Under the Pear Tree

***UPDATE: YOU CAN NOW DOWNLOAD THIS STORY TO YOUR KINDLE OR IBOOKS APP*** I have a present for you, dear reader. This holiday season I wanted to write a free short story to say thank you to everyone who has read my work and followed this blog throughout the year. Out of that came the idea for the 12 Days of Christmakwanzaka Blog Hop, hosted with my dear friend Alyssa Cole, and this Victorian-set historical. "Under the Pear Tree" is the story of two people taking a leap of faith to see if they can find their happily ever after together. 

Happy holidays, everyone! 

12 Days Revision


Under the Pear Tree

December 24, 1883

“We could play charades,” suggested Lady Hawley.

“Mamma, we played charades last night,” said her daughter, Margaret, in an indulgent tone. “It wouldn’t do to bore our guests. Don’t you agree, Eleanor?”

“Hmmm?” Eleanor asked, for she hadn’t been attention at all. Instead she’d been trying her best not to let her eyes fall on Lord Michael Hawley. Normally his rather handsome face would be a pleasant distraction, but not now. Not on this very disappointing Christmas Eve. “I’m sure whatever you pick will be quite enjoyable.”

Of course he was the reason for her disappointment, she thought as the other ladies went back to discussing the night’s agenda. He was the reason for everything. Sitting in spindly chairs at ball after endless ball, she and her London friends liked to dream of the day she became Lady Hawley—something that her family's annual trip to the Hawley family's home had confirmed would never happen. Ever.

Despite wearing her best dresses and putting on her brightest smiles, the baron had been nothing but polite and warm to her, almost brotherly. One afternoon she’d spotted a tiny package under the tree with her name on the tag, and her hopes had soared. Perhaps Michael had thought of her after all. But by evening it was gone again, no doubt mistakenly labeled for her by one of the servants.

Eleanor was coming to accept that difficult truth that all Michael saw when he looked at her was the little girl he'd once fished out of Blackburn Pond after her youngest sister, Charlotte, planted a frog in the bottom of Eleanor's rowboat. She'd capsized in all her humiliated glory as he and Julian lounged on the bank watching and laughing.

Now, Eleanor sat contemplating how she could quietly slip out of the drawing room and retire to her room. Perhaps she could beg off with a headache.

She nearly had her escape route planned when Charlotte called out from across the room, "Let’s have carols, Lady Hawley!"

"Charlotte." Her voice was a low warning that did little to hide her annoyance at her sister’s imperiousness.

Margaret clapped her hands, "That is just the thing!"

“I think that carols would be a lovely way to end the evening. Miss Morris,” Lady Hawley said, “will you accompany us? We all know you excel at the piano."

So does every other gently-born lady in Britain, she wanted to respond. But Eleanor rose anyway. When the Hawley matriarch asked something of you, you snapped to it.

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A dull pang throbbed in Michael's chest as he watched Eleanor move to take her seat at the piano. He raised a hand to surreptitiously rub at the spot even though nothing was going to ease the ache. The plain truth was that he wanted this woman. He'd wanted her since visiting the Morris after his Grand Tour with Julian two long years ago. Eleanor had breezed into the drawing room fresh from a walk in the park, and his heart had dropped through the floor. He'd never quite found it again.

No doubt Mrs. Morris would be as overjoyed as Julian would be horrified if her eldest daughter formed an understanding with a baron, but Michael wasn't sure how Eleanor felt. With friends and family she was all warmth, her joy radiating out with such brilliance that it was a wonder every man wasn't in love with her. Around him, however, her smile seemed brittle. She grew stiff, as though his very presence made her uncomfortable.

And yet, he refused to go down without a fight. In the pocket of his dinner jacket, he touched her present wrapped in red and gold paper. It was a frivolous thing, but the idea struck him a month before and he'd been unable to shake it. He'd told himself it didn't matter whether it pleased her or not, but it did. It mattered more than anything in all of England.

From his seat next to Julian’s, he watched Eleanor sit at the piano bench, the long skirts of her bustled dress fanned out behind her. Every instinct screamed at him to drag her up into his arms and finally claim her with a kiss. Enough of this waiting and watching, wondering if she could ever love him. He wanted answers.

Without another thought, Michael was on his feet and striding towards her. "Eleanor, you need someone to turn the pages for you."

He hadn't asked whether she wanted his assistance because he wouldn't entertain the thought that she might banish him back to the corner of his own drawing room.

She didn't look at him, instead turning her head slightly to expose the long, graceful slope of her neck. "Thank you."

The rest of the guests began to gather around the piano. Michael slipped a hand back into his pocket and grazed her present with his fingertips again.


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Quiet had settled over Blackburn Manor by the time Eleanor opened the door of the room she shared with Charlotte and stole out into the corridor. Her back ached for she'd played late into the night. The merry little party sang every Christmas song and hymn she knew. "Deck the Halls", "O Come All Ye Faithful," even "Away in the Manger" although hardly any of them knew more than the first verse to the new carol. Despite her exhaustion, her whole body pulsed with energy.

She blamed Michael, of course. He'd stood so close to her, it was a wonder she’d been able to play at all. The scent of wool and spice enveloped her every time he reached over to turn the pages of her sheet music. Once he leaned a little too close and the cuff of his jacket brushed the bare skin of her neck. Awareness exploded through her body like fireworks, and her fingers missed a chord. She wanted to feel those sparks again.

Rather than stay in her room running through the evening over and over again in her head while her sister slept, she'd pulled on her dressing gown and slippers and escaped.

Eleanor crept along the corridor with nothing but the low flicker of gaslights to light her way to the library. There at least she could find comfort and distraction among the books. Softly, she twisted the doorknob and let herself in. The dying embers in the fireplace warmed the room, and the pine garlands that hung along the mantle scented the air. She closed her eyes to breath in deep. "Peace."

"Is that what you've come looking for?"

Eleanor's eyes snapped open, and she watched, stunned as Michael unfold himself from a wing-backed chair facing the fire. He wore no jacket or necktie. His shirt was undone at the collar, the sleeves pushed up to reveal forearms corded with muscle from years of riding.

It was all utterly indecent and thoroughly tempting.

Eleanor knew that she should turn around, march back upstairs, and hide under the counterpane. Instead, she swallowed her propriety and closed the door.

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Michael had cursed himself when he'd been unable to separate Eleanor from her family at the end of the night. They'd tumbled upstairs in a ball of mirth, leaving him alone in the drawing room, her present still in his pocket.

But now she stood before him with her hair tumbling down her shoulders like a Burne-Jones painting, ethereal and angelic. She'd cinched her pale green dressing gown tight around her waist, but it gapped open a little at the top giving him a glimpse of the embroidered edge of a white nightrail. He wanted to slip his fingers along the edge and feel the smooth skin underneath.

He shook his head to clear the fog of lust clouding his mind. "Were you unable to sleep?" he started again.

"Perhaps I'm too excited for Christmas Day," she said.

He grinned. "At least you're wearing slippers this time. I remember one year you were caught creeping downstairs in bare feet to look at the tree."

Her nose scrunched up. "How was I supposed to know that your father would keep to his early riding schedule even on Christmas?"

"He was like that."

Her face softened, and she looked up at him through thick, black lashes. "I'm sorry to have mentioned him. It must be difficult."

He shook his head. "We miss him, but we have your family with us."

"And we make a cacophony loud enough to distract anyone. I do apologize," she said in a wry tone as she brushed an errant strand of hair away from her face.

They stood there, the air humming with unspoken tension. Her state of dress was just this side of respectable, and he wasn’t much better. It should be so easy to just kiss her and find out whether she welcomed it, but there was something he had to do first.

Screwing up his courage, he stepped forward. "Eleanor, I have something for you."

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Eleanor froze as she watched Michael picked something up off of a low table next to his chair. It was a small, flat package wrapped in red and gold striped paper. The same one she’d spotted that afternoon and hoped was from him.

He held the present out, standing close enough that she could see the shadow of his beard coming in. She wanted to feel the rasp of his whiskers against her fingers. She could too if only she reached across the gap between them.

"I’ve been waiting to give this to you, but we’re so rarely alone,” he said, saving her from herself.

Excitement bubbled up in her. "Michael—"

"Take it. Please."

She took the package, undid the gold ribbon bow that held the paper together, and opened the box. Nestled on a bed of white tissue was a thin golden twig with a pin affixed to the back of it. Her heart beat a little faster. He'd given her a broach. A lovely broach.

"Do you remember coming to Blackburn Manor one summer when you were just sixteen?" he asked.

She turned the piece of jewelry over between her fingers. "Of course."

"You used to sit under a pear tree and read," he said in a rush as though he, Lord Michael Hawley, was nervous. "The tree was dying and had to be removed this autumn, but I asked the gardener to keep a little bit of it for me. I had it made up into a broach because it reminded me of you."

She blinked in surprise, hardly knowing what to say. It was such a little thing, and yet for him to remember...

"Michael, it's beautiful," she whispered.

He looked almost bashful now. "I hoped that you might like it."

She let out a low, long breath. Then, before she could stop herself, she went up on her tiptoes to kiss him on the cheek. Her lips brushed his skin, and she started to pull back but his hand caught her around the waist. He gathered her to him, tilted his head just the slightest bit to the left, and finally—after years of hoping he would—he kissed her.

Michael's lips worked over hers as she melted into him. He tasted like nothing she'd imagined. He was cool and fresh, and she opened for him just a little more so he could run his tongue over hers. The sensation left her just a little drunk on something she didn't know the name of. When he finally let go of her she had to lean into him for support.

"Was that okay?" he asked, his thumb coming up to trace the line of her jaw. She nudged her cheek into his fingers until his palm opened.

"That was exactly what I wanted for Christmas."

A low chuckle rumbled in his chest. "I've waited far too long to do that." Joy filling her so fully that she felt as though she might float out of the room. "I think I've loved you from the moment I saw you eating berries with your book beneath that tree."

Her breath caught in her throat. He loved her? All of those nights wondering if he would ever look at her as anything but Julian's sister evaporated. Toying with the fabric at his collar, she confessed, "I've loved you from afar for so long."

He dropped a kiss to her forehead. "I wasn't so very far away."

Her fingers clutched at the fabric. "It didn't feel that way."

That earned her another kiss, this one as breathless as the last.

"I want to court you, Eleanor," he murmured against her lips. "I would marry you tomorrow if I could."

"On Christmas Day?" she asked with a smile.

He laughed. "Happily, but not without dragging the archbishop out of bed for a special license and risking gossip. I want everyone to know how proud I am to have you for my wife when we wed. I don't want there to be any doubts that this is a love match."

She tilted her head to one side, contemplating his proposal as he ran his finger down the length of her neck. "Julian will be horrified."

"Julian will learn to like the idea. He’ll have to,” he said pulling her even closer to him. "Tomorrow I will ask your father's permission, and if he agrees we can be engaged soon."

Eleanor shot him a look. "Don't believe for a second that Mother will stand for being left out of that conversation."

He chuckled. "I learned long ago to fear the wrath of Mrs. Morris' displeasure as much as my own mother's. I will ask both your parents and then you can make up your mind about me."

This. This moment was the happiest she’d ever been. All of the disappointment and waiting, the wondering and doubt fell away. All she knew was what it felt to be in the arms of this man—the man she loved.

She draped her arms around his neck and tilted her head back to smile at him. "Michael, I made up my mind about you a long time ago."

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Thank you so much for reading! This is the first day of the 12 Days of Christmakwanzakah Blog Hop. I'm sharing the day with the talented Falguni Kothari. You can read her story by clicking here.

To see a full schedule of the authors coming up on the 12 Days Blog Hop, just click here or follow #12DaysHop on Twitter.

For more stories like this and to keep up to date with release dates, sign up for my newsletter.

The 12 Days of Christmakwanzakah

12 Days Revision

[UPDATE: Brief summaries of the stories have been added to help recap the first week. The remaining stories will have their blurbs added daily as the hop continues!]

Welcome to the 12 Days of Christmakwanzakah Blog Hop! From December 8th to December 19th, more than a dozen of your favorite authors are publishing free short stories about the winter holidays. You can expect fantastic stories from contemporary, historical, M/M, NA, and YA authors.

Here’s a schedule of authors and links to their work. Check back throughout the blog hop for live links to each of the stories, and tweet along with us using #12DaysHop.


December 8

Falguni Kothari

Starstruck – Things heat up when publicist Tania Coelho escapes from an industry Xmas party only to get trapped on a slow elevator ride fwith her client’s “fiance,” Bollywood heartthrob Veer Rana. Veer’s engagement is a sham, but could what he feels for Tania be the real thing?

Story Website | Facebook | Twitter

Julia Kelly

Under the Pear Tree – Eleanor has given up on the hope that Lord Michael Hawley will ever see her as anything other than his best friend’s little sister. Michael believes that Eleanor sees him as nothing more than her brother’s friend. When they’re bought together for a family Christmas gathering, they find that their friendship may have planted the seeds for the best gift of all.

Story | Website | Facebook | Twitter


December 9

Audra North

Shine A Little Light – What could drive a Sunday school teacher to drink before noon on Christmas Eve? When everything Graceanne thought she knew about her life, and her fiance, is shattered, she finds more than a stiff drink waiting for her at the bar—she finds solace, and a new chance at love.

Story Website Facebook | Twitter

Alexis Anne

Under the Bright Morning Light  – a Storm Inside short story – Jake and Eve have been trying for a baby, but are they ready to deal with the outcome if the stick shows a plus sign? Eve isn’t so sure.

Story Website | Facebook | Twitter

Shari Slade

Christmas Mess – a The Opposite of Nothing short story – Callie is bringing Tayber home to spend the holidays with her family for the first time. The fear that her family will drive Tayber away gnaws at her, but he finds a naughty way to remind her that nothing can change how he feels about her.

Story Website | Facebook | Twitter


December 10

Kate McMurray

Let Your Heart Be Light – Living in New York City is Milo’s dream, but dreams don’t come cheap. Unable to fly home to visit his family, Milo is resigned to spending the holidays alone until a night of karaoke turns into a chance at holiday romance.

StoryWebsite | Facebook | Twitter

Lashell Collins

A Kinky Kelly Little Christmas a Kelly Family short story – Doms Storm and Payne are checking items off of their Christmas list. What can Payne get for his sub to let her know how special she is to him?

StoryWebsite | Facebook | Twitter


December 11

Amber Belldene

An Almost True Story – Amelia Scola looks like a bad girl, but even bad girls get into the holiday spirit. When in a rush to get to a hospital where she’s playing the role of Mrs. Claus, she’s pulled over for speeding by Vic Lopez, known as the softie of the police force. Can a bad girl gone good and a cop who isn’t afraid to cry find holiday love?

Story Website | Facebook | Twitter

Tere Michaels

Fathers of the Bride – A Faith, Love, & Devotion short story – Matt and Evan experience the emotional roller coaster of their daughter Katie’s wedding day. In the midst of a mix of apprehension and joy, the two rely on their love for each other and their family to carry the day.

StoryWebsite Facebook Twitter

Mary Chris Escobar

Kiss, Continued – Jeff and Annie met while participating in a filmed kiss between strangers, but when they discovered he was her advisor they decided to call the relationship off. But sometimes a kiss isn’t just a kiss, and a holiday drink could lead to a second chance at love. 

StoryWebsite | Facebook | Twitter


December 12

K.M. Jackson

Holiday Longings – In this roaring 20s-set short, Rosemary will do anything to make sure her family stays afloat, even if it means putting herself at the mercy of the only man she;s ever loved. When she steps into Stone Donnelly’s speakeasy, she’s ready to sing for her supper, but she’s not prepared to lose her heart a second time.

StoryWebsite | Facebook | Twitter

Tamsen Parker

A Thrill of Hope – Sophie doesn’t mind the tall drink of blue-eyed scruffiness who falls asleep on her during their flight to New Orleans; he’s a welcome distraction from her lack of anticipation at visiting her family. When her seatmate offers to take her out for a drink, she leaves the morose Sophie her family expects behind and takes a chance at love.

Story Website | Facebook | Twitter


December 13

Lindsay Emory

A Room at the Inn – Annie’s flight gets delayed in Reykajavik on Christmas Eve. When all of the hotels are full, she anticipates a night spent on the floor of an Icelandic airport. Instead, she meets rock star Cord DeBose. Being a rock star has its perks—like hotels offering you presidential suites. Cord has a room, Annie doesn’t. What could have turned out to be Annie’s worse Christmas ever quickly becomes one she’ll never forget.

StoryWebsite | Facebook | Twitter

Rebekah Weatherspoon

Blessed – a FIT short story – Violet is feeling more Scrooge than Tiny Tim when she breaks her ankle right before Christmas, but her boyfriend/Dom Grant is determined to draw out her holiday spirit, even if it means being naughty instead of nice. 

StoryWebsite | Facebook | Twitter


December 14

Recap Day


December 15

Lena Hart

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Jenny Holiday

StoryWebsite | Facebook | Twitter


December 16

Alyssa Cole

StoryWebsite | Facebook | Twitter

Rebecca Grace Allen

StoryWebsite | Facebook | Twitter


December 17

A.L. Parks

StoryWebsite | Facebook | Twitter

Dina Haynes

StoryWebsite Facebook | Twitter


December 18

Alexandra Haughton

StoryWebsite | Twitter

Kathryn J. Benson

StoryWebsite Twitter


December 19

Amy Jo Cousins

Story | Website | Facebook | Twitter

T.J. Kline

StoryWebsite | Facebook | Twitter

First Kiss Undressed

Earn It

FirstUndressing1-300x300Jana was done.

Just fucking done.

She slammed the door of her tiny studio apartment and let her purse slide off her shoulder. It fell with a thud to the cheap, laminate floor. Her boots were covered with mud thanks to a speeding cab hitting the wrong puddle at just the right time, she was soaked from the torrential rain, and she was pretty positive she had a snag in her last pair of tights. Now all she wanted in life was a glass of bourbon the size of Texas and a long soak in a steaming hot bath.

She threw her keys down on the bar at the end of her hallway and shucked her coat off. Snatching up a bottle of Jefferson’s, she marched straight into the kitchen, threw some ice cubes in the glass, and poured.

The sweet burn of the bourbon hit the back of her throat, and her tense shoulders dropped an inch. Not much in the grand scheme of things, but it was a start.

Glass in hand, she wrestled her way out of her boots. It was more than likely that the churned up grease, dirt, and mystery gunk that accumulated on every Manhattan road would fuse with the leather, ruining the shoes. The next logical step would be to grab a kitchen towel and clean them, but it was Friday night and she was in a foul mood.

Reaching around her back, she pulled on the zipper on her dress to free herself. It was halfway down when the harsh sound of the door buzzer cut through the silent apartment, making her jump. She frowned at her intercom. She wasn’t expecting anyone.

The ice cubes in her glass rattled as she padded over in her ruined stockings and hit the “Talk” button. “Who is it?”

“Me.” The crackle of street noise obscured his voice, but she’d have known Wes Murphy’s voice anywhere. After all, she’d been in love with him for nine years.

She leaned hard on the button, willing him away even as she asked, “What are you doing here?”

“You told me to stop by and pick that book up.”

She dipped her head so her forehead bumped the edge of the intercom. She’d totally forgotten they’d emailed from their respective desks earlier that day. She’d teased him about not having plans on a Friday night. He’d asked what could be better than digging into a new book—added bonus that he got to see her. The no doubt careless words had melted her just a little. Now with her back up and her temper flaring, they just pissed her off.

Still, she pressed the “Door” button long enough to make sure he cleared the double door of her building’s lobby.

Knowing she looked a hot mess and caring not even the littlest bit about it, Jana went to hold the front door open. She liked listening with anticipation as his feet fell heavy on the two flights of stairs to her walk-up apartment. The top of his head would bob up first, giving her a glimpse of the thick curls he wore cropped close to his head. Then she’d see that grin as he spotted her. The grin that made something twist inside of her.

It was no different this time, except that she was sopping wet with her arms crossed over her chest.

Wes’ smile faltered just a little at the sight of her, but then came back at full force. “You’re wet.”

“Bad end to the week,” she muttered.

“I’m sorry.”

“So am I.” She stepped back to let him into the apartment.

Once inside, Wes peered around at the carnage. “What happened to your shoes?”

“Boots,” she corrected. “I had a run in with a cab.”

“Who won?”

She shot him a look and turned retrieve his book from the living room.

“Your dress is unzipped.” He said it as though it was half question, half revelation—like he had only just realized that Jana got undressed like every other woman.

“And?” she challenged him, hands on her hips.

Wes approached her slowly, looking for signs of an attack all the way. She thought he might be angling for a hug or some other show of friendly camaraderie for her rotten day, but instead he put a hand on her shoulder and spun her around. She could feel the weight of his fingers on the zipper tab that hung between her shoulders.

He pulled carefully, stretching the moment out. The intimacy of it cut through her. She nearly gasped as the zipper went lower. Lower.

Keep it together.

She might have stood a chance and been able to move away to safety, but then Wes touched her. A finger traced the line of the zipper down her spine until it stopped at the small of her back. When he stepped back, she was shaking.

With a hard swallow, Jana looked over her shoulder. His gaze fixed on the skin he’d just exposed. His tongue flicked out over his lips.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she asked.

“Just helping.”

And wasn’t that just like Wes. Hold her in a hug just a little too long. Tuck her hair behind her ear. Work her shoulders over with his hands to ease the tension of the day away. He kept doing these things before hiding behind the barrier of their friendship. She was tired of this bullshit.

“Wes, kiss me or get out of this apartment. That’s all I can handle tonight.”

He was on her in a flash, his lips crushing hers with nine years of pent up need. She pushed up into him, pouring every once of anger at the day, desire for him, and annoyance at herself that she hadn’t commanded him to kiss her sooner. When his hands plunged into her hair and pulled a little, she gasped, giving him the chance he needed to rough her lower lip with his teeth.

“Jana,” he groaned as his hands dipped into the gaping back of her dress.

She pressed her body against the hard length of his before shoving his leather jacket off and tugging the hem of his worn in t-shirt over his head. Her hands ran down his arms, chest, stomach, wanting nothing more than to explore the man who knew her best and was still a mystery.

Her dress fell to the floor. All that covered her was a thin silk slip. He ran his fingers under the straps. “I’ve never seen a girl wear one of these,” he said, breaking the hot, frantic pace to reveal something sweeter underneath.

She looked up at him. “Now you’ve seen me.”

“Is that okay with you?”

Rather than answer, she lifted her hands to the thin straps and pushed them off her shoulders. The silk pooled at her feet.

He followed suit, undoing his belt and pushing his jeans off.

Standing there in the middle of her apartment—nearly naked—they simply stared. She’d never imagined their relationship would come to this. Ho could she when he’d never done anything?

I never did anything either.

“I’m glad you finally kissed me,” she breathed.

He reached out and stroked from her elbow to her wrist before lacing their fingers together. “I’m glad you finally told me to.”

“I’ve been telling you for years, you just haven’t been listening.”

A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Then I’m glad I finally paid attention.”

He pulled her to him, wrapping his arms around her so that all she could do was rest her cheek against his chest. That was just fine with her.

“We’re going to bed.” His voice reverberated low through his chest. “Then tomorrow, if you haven’t kicked me out of your apartment yet, we’ll take it from there.”

“And what if tomorrow works?”

“Then we see about the next day. I’ve waited nine years to get up the courage to kiss you. You think I’m letting go now?”

It was her turn to smile. “As though I’d let you.”

“I’m still going to want that book.”

She cast her head back and laughed. “Earn it.”

With a grin, he boosted her up so her legs wrapped around his waist and walked her across the living room to her bed. When her toes hit the edge of her bed, he murmured against her lips, “I will. Promise.”



Thanks for reading! This is part of the First Undressing blog tour.  The full schedule is posted on Audra North's website and please check out today's other posters Amber Belldene and A.L. Parks!

If you liked this story, please consider signing up for my newsletter for the latest news on releases, free short fiction, and giveaways!

New Short Story Coming

FirstUndressing1-300x300Well isn't this just the week of updates? RWA really got the creative juices flowing and shamed me into tackling a couple housekeeping projects for this site that I've been putting off. I have a few projects in the works I'm not ready to talk about yet, but here's one that's coming up soon and won't cost you a dime. The women behind the First Kiss blog tour are at it again with a First Undressing tour starting next Tuesday. I'm cleaning up a "friends to lovers" story for that first day. In the meantime, you can check out my story from the original tour called "Accidentally (On Purpose)".

And on a final note, please consider signing up for my newsletter! You can expect news, updates on projects, and giveaways. And who doesn't love free books?