A Holiday Proposal (EBOOK)

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Tristan Lark, Earl of Burley, is a lord with a plan. Hades’ Lair, London’s top gaming hell, is for sale, and Tristan intends to buy it. He even has an investor in mind: a foreign prince. Regrettably, this investor works solely with married men, viewing marriage as a sign of responsibility. The rule doesn’t faze Tristan: he’s hired an actress to play his wife at a Christmas gathering to impress the prince.

When the actress doesn’t appear, Tristan is in trouble.

Confirmed bluestocking Irene Carmichael would rather study weather patterns than dress in fine gowns, but when her older brother’s friend asks her for help, she agrees, even if it means sneaking into his manor house every night for a week to play his wife.

Unfortunately, neither of them had counted on the snow.


A Holiday Proposal is the sixth book in the Regency historical romance series, Wedding Trouble.


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Opening Sample




December 1819


The gray sky perpetually threatened more snow, more discomfort, more frigid cold, and Tristan Lark, the seventh Earl of Burley, marched toward Highedge Hall. Freezing air slammed against him, and the few people who ventured outside returned hastily to the questionable comfort of their cottages.

In the summer, wandering the Dales was a tolerable experience, with wildflowers to admire and a consistent breeze to cool one from any exertion the occasional incline might cause. Regrettably, this was December, and soon it would be Christmas. Slabs of snow shrouded any flowers, long since dead. 

Tristan should be in London. He should be receiving invitations to balls at the sumptuous, warm townhouses that lined Grosvenor Square. He absolutely should not be here, on the Dales. 

Unfortunately, Tristan lacked a choice. Not if he wanted to impress Prince Radoslav, and not if he wanted to secure investment funds to purchase Hades’ Lair. The gaming hell, long run by the Duke of Vernon and the Earl of McIntyre, was for sale, and Tristan was determined to buy it. Hades’ Lair remained his favorite place in the world, and he refused to let another buyer convert it into a townhouse. Vernon and McIntyre were foolish to abandon their moneymaking machine because of their recent marriages, but Tristan did not succumb to such sentimentality. 

Servants, swathed in shapeless wool, prepared the grounds, so they would appear immaculate upon the royal visitors’ arrival. Frost dotted the oversized windows, their size impractical against the wind’s relentless advances. Mother had emptied Father’s coffers to remodel Highedge Hall to mimic the modern homes of her day, although they were in the Dales, and few members of the ton might admire them. 

Tristan rounded the corner of the manor house and approached the grand entrance. The sandstone had blackened, the discoloration striking against the slabs of crisp white snow that dotted the ground. His gaze remained focused on the area beside the door, even though the overabundance of columns in the portico generally demanded attention. 

Normally, a visitor’s carriage would park beside the door, but the space was empty. Perhaps Francesca had arrived and disembarked with efficiency, even though no one associated the actress with that term. 

That must be it. 

He quickened his pace, but this time he allowed himself to smile. 

Tonight, with Francesca on his arm, he would charm Prince Radoslav and Princess Natalia, and everything would be wonderful. 

Dawson opened the door, and Tristan strode inside. The hallway was empty, containing only a Chinese sideboard and Turkish rug that had sat there Tristan’s whole life. Though Tristan appreciated the items, he’d expected to find one of London’s top actresses.

Tristan turned to Dawson. “I don’t suppose I have a visitor?”

Confusion flitted on his butler’s face, but he shook his head. “No, my lord.” 

“Er—thank you.” Tristan’s hand drifted to his cravat. It suddenly seemed entirely too tight, as if his valet had been auditioning for a role as hangman. He paced the hallway. 

His butler shot him nervous glances, no doubt unused to seeing Tristan encroach on this space. That made two of them. Tristan wasn’t accustomed to being here either. The hallway had a nice view of the road, even if it would be improved by removing some stained-glass panels. 

“Can I fetch anything for you, my lord?” Dawson asked finally. 

“No, no,” Tristan said. 

The thing he needed was his wife. Or rather, he required his faux wife. Tristan remained unmarried. It was the very best way to be. 

If only Prince Radoslav felt the same way, and if only Tristan were not so eager to have the prince invest in Hades’ Lair. 

Tristan hadn’t worried when Francesca hadn’t appeared three days ago, even though that was when she’d been due. Journey times from London varied, and she was travelling all the way to Yorkshire. After all, her mail coach could have collided with a misplaced rock. 

He hadn’t even worried when she hadn’t appeared the day after, though it had occurred to him that a lesser man, one given to pessimism, might fret. 

Tristan embraced optimism and carpe diem. If other men didn’t realize how brilliant this world was, that only meant more dance partners for him at balls, more pristine views when riding through Hyde Park, and easier appointments at his tailor. 

But when Francesca didn’t appear on the third day, worry wafted through him. It was an uncomfortable sensation. 

If only Prince Radoslav was not under the mistaken impression that only men with wives could be good businesspeople. Tristan’s father had had a wife, and he’d hardly been responsible. Father had dedicated his time to the exploration of the female form with an enthusiasm not even rivaled in the youngest members of Hades’ Lair, fresh from university. Still, since Prince Radoslav’s only objection to Tristan was his lack of a bride, Tristan had made certain to find one.  

Tristan scowled. He didn’t normally hire actresses to take week-long journeys. Sitting in a coach was not an appropriate use of their talents. His lips twitched, and for a moment he allowed himself to muse over Francesca’s very particular talents. 

Paying for Francesca’s transport to Yorkshire had been expensive, and her fees would be even more pricy, but they would be worth it. He might not have the money on hand to pay for a gaming hell in the center of Mayfair, but he certainly could afford her fee. 

He’d just expected her to arrive

“What time will the post be here?” Tristan asked, hoping Francesca had sent him a message. 

Dawson, thank goodness, refrained from raising his eyebrows, even though he must have battled the temptation. 

“He’ll be here soon,” the butler said reassuringly. 

Tristan nodded. 

Not that he wanted the post. He desired Francesca.

Once she arrived, he would inform the servants they’d married in haste, and once she left, he would admit the marriage had never happened. The servants would be discreet. They would only know her as Lady Burley. Servants in the Dales were not prone to wandering through the West End on their half-days off. 

“That’s the postman.” The butler pointed to a man riding a horse that ambled at a frustratingly languid pace toward the servant’s entrance. Tristan followed the butler to the kitchen. 

The servants widened their eyes as Tristan approached, and they dove toward their cleaning utensils and cooking equipment, grabbing them hastily. 

“No need to worry,” Tristan called out as he followed the butler through the kitchen toward the servants’ entrance. “Just having a wander through the manor house!” 

He gave a bright smile, but that only seemed to cause the scullery maids’ faces to pale more. He sighed. He understood their hesitation. No doubt everyone here had heard all the stories. 

He longed for the relative anonymity of London. The servants he’d hired in the capital hadn’t known his parents, and even if they’d heard the rumors, they would not give them complete credence. It was difficult to dismiss stories as false when one spoke to the person who’d discovered the body. 

The butler handled the mail, and Tristan waited as he placed it on a platter. Dawson hesitated. “Would you like to open them here?” 

Tristan suppressed his instinct to rummage through the letters. “Upstairs is fine.” 

Dawson nodded. “Very well, my lord.” 

Tristan fought the urge to grab the platter. “Perhaps I might open one of them now. Just for—er—efficiency.” 

“Quite wise, my lord.” Dawson nodded gravely, but his lips twitched. 

The butler extended the platter toward him, and Tristan rifled through the various scarlet-sealed letters. No doubt they were invitations to country balls he would never attend. Once the prince and princess departed, Tristan would take the carriage to London and throw himself into running Hades’ Lair. 

Unlike Vernon and McIntyre, Tristan wouldn’t give it up. Hades’ Lair might not be his home, but it was the best place in the world. Nowhere exceeded its charms, and even now, he longed for the red armchairs, the blazing fires, and the conversations with his friends. 

Finally, Tristan came to a letter emblazoned with Francesca’s familiar elaborate swirls. His heart soared: she hadn’t forgotten. He grabbed the letter, broke the seal and unfolded it. 


My Dearest Lord Burley, 


I shall not be able to join you after all. I have found a wonderful acting opportunity in York. An actress took ill, and I shall be replacing her as Juliet. 


Good luck with the prince. 






Tristan blinked. 

He reread the letter. 

And reread it. 

Regrettably, the words did not change, and when he flipped the page over, there was no playful postscript that assured him she was jesting and would arrive shortly. 

He had a prince and a princess visiting, and the first thing they would know was that he’d lied to them. How would he ever be able to purchase Hades’ Lair now? Instead, he would become a laughingstock. 

This was dreadful. The prince and princess were staying here for a week. They would certainly notice that no wife was beside him. 

Tristan plopped onto a bench. It was uncomfortable, and Tristan made a note to order a replacement. Servants needed breaks, and they couldn’t rest if they were uncomfortable. 

“Forgive me, my lord, but you’re quite pale,” Dawson stated. 

“Just worried about this evening,” he said, and some servants scrubbed with more force. “Though you’re all doing a wonderful job preparing,” Tristan amended hastily, abhorring that he hadn’t stayed here with more frequency, and they might think he might resemble his parents in temperament. “I’ll go up and rest.” 

He traipsed up the stairs, making use of the banister, even though that was not his normal tendency. This would be fine, he told himself. He’d simply have to think of something else. 

Were he in London, he would have been able to hire another actress. Unfortunately, this was Yorkshire. Even worse, this was the Dales. The region’s beauty hardly compensated for its distinctly isolated location, and Tristan’s mouth dried. He didn’t want to imagine a world where someone else would buy the gaming hell and turn it into apartments or convert it back into a townhouse. The gaming hell was where everyone he knew spent their time, and if he couldn’t secure funds from the prince, it would disappear forever. 

Tristan entered the main hallway, then ascended the steps to his bedroom, as if he could take refuge in his tailcoats and trousers. He refused to relinquish his dream: not like this. He entered the adjoining room, relieved to see his valet George ironing his attire. 

Perhaps he could ask George if he knew any potential women who could play his wife. He doubted this part of Yorkshire had someone willing, but that didn’t mean he would refrain from asking. Perhaps George would find the question odd, but it didn’t matter. If Tristan couldn’t find a replacement for Francesca, soon everyone would find his behavior odd. 

“George… You used to work at Salisbury Castle. You must know this area fairly well, right?” 

A peculiar expression passed over his valet’s face, before George nodded. “Relatively well. Though, I’m certain not as well as you.” 

Tristan’s smile tightened. “I wasn’t inquiring about the region’s topographie. I was inquiring whether you happened to know if there were any young ladies in the region who might—er—” 

“My lord?” George’s eyes rounded.

Tristan swallowed hard. “Well, I was wondering if you knew any young ladies who might like an acting job.” 

“Are you planning some theater this Christmas, my lord?” 

“I want someone to play the part of my wife,” Tristan blurted. 

George sat abruptly on the bed. He leaped up, evidently realizing what he’d done. “Forgive me, my lord. I was—” 

“Taken aback?” 

George nodded. He shifted his legs, and the floorboards creaked. He opened his mouth, then shut it. 

“No point keeping it quiet from you,” Tristan explained. “I trust you won’t share it?” 

George nodded his head rapidly. “No one would believe it.”

“Good, good.” Tristan sauntered about the room, not desiring to make eye contact with his valet. “I would pay the woman in question of course.”

“I suppose the woman would have to be familiar with society?” 

Tristan nodded. “And not easily recognized.” 

“Hmph.” George tapped his fingers against the sideboard, and his face adopted a decidedly odd expression. 

“You know something, don’t you?” Tristan asked. 

“Well…” George looked down. 

“Tell me.” 

“It’s probably not relevant,” George warned him. 

“I’ll decide that.” 

“Miss Irene Carmichael is visiting her friend, the Duchess of Salisbury.” 

Tristan scrunched his eyebrows together. “Who is Irene Carmichael?” 

“The Duke of Alfriston’s youngest sister.” 

Tristan widened his eyes. Tristan had gone to school with Arthur and Percival, and they’d even fought the French together. Vaguely he remembered a wide-eyed girl with plaits, but he shook his head. “That can’t be right. I’ve never seen her at any balls. She would be there.” 

“I believe she’s resisted the Season,” George said. 

“And how do you know that?” 

“There have been debates. Noisy debates. I believe she is enamored with…science. It consumes her time.” 


Tristan scratched the back of his neck. “I’m sorry Miss Carmichael suffers from that affliction, but there are worse burdens. I’m not certain how it affects me…” 

George gave him a hard stare. It was a stare Tristan was not unfamiliar with, though normally George reserved it for when Tristan appeared with a wrinkled tailcoat or splattered mud over his boots.

Then Tristan understood. “You think the young Miss Carmichael might play my wife?” 

“Forgive me, my lord. I shouldn’t have suggested it. The idea is absurd. I would not want to subject the young lady in question to such an experience.” 

“Subject?” Tristan’s lips twitched. “Most women find it a pleasure to be in my company.” 

“Miss Carmichael might feel otherwise.” 

“Then I shall have to convince her. Please arrange a carriage for me.” 


Tristan Lark, Earl of Burley, is a lord with a plan. Hades’ Lair, London’s top gaming hell, is for sale, and Tristan intends to buy it. He even has an investor in mind: a foreign prince. Regrettably, this investor works solely with married men, viewing marriage as a sign of responsibility. The rule doesn’t faze Tristan: he’s hired an actress to play his wife at a Christmas gathering to impress the prince.

When the actress doesn’t appear, Tristan is in trouble.

Confirmed bluestocking Irene Carmichael would rather study weather patterns than dress in fine gowns, but when her older brother’s friend asks her for help, she agrees, even if it means sneaking into his manor house every night for a week to play his wife.

Unfortunately, neither of them had counted on the snow.



USA TODAY Bestselling Author Bianca Blythe has written over twenty fun and frothy Regency-set historical romances, filled with wallflowers, spinsters, dukes, and rogues. On occasion, she also writes historical mysteries under the name Camilla Blythe.

Born in Texas, Bianca earned her bachelor's degree from Wellesley College and completed a graduate degree in her beloved Boston. She spent four years in England, working in a fifteenth-century castle. Sadly she never spotted dukes and earls strutting about in Hessians.

Bianca credits British weather for forcing her into a library, where she discovered her first Julia Quinn novel. She remains deeply grateful for blustery downpours. 

After meeting her husband in another library, she moved with him to sunny California. On occasion she still dreams of the English seaside, scones with clotted cream, and sheep-filled pastures. For now, she visits them in her books.