by Pamela Palmer
SINNERS TRIO by Anna Randol
THE DEVIL DEVERE by Victoria Vane
***Best Romance Novels of 2012 - my favorite novels of 2012 that I didn't want to end, I want to re-read as soon as I finish and I couldn't put down while reading! I hope you've read some of them, if not all. These are not in any particular order, they are just my favorites.
SOMEBODY LIKE YOU, a Sugar Shack novel by Candis Terry - I fell so in love with James Harley that I did not want this book or this series to end. If you still haven't read any of the Sugar Shack series, please do, you won't regret it. 
Click HERE to read my review of this utterly delightful and romantic novel.
ONCE BURNED, a Night Prince novel by Jeaniene Frost - I've been a fan of Jeaniene Frost for some time but there was something about Vlad's story that caught me by the heart and wouldn't let go. Being a series, I have to wait until the next installment, TWICE TEMPTED, which will be winging our way in March, thank heavens.
Click HERE to read my review of this amazing, action-packed paranormal romance featuring the sexiest vampire you'll ever meet!

TEXAS WIDE OPEN by KC Klein - this story and format blew me away. I just can't say enough about this book. I really and sincerely didn't want it to end.
Click HERE to read my review of this extraordinary contemporary romance from a very creative author.

KING OF THE DAMNED, a League of Guardians novel by Juliana Stone - Oh my word! This book takes you through a world of magick, danger, and evil while a romance simmers beneath the action. I was so thrilled by this book that I can't wait for the next to come which can't be soon enough.
Click HERE to read my review of this amazing trip through the strange world of the League of Guardians.
THE WHITE SWAN AFFAIR by Elyse Mady - this is the book that surprised me the most. Based on a historical incident featuring a real person with a romance built around it, this was one of the most intriguing and satisfying reads of my year. I hope you all gave it a read and if not, it's never too late.

HERE to read my review of this fabulous historical romance that will leave you amazed. 
INTIMATE ENEMIES by Joan Swan - this is one of the best self-published books I've ever read. Action-packed, character driven, emotional and expertly edited and produced. An awesome accomplish for a new author.
Click HERE to read my review of this amazing suspense romance by one of 2012 newest romance authors.
***Best Romance Anthology of 2012:

THREE WEDDINGS AND A MURDER by Tessa Dare, Leigh LaValle, Courtney Milan, and Carey Baldwin - four wonderful stories that take you from Regency England through the ages to contemporary USA. I enjoyed all of the stories and loved the differences yet reveled in the romance. Each story is slowly being republished on its own and I hope you'll check them out.
Click HERE to read my review of this awesome anthology that also donated money to charity.
***Best Romance Novella of 2012
THREE SCHEMES AND A SCANDAL by Maya Rodale - not only was this novella the  cherry on the top of the Writing Girl series, a fabulous series that I recommend to everyone who loves Regency Romance but I giggle my way through this novella and then needed tissue at the end because Maya wrote one of the most romantic proposals ever.
Click HERE to read my review of this amazing, delightful and sigh-worthy romance novella.
Well, I hope you have a list of favorites of your own and if not, I hope you enjoyed mine and perhaps got inspired to add some of these to your TO BE READ list. It's been a great year and I've enjoyed everyone's company. I look forward to another year of sharing my thoughts and reviews with you. May 2013 be filled with joy, laughter, and lots of good reading!
Happy Reading Everyone and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!


Friday, December 28, 2012

Unwrapping: Review of HOW A LADY WEDS A ROGUE by Katharine Ashe

A fan of the Falcon Club series by Katharine Ashe, I knew I definitely wanted to read HOW A LADY WEDS A ROGUE featuring the Raven, Wyn Yale and the incorrigible, Diantha Lucas so I decided to purchase this one for my own pleasure and of course, share my thoughts on it with you.


Gentleman’s Rule #1: If a lady is virtuous, he should deny her nothing.
Beautiful Diantha Lucas understands society’s rules: a young lady must find a man to marry. But Diantha has a bigger goal, and she’s not afraid of plunging into adventure to achieve it. When daring, dashing Wyn Yale rescues her, she’s certain he’s just the man she needs.

As an agent for the secret Falcon Club, Wyn knows his duty, but he’s not about to admit he’s a hero of any sort. He has a plan, too: steal a prized horse, murder an evil duke, avenge an innocent girl, and probably get hanged for it—in that order. Wyn can’t afford to be distracted by a pretty face, even one with delectable dimples and kissable lips. But how can a country miss and a hardened spy solve their problems when they can’t keep their hands off each other?

                                                 *                        *                      *                       *                     *

Diantha Lucas needs to speak with her mother, a mother who left her four years earlier without so much as a farewell. Having discovered through a bit of snooping that her mother is in Calais, Diantha has left school early to travel to France to confront her, never considering the dangers that might await a young beautiful woman traveling alone since her maid has decided to run off with a young man. But then again, Diantha Lucas is a girl who dreams of heroes, a gentleman hero in particular and discovers the one she dreams of most traveling alongside her in the Mail Coach - Mr. Wyn Yale.

Wyn Yale, aka the Raven is on a mission to deliver a racing filly to the man he intends to assassinate which will probably be the end of his career as a member of the Falcon Club and the end of his life. He understands the consequences but has lived with the guilt the Duke of Yarmouth caused him through the death of an innocent girl Wyn had intended to protect. The last thing he expected was to find him, once more, protecting a young woman from the dangers of villainous scoundrels, including himself.

I have been awaiting Wyn Yale's story since first meeting him as a member of the Falcon Club. His charm, his gentle nature with women, and his tortured soul drew me immediately and in HOW A LADY WEDS A ROGUE, he is everything I expected and hoped he'd be. Even more tortured by the sense of responsibility he has for Diantha and his loyalty to her family, Wyn finds himself battling his own needs for both Diantha and the bottle. In an attempt to keep his wits around Diantha and to protect her from his own lustful pursuits, Wyn stops drinking and nearly destroys himself in the process.

I have great admiration for Katharine Ashe tackling such a delicate and intense subject as alcoholism in a romance novel. Seeing this tragic and out of control side of a man such as Wyn Yale, brings out the hero in him and the heroine in Diantha in a way we don't normally see in historical romance. It works and it works marvelously. There were times when the story moved a bit slow toward the middle but then it came alive with the emotion of Wyn's vulnerability and Diantha's ability to take charge and not panic when faced with dealing with a man who stood on the precipice of hell. Her faith in Wyn was the most incredible asset Diantha brought to the story.

HOW A LADY WEDS A ROGUE by Katharine Ashe is an extraordinary tale of a woman who appreciates the rules and manners of society, and appreciates a gentleman hero but accepts the faults as part of the man even when the manners are perfection. It's a tale of a man tortured by guilt, an abusive childhood, and the tragedy of alcoholism yet can see the youth and beauty in a wildly rebellious girl who brings out the best in him despite his own resistance.

I highly recommend HOW A LADY WEDS A ROGUE, a Falcon Club novel by Katharine Ashe if you've read any of this wonderful series or even if you haven't. If you're tempted to read a historical romance that will have you quickly caught up and wringing your hands in wonder as to whether Diantha and Wyn will ever have their happily-ever-after, then this is a must read.

Happy Reading Everyone!

HOW A LADY WEDS A ROGUE, a Falcon Club novel by Katharine Ashe, Avon Romance, available now in print and ebook formats.


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Unwrapping: Review of A LOVE UNTAMED by Pamela Palmer

I am a huge fan of the Feral Warrior series by Pamela Palmer, I admit it! I have read every book and novella in this series. I recommend them to anyone who asks and so when I got the chance to read an eARC of the newest release, A LOVE UNTAMED, I leaped at it like I'd come into my own animal. 

***eARC provided by publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest and unscripted review.


The newest member of the elite Feral Warriors brotherhood, Fox is eager to prove himself on the frontlines of battle against the Daemons. When paired with the legendary Ilina warrior, Melisande, he expects the fierce beauty to quickly fall under the spell of his quite considerable charm. Instead, he finds himself spellbound by a woman who's his match in every way.

Beneath Melisande's brittle exterior lies centuries of pain and a violent hatred of all shape-shifters—a hatred that slowly crumbles after they're caught in a deadly and cunning Mage trap and she glimpses a surprising depth in her far-too-seductive partner. Their survival demands unconditional trust—and their salvation surrender to a wild, untamed love.

                                     *                        *                          *                         *                          *

Kara, Lyon's mate and the Radiant, is missing. Without the energy provided by the Radiant, the Feral Warriors will eventually die but it's also their love for her that has them searching for her. Fox is new to the group and questions his own worthiness as the originals attempt to weed out the new members that may have been marked by their animal spirits from the worst of the line rather than the best. Partnered with Jag, Olivia, and the Ilina warrior, Melisande, Fox is unsure of his abilities and his need to keep focused while Melisande's presence strives to draw his attention away from the mission to find Kara.

Melisande has no use for any shifter or any Therian but especially wants nothing to do with Feral Warriors. It is only when she discovers that her worst enemy, Castin, is among the newly marked Ferals that she willingly offers her services in finding the Radiant. Not overly thrilled with being teamed with Fox, she puts up every defense to keep her growing attraction for him from distracting her.

Despite Fox and Melisande's determination to ignore their attractions, Fox begins to see the Ilina warrior woman as a challenge and Melisande begins to feel her old needs and desires return and knows that giving in to her sexual needs will serve to make her stronger not weaker. When lost in the Labyrinth together, they need each other's skills and strengths to survive and eventually grow closer. Melisande begins to feel the walls around her guilt and her tortured memories crumble beneath Fox's endearing charms. If they survive the Labyrinth, if they find and rescue the Radiant, what then? Will Melisande go back to being the cold warrior woman and will Fox remain a Feral once the others discover the battle being waged inside him between his animal spirit and a darkness that has attempted to mislead him every step of the way.

I was very surprised at the turn this installment of the Feral Warriors took, but pleasantly surprised. In the past books, the story centered almost entirely on the pair for which a mating was imminent but in A LOVE UNTAMED, the story took many directions at once. I liked this very much. I liked that we were able to understand Kara's fears and trepidations. We feel Grizz's angst over not being worthy of having been marked and discover his interesting past and then are hopeful of where it might lead him. We come to understand Melisande's tortuous past while Fox endears himself to her, and us, through his patience even as an internal battle rages within and visions from the past become something he fears trusting.

A LOVE UNTAMED by Pamela Palmer is unique even for a Feral Warrior novel. It's action-packed as Melisande and Fox journey through the Labyrinth created by the Mage sorcerer, Inir, taking on task after task in an attempt to locate Kara, the Radiant. It's emotion-filled as Fox fights against his growing intolerance for what his animal spirit is telling him and his fear that perhaps he wasn't the one worthy of being marked. It's passion-filled as Fox slowly tears down the walls of self preservation that Melisande has built around her heart after having survived torture and rape only to live with the guilt of her Ilina sisters' deaths. As well as what she did in the name of vengeance.

Melisande is a hard character to like. She's always been there to protect Ariana, her queen, and the secrets that protect her sisters but she's cold and unbending in her treatment of the Feral Warriors. I know many readers don't like her, but I've always found her admirable. I was quite happy when, at the end of ECSTASY UNTAMED, it was obvious that Fox was attracted to her. I wanted Melisande to find her happily-ever-after and Fox is just the charmer to give it to her.

My only disappointment in A LOVE UNTAMED by Pamela Palmer is that I felt the ending was a bit rushed. The story leads us through so many adventures, giving enough bits of information that if a reader were to pick up this Feral Warrior novel as a first read, they would quickly catch on to who and what the characters and story are about - until they reach the end. Had I not known of the mating ritual from previous installments, I suspect I would have been a bit lost. In the end, I do have to highly recommend A LOVE UNTAMED by Pamela Palmer to anyone who has read even one of the Feral Warrior novels, however, if you're going to read one, read them all and then read, A LOVE UNTAMED. Fox is definitely worth it.

Happy Reading Everyone!

A LOVE UNTAMED, a Feral Warrior novel by Pamela Palmer, Avon Romance, available now in print and ebook formats.


Monday, December 24, 2012


Norman Rockwell's Merry Christmas 1928
It's Christmas Eve and to celebrate, I've written a short story for you. I've always thought that Santa and his bride, Mrs. Claus, were one of the most romantic couples. Can you imagine being with the same man for an eternity? I hope you enjoy my story and have a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, or whatever you prefer to call it. Thanks for being so wonderful to me! Enjoy my gift to you. Merry Christmas to all and Happy Reading Everyone!

by Amy Valentini

It was a beautiful day.  As it always was in the small village nestled amidst the forest that lay just on the edge of the horizon to the north. The sky was a clear blue, the wind warm on Merry Belle’s cheeks as she set out the baskets of pine cones that she and her siblings gathered the day before from the floor beneath the great pines encircling the village. Laughter filled the air as some of the younger children, three of her siblings included, danced around the fountain that was the centerpiece of their sweet haven from the rest of the world.
“Be sure to set aside a basket for your Aunt Regina,” her mother called out to Merry from her seat in the wagon in which her father had driven her in from the forest. Her father had already disappeared into his cobbler shop while Merry and three of her older brothers unloaded the baskets from the bed and arranged them beneath the sign that read BELLE’S FINE PINE CONES. There were only seven children, besides herself, left living at home with Lively and Queenie Belle now that the three eldest, Merry’s brother and two sisters, had married. Her sisters, Gay and Livie, had married men from villages outside the magic so they had moved away. Her brother, Reggie, married a local girl named Sprite and since he works with their father, they remained nearby. They live in a small house not far from the shop. Merry sighed with sadness thinking of her sisters so far away. They would only be allowed to visit when the magic fell, which was only once a year.
“Momma, do you want me to take Aunt Regina’s basket to her house?”  Her brother Jasper called out to their mother. Merry smiled slyly. She knew the real reason her brother was so eager to walk the mile into the forest to deliver the basket – Cecelia Claus, their cousin.
“No, don’t bother, Jasper. Nick is supposed to retrieve it for her. He should be along soon. Merry, keep an eye on the younglings, please.” Her mother exclaimed with a smile as she turned the reindeer pulling the colorful wagon in the direction of home.
“Yes, Momma, I will.” Merry reassured her mother even as a smile teased the corners of her mouth and her heart fluttered in her chest. She had hoped that Nick would come into the village today. It had been almost a month since she saw him last and even though she was not happy with his behavior of late, she was eager for him to see her new hairstyle. She had woven her long ebony locks into a long braid that nearly reached her hip and then twirled it around her head with bits of holly sprinkled throughout.  The green of the prickly leaves and red of the berries highlighted brilliantly against her black hair. She knew the leaves nearly matched her green eyes exactly and she’d worn her best apron. The one embroidered with holly leaves, berries, and trimmed with red bows. It looked lovely over her dark green work dress. She was confident that she looked quite fetching and hoped Nicholas Claus thought so too. She hadn’t forgotten how he had acted with that haughty Lavinia Woodhaus before he left to travel outside the magic.
“Perhaps CeCe will come to market with Nick,” Merry remarked over her shoulder as she piled more perfect pine cones into the display baskets. When Jasper glared at her, she giggled making him glower even more. “I hear she’s got a new beau.”
“She does not,” Jasper snapped in return. Then he stopped his work and looked at Merry, a shadowing cast of despair filling his blue eyes. “She doesn’t, does she?”
“Lacy told me that CeCe was worried that her father had picked out a husband for her and then I heard from Maggie that a stranger was seen riding in the direction of the Claus farm.”

Jasper’s eyes darkened as Merry recounted the gossip that had circulated. She had no idea if any of it was true and seeing how she had not been to market in almost a week, the stranger could have been just that - a stranger. She had overheard her mother and father discussing the topic of Frederick Claus having consulted their mother about whether or not to arrange a marriage for his only daughter.  Merry knew that her mother would never advise her cousin to arrange a marriage, she didn’t believe in it. Even knowing this, Merry couldn’t resist teasing her brother who was head over heels in love with Cecelia Claus.
“She wouldn’t.  She couldn’t,” Jasper muttered as he stacked the baskets neatly. Merry suddenly wished she hadn’t told him. She hoped CeCe wouldn’t accept some stranger for a husband. She and Jasper belonged together.
A commotion beyond the fountain caught Merry’s attention. Glancing to where the children had been playing, she noticed now that they had all gathered on the far side of the fountain. Jasper noticed too, but quickly put his attention back on his work. Merry sighed knowing he would leave it to her to make sure their younger siblings stayed out of trouble.
Merry set down the handfuls of pine cones she was sorting. She wiped her hands on her apron and started around the display table to inquire as to what had drawn the children’s attention when she suddenly halted mid-step. Strolling into view as if he was a celebrity was Nicholas Claus. The children danced and giggled around him as several of the young women of the village hung on his arms or juggled their positions to acquire his attention. One in particular, the supercilious Lavinia Woodhaus, clung to his right arm as if the earth would swallow her if she let go. Merry wished she would be, swallowed by a large hole - a very deep one.
Merry stepped back behind the display table and smoothed her skirt and apron.  She tried not to look in the group’s direction, but couldn’t resist sneaking a peek from under her dark lashes.
“Jasper, my good friend and cousin, my sister asked me to relay a message,” Nick called out as he approached.

Merry loved the sound of his voice. It was always happy and friendly as if the man was never in a foul mood. He’d always been that way. As a child found lost in the forest, he hadn’t shown anything but joy and was happy to find a new home as a foundling.

Jasper stepped close to Merry in anticipation of the message Nick had brought him, but Merry refused to look up. The last time she had seen Nick, he’d nearly completely ignored her and then, of course, there was that incident. Her brows knitted together and her jaw tightened remembering what he had done.

It was just before he left the village during the long day of fallen magic. This was the only time the villagers could leave or anyone visit and she knew once he was on the other side that it would be a long time for him whereas it was merely a day for her. Time moved faster within the magic so Nick would have a month in the outside - a wonderfully, long month that allowed him to experience so much more than she could ever offer him.  She had heard he’d returned yet he made no effort to see her. She could only assume he was lost to her.
The children jumped and laughed around the display and Merry heard Lavinia giggle. When one of the children bumped the table, Merry’s head snapped up to reprimand them and send them on their way, but she was caught by a pair of laughing blue eyes that held her. Her words suddenly caught tight in her throat.
“Good day, Merry,” Nick said in a low slow voice. Merry heard Lavinia snort disapprovingly, but ignored her.
“Hello Nick.” Merry cleared her throat to speak those words. She tried to tear her gaze from his but he refused to look away, and she hadn’t the will to do it herself.  “So you have a message from CeCe?
“Ah yes,” Nick glanced at Jasper as he began, but then his eyes shifted back to Merry. “She wants you to come by the house for supper tonight. She says father wishes to speak with you.”
“Me?” Merry exclaimed with confusion.
Nick laughed. The sound was joyful, clear, and vibrant sending the women around him into sighs and giggles. The children, once more, began to dance and laugh. Lavinia clung tighter to Nick’s arm and leaned in brushing her voluptuous body against his. Merry wished to rip the woman’s blond hair from her head. When Lavinia reached up and brushed dark red curls away from Nick’s forehead with long slender fingers, Merry nearly leaped across the display table to do just what she had been thinking.
“Goodness no, Merry! Jasper - she wants Jasper to come for supper,” Nick announced with a deep chuckle. “Although, if you’d like to come, I’m sure Mother would be delighted.”
“I’m sure Merry Belle is too busy to tear herself away from selling pine cones and bathing babies to attend supper, but I’m free.” Lavinia cooed in Nick’s ear. Merry curled her hands into fists to keep from slapping the girl.


Nick watched Merry closely as Lavinia taunted her. He had no want of the conceited blond hanging on his arm or any of the other young women who seemed bent on attracting his attention. His heart belonged to Merry Belle, but he was lost as to why she had not come to see him off on his journey to the outside, nor welcomed him home. Even yet, her greeting seemed cold and distant. They had been the closest of friends growing up. He was only a few years her senior. How many years was unknown for he’s never known his exact age. It's approximated that he was perhaps four or five years of age when Frederick Claus found him wandering the great pine forest surrounding the village. His adopted parents had surmised the fallen magic caught him inside while separated from his natural parents. Nick was very happy with his life, and his family, so never felt the need to search for his real family - if he even had one. As a young boy, he eagerly awaited the day he might proclaim his desire to make Merry Belle his wife but now that he was a grown man, he was at a loss as to what to do.

Lavinia leaned against him, her soft breasts caressing his arm. He wanted to pull away but when he saw a crease form between Merry’s delicate brows and her hands clench into fists, he knew that Lavinia’s behavior bothered her. He smiled with a great happiness lifting his heart. Perhaps she did care. Was she jealous? He hoped so.

“I think it best you not attend, Lavinia. As I told Jasper, my father wishes to speak with him so it’s best it is only family in attendance,” Nick remarked casually to his companion not removing his gaze from Merry. He saw one of Merry’s sweet dimples appear in her cheek as she turned her head away. She was smiling. She was glad he had not invited Lavinia to supper. “Perhaps we’ll have supper another time, my dear beauty.”

Nick nearly burst out laughing when he saw Merry crush a pine cone in her hand as he added the provoking remark. She was jealous! Yes, indeed, she was.

“So how was your time outside the magic, Nick?” Jasper nudged Merry’s side as he kicked the crushed pieces of pine cone under the table. She glared at him as if she wished to crush him for asking such a question.

“It was very interesting, very interesting indeed,” Nick remarked as he watched Merry from the corner of his eye.

“Oh, do tell us, Nick darling! Did you meet a lot of fine ladies?” Lavinia’s voice was all sugary as if she was some delicate thing that needed someone to hold her up, which Nick was beginning to think she actually needed. His arm was slowly going numb from the tight hold she had on it. He decided it was time to cut her loose. He unfurled her fingers from his arm and pushed away from her cloying body to sit on the display table inches from Merry. He could smell Merry's lovely scent, which was unique to her alone. She always carried an aroma of sugar cookies and vanilla. Nick loved the way her sweet essence seemed to surround him when he got close. He wanted to sample her all over to see if she tasted as good as she smelled.

He picked up a pine cone and tossed it casually as he leaned back on one elbow on the table. He glanced over his shoulder when Merry snatched the pine cone from the air and placed it on the top of a neatly stacked pile. He smiled at her but received a frown in return.

“I did meet lots of fine ladies but none were as fine as those I know here,” Nick explained removing his gaze from Lavinia and her friends to the beautiful girl with shining black hair. The girl with bright green eyes that always reminded him of the rich fresh forest, pale creamy skin, round cheeks that always carried a hint of pink high on them and contained dimples that made his heart soar when she smiled. Her mouth was a pucker of pink like the softest petals of wildflowers and he dreamed often of kissing those lips again. He’d kissed her once a few months ago, but not since. Was she perhaps angry with him over the stolen kiss?  He’d thought she’d enjoyed it for she had leaned into it and had most definitely returned it. Perhaps that been his imagination or a lost wishful thought.

“I’m sure they wear much finer clothes than we do,” Lavinia moaned pushing out her lower lip in a mock pout. Lavinia Woodhaus was the daughter of the mayor. She wanted for nothing and always wore the newest fashions, for her father journeyed to the other side of the magic every year to make sure she had only the best. Nick traveled with the mayor to the other side this year. His hope was to find a way to allow others to travel through the magic when it wasn’t fallen. He had discovered that it mattered not whether the magic was fallen or not, for him. Nick was able to pass through at any time. He had suspected it for about six months. He had stumbled over a log and fell against the boundary. Amazement had thrilled through him when his arm passed through the barrier. He had been fearful to try passing through alone for fear that he might not be able to come back, so when he passed through with Mayor Woodhaus and it was time to return, he attempted an experiment. He and the Mayor passed through and the magic returned. Nick grabbed the man’s arm and stepped back through to the other side. The Mayor remained on one side but Nick stood on the other side of the magic. Then he stepped back through and was greeted by a look of pure shock on the part of the Mayor. He made the Mayor promise not to tell anyone quite yet. The Mayor agreed, partly to the fact that he didn't understand what happened.

“Oh, they are fine and they are beautiful but I prefer something more familiar, something sweet and delicious.” Nick glanced at Merry. She was staring at him with an odd expression. She cocked her head and the tip of her tongue appeared to wet her lips, but then quickly disappeared. Was she remembering the kiss? He’d told her she tasted sweet and delicious like the most familiar dessert treat after he kissed her.

“I’m sweet and very delicious,” Lavinia said seductively as she stepped forward and ran her fingers through his hair.

“Lavinia Woodhaus, you’re acting so common!” Nick was taken aback to hear such a chiding exclamation from Merry Belle. She never raised her voice at anyone, not even when the children needed reprimanding. She had been silent ever since he spoke to her about CeCe’s message and now suddenly, she was scolding the Mayor’s daughter. She was jealous, he realized. He repressed the smile that teased the corners of his mouth.

“How dare you, Merry Belle? You’ve no business speaking to me that way,” Lavinia whined as she stepped close to Nick. “Nick, darling, are you going to let this … this pine cone seller speak to me … your dearest … that way?”

Nick heard Merry expel a pained gasp. He saw her eyes sparkle with tears before she dipped her head. She didn’t really believe there was anything between him and Lavinia, did she? He watched her shoulders fall as she stepped away from the display table, her hands clenching her finely embroidered apron. Before he could speak, she murmured something to Jasper who was staring at him with the look of a brother who was about to defend his sister. Merry moved away and disappeared behind the screen that blocked out the back of the stall.

“Jasper?” Nick was truly confused. He hadn’t meant to hurt Merry by his flirtations with Lavinia, but it was obvious he had. Jasper shook his head and looked away.

“Come to the tavern with us, Nick.” Lavinia chirped near his ear. He looked at her. She cared not that she had insulted Merry or that she really was acting common. He never should have flirted with the woman.

Nick pulled away and hopped off the table. Without looking directly at Lavinia, he pushed past her to move around the table.

“Not right now, Lavinia,” Nick told her. He needn’t look back at her to know she was staring after him with a shocked expression. No one told Lavinia Woodhaus no to anything.


Tears streamed down Merry’s face like a heavy rain and she could do nothing to stop them. It was all she could do to swallow down the sobs that threatened to explode from her chest. She wiped at her face with her apron. Her heart was aching, her lungs burned with the pain of heartbreak that overwhelmed her. It was obviously true that Lavinia Woodhaus was something special to Nick. The kiss that Merry had seen them exchange the night before he went outside the magic was more than a flirtation.

“Merry?” The sound of Nick’s voice behind her caused her breath to catch and her back to tense.  Now, she wished it was her own body that the earth opened up and swallowed. She had no desire to embarrass herself more than she already had. She refused to turn to look at him.

“Go away.” The sound of her voice in her ears was only a shadow of the depth of despair she was feeling.

Strong hands gripped her shoulders and her immediate reaction was to shrug them off. She tried to move away, but Nick didn’t allow it. He spun her to face him but she lowered her head so as not to see his face or to allow him to see hers.

“What is this all about, my sweet?” His voice was soft and worried. Merry felt a clutch in her chest as a sob boiled up and out before she could stop it. Her tears flowed once more. Nick pulled her close and she allowed him. He wrapped his strong arms around her as she pressed her wet face to his beautifully embroidered waistcoat. She loved the waistcoat he’d worn today. It was why she’d chosen the ensemble she had. He was dressed in his forest green, embroidered with vines and edelweiss blooms. His black pants and polished black boots were the perfect accompaniments, and the white linen blouse beneath the waistcoat was like snow in the forest against the dark green. He wore no cravat today but left his collar open, and now as she peeked out from under spiked lashes, she saw soft curls she knew were red like the curls on his head. His scent of pine and cherry wood tobacco filled her stuffy nose and calmed her sobs. When his hand stroked the curve of her skull, she sighed and inhaled a deep breath trying to halt her tears. It wasn’t his fault, after all, that she was so desperately in love with him. If he chose another, she must resolve herself to it.

“Are you still angry with me over the kiss?”

Merry pushed away from Nick’s broad chest and looked up at him through wet eyes.

“So you knew I was there and kissed her anyway? Oh heavens, it’s true then. You love Lavinia Woodhaus over me!” She wrestled herself from his embrace and pulled her apron up to wipe tears from her face even as more flowed replacing them.

“What? Me … love Lavinia? Merry, have you lost your senses?”

“If not, then why did you kiss her? I saw you –” Merry snuffed and wiped her tears. Why did Nick act as if her accusation was so incredulous? “You kissed her. She was in your lap, for goodness sake, that night in the tavern.”

She drew in a deep breath to calm her shaking. “I came to plead with you not to go outside and there you were with her on your lap. Her arms around your shoulders and then you kissed her.”

Nick’s sudden deep chuckle sparked anger in Merry and she turned on him with a stern glare. He immediately stopped, then raised his hand to stroke away the tears from her cheek.

“I didn’t kiss Lavinia, she kissed me. Why did you wish me not to go?” Nick drew the pad of his thumb along her cheek and then over her lower lip. Merry narrowed her eyes at him but he refused to stop touching her. Had she been more like Lavinia, she might have struck his cheek for acting such the Lothario.

“She kissed you? What’s the difference?” Now it was her turn to stare at him incredulously.

Nick chuckled again, this time the sound was low in his chest and subtle as if only for her ears. “There’s a big difference. I did not ask for the kiss nor respond to it. Lavinia has made a show of blatant flirtations with me in your presence ever since I told her she held no interest for me, and that you were the only one I wished at my side.”

Merry sniffled and wished with all her desire to blow her nose. Had he really told Lavinia that it was she he wanted? Her heart soared for a moment, but suspicion still plagued her. “You told her that? When?”

“About a week before I went to the outside.” Nick pulled a handkerchief from the pocket of his waistcoat and pressed it to her nose. Merry took the cloth, turned to the side and blew her nose, embarrassingly unladylike. When she turned back, Nick was smiling at her. His eyes twinkled with delight as he tilted his head slightly at her. “So you saw that, huh? I’m sorry, dearest, really I am. It meant nothing and Lavinia knows it. She must have seen you there and played her trump card in hopes of warding you off. Her effort seems to have worked for I was sorely disappointed you didn’t see me off or await me upon return.”

Merry nearly laughed aloud at Nick’s sudden feigned pout as he pushed his lower lip forward, furrowed his dark brows, and presented a dog-eared expression.

“I suppose I will have to forgive you for being such a ninny. You should have confronted me then, instead of stewing in your imaginings,” Nick murmured close to her ear, the scent of cherry tobacco in his soft curls filled her clearing nostrils. Before she could respond to his teasing retort, he posed a more disturbing query. “Now, tell me please why you had planned to beg me not to go to the outside?”

Abruptly, guilt and a sense of selfishness, that she knew Nick would abhor, filled her and made her once more wish the earth would open and swallow her. With him standing so close, his lips so close to her cheek, and his hand resting along her neck, she was barely able to breathe much less think and now berated herself for mentioning it at all. She had no right to request him stay or leave. He was a free man with a will not easily bent to anyone’s way. He’d always been stubborn and headstrong since childhood.

“It doesn’t matter since you’ve already gone.” Merry refused to lift her gaze to meet his, even as he attempted to tilt her head using his fingers beneath her chin.

“Did you fear I wouldn’t come back?”

Merry’s gaze lifted without forethought. He was staring at her with a look that stole her breath. His bright blue eyes had darkened, not with anger, but with something else. Something wonderful that made her insides jumble and her skin tingle. The same kind of look he’d worn, that day in the forest, just before he kissed her. She recalled how she had wished for more, wanted more and since then, dreamed of more.

“I must admit I did fear you wouldn’t come back. I thought once you experienced the world outside the magic that you would want more. Perhaps some round-eared beauty,” Merry admitted blinking to keep back the tears that once more threatened to flow.

Nick chuckled deep in his chest. “You also believed I wanted Lavinia. I believe you should stop assuming and talk to me instead. Besides, you’ve got the most beautiful pointed ears of any elf I know.” He winked at her as he stroked her cheek gently then smoothed her hair back behind her ear. Merry couldn’t resist a smile. “I admit I enjoyed my time outside, but there is much sadness in the world. Too many children who go without joy, and who must work instead of play. I wish to do something more for the children of the world. It was something I hoped to speak about with you.”

“Me? Why me? Why not my father or brothers?”

“Because you will be an important part of what I plan – I hope anyway,” Nick said in a low, deep voice that sent shivers over her skin. He leaned in close, pressing his forehead to hers. She felt the silkiness of his curls against her skin and her heart skipped a beat. Before she could speak to his curious statement, Nick pressed a sweet kiss to her lips. “If you wish it, Merry Belle?”

Just then, the bell in the town square rang. Nick stepped back and took hold of her hand.

“Come Merry, I’ve something to announce to everyone,” Nick exclaimed with excitement in his voice and his eyes.

Merry followed along, her hand snug in Nick’s strong, warm grip. She wiped at her face, drying the tears that had flowed only moments earlier. She hoped her eyes weren’t red and swollen.

“Ah, here he is! Come Nicholas!” Mayor Woodhaus called out from the platform where the bell holder stood. This central place was where the villagers gathered to hear any, and all, announcements made in the village. As they reached the spot, Nick turned to Merry, raised her hand still clutched in his and pressed a kiss to her knuckles. He smiled, released her and stepped up alongside the Mayor. Some of Merry’s girlfriends squeezed in alongside and whispered curiously about Nick’s public display, but Merry ignored them, her eyes on Nick’s handsome face.

“My dear friends, as you know I traveled outside of the magic with the honorable Mayor Woodhaus during the last fall. I discovered there are low times in the outside world. Great sadness exists, there’s a general lack of joy, and the children of the world are losing their youth. I also discovered something wonderful about myself. It seems that I am able to move back and forth through the magic with very little effort. I’ve spoken with the Mayor, and several of the village leaders. We have devised a plan to spread some joy throughout the world and bring out the child in all, but I will need your help.” Nick spoke to the group with a commanding strength and determination. Pride filled Merry’s chest as she watched him call upon their attention. She had no idea what it was about but if he wanted her to be a part of it, she was more than willing.

“We are a people of joy, laughter, love, and hard work.” A cheer went up in response to Nick’s remark and he paused with laughter on his lips.

“We have toymakers a plenty and very few markets, except when the magic falls.” The group groaned their agreement.

“Ah, my friends, but the outside world has little in the way of amusement, and so I wish to spread our joy, and our gifts to all the far reaches of the globe.”

“How do you plan to do that, Nick Claus?” One of the merchants called out from the crowd.

“As I said, I can move back and forth through the magic whenever I wish,” Nick explained as he moved to speak to one side of the group, and then to the other, always stopping to stand before Merry. His gaze capturing hers each time he paused. “I plan to gather some of your goods and carry them through the magic to share them amidst the people of the outside. I feel that once they discover the joy that your beautiful wares bring to their lives that they will soon be clamoring for your merchandise.”

As if it took a moment for the thought to sink in and then become clear, silence filled the air before murmurs began to rise from the group, and soon followed by cheers and applause. Mayor Woodhaus stepped up beside Nick and patted him on the shoulder in approval.

Nick raised his hands to quiet the crowd.

“My hope is that with enough travel back and forth eventually I’ll discover a means for everyone to travel without waiting for the magic to fall. In the meantime, we will just have to make do.” Another cheer went up. “I have another announcement, if you will bear with me.”

The crowd quieted once more. Nick’s gaze shifted to Merry and he held out his hand toward her. Merry felt every eye in the crowd settle on her and she had the sudden urge to crawl away.

“Merry Belle, join me here please.” Nick reached out his hand once more. Merry accepted it and stepped onto the platform. She was nervous, and refused to look out over the crowd of friends and family who had gathered even though she knew every face and every name. Nick took both of her hands in his and turned to face her. “You think I want more. You think I want another or someone with rounded ears. I want only you, Merry Belle.”

A unified gasp went up from every young female in the crowd. Merry was unable to resist a peek at Lavinia who was frowning with anger.

With great grandeur, Nick took a step back, dropped to one knee and gazed up at Merry. A cheer rose from the crowd watching every movement. Heat rose in Merry’s cheeks and her hands shook in Nick’s. She was excited, and mortified, at the same time for he was making quite the public spectacle of them.

“My life is here, Merry Belle. My heart is here with you and I only want you, desire you, love only you, and know that my life is not complete without you.” Nick proclaimed in a voice that was not overly loud but with such a loud silence surrounded them, Merry was sure that even the fish in the river were able to hear his words. “Will you do me the great and joyful honor of becoming my wife and partner in this grand adventure?”

Merry stared down into the brightest blue eyes she'd ever seen and they twinkled with anticipation. Her heart soared, her breath seized, and her knees trembled. Unable to speak, she nodded her head, then released his hands and threw her arms about his shoulders. Without concern for the crowd, she pressed her mouth to his in a powerful kiss. The crowd erupted in cheers of joy and congratulations. Nick gathered her in his arms and pulled himself to his feet. Merry was where she had always dreamed of being and wished to be nowhere else at that moment. Nick pulled his mouth away from hers and chuckled.

“You kissed me, Merry, my love,” Nick whispered near her lips. “Now do you see the difference?”

“Oh yes, Nick, I do see.” Merry giggled as she kissed the tip of his nose. “But you kissed me in return.”

“Aye, I did.”

“As long as you always do, my dearest, for I love you so,” Merry exclaimed before pressing her mouth to his again. Nick returned her kiss in earnest. The noise of the crowd, the cheers and good wishes being showered on them faded away as the passion of the moment closed over them in its own kind of magic.

Merry Belle and Nicholas Claus were married two weeks later in a wonderful celebration to which everyone attended, including the very unhappy Lavinia Woodhaus. Three months later, Nick loaded up an ornate wagon filled with goods from the village and led by reindeer, it passed through the magic and returned one day later with an empty wagon. When asked how it went, he recounted how no one seemed interested and refused to spend good money on toys for their children so Nick decided to make sure the youngsters enjoyed the fruits of the village’s labors. He left enough toys, dolls, and wreaths at each home in the surrounding villages to wet their appetites. Before he left, he peeked in a few windows to see the joy on the children’s faces and befuddled expressions of the adults. He wasn’t sure if their enterprise would succeed but he glowed with the delight of bestowing the beautiful items upon the families, and seeing the children once more playing as children should. The village leaders spoke amidst themselves and decided that what Nick had done was spectacular. They decided that rather than sell the items to the outside world, the village goods would be gifts to keep joy and playfulness in the world.

Nick eventually discovered the means to take one or two of the villagers with him on his trips. As long as they were touching him, they could pass through just as the sleigh he built to accommodate the many toys and goodies could, and of course, the reindeer needed to pull it. Nick was able to broaden his expanse of delivering gifts throughout an ever expanding area by using the time movement differences between the two worlds. Soon a strange thing happened after a few journeys through the magic. It began to snow area around the village, beautiful snow crystals of pure white that never melted nor increased. The air temperature stayed mild and comfortable, but the entire village and surrounding forests stayed draped in beautiful sparkling white. Merry believed it was a reflection of Nick’s purest intentions and his love for all – especially children. Nick knew it was the deep love he had for his Merry Claus. It was her purity of heart, and her willingness to allow him to travel the world outside the magic bringing joy and happiness to those less fortunate than him, and the generosity of the villagers who shared their lives with a little lost round-eared boy. 

The End.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night!

***This story is copyrighted under Amy Valentini and will not be reproduced or copied without express permission of the author - ©2012

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