The Mistletoe Kiss (Boardinghouse Betrothals)

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9780373283378: The Mistletoe Kiss (Boardinghouse Betrothals)

An Unexpected Match 

Millicent Faircloud feels her dreams are coming true when she's assigned to photograph the construction of New York's tallest building—until she realizes it means working with fellow boarder Matt Sterling. He's handsome and kind, but the stubborn man doesn't understand her ambition. 

Matt can't help but admire Millicent's spirit. But he's been hurt by a woman who cared only for her career, and he won't make that mistake again. Is Millicent more of the same, or would she put family first? If Matt can open his mind to new ideas, he may find love to be the best Christmas present of all.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Bestselling author Janet Lee Barton is a RT Book of the Year award winner and multiple ACFW Carol Award nominee. Born in New Mexico, Janet has lived all over the South. When Janet isn't writing, she loves to cook for family, work in her garden, travel and read. She writes both Historical and Contemporary romance, and loves writing about faith, families, friends and of course, falling in love. Visit her at www.janetleebarton.com and sign up for her newsletter to get writing news first.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

New York City, Heaton House, September 1897

Mathew Sterling entered the parlor at Heaton House surprised to find only the other male boarders gathered there, having just parted ways after the baseball game to get ready for dinner on time.

"Are we early?" he asked, looking at the clock on the mantel.

"No, we aren't, but dinner is going to be late. Mrs. Heaton said the ladies should be arriving soon and we'd sit down to eat shortly after they get home," Joseph Clark said.

"Where are they?" Matt asked. It wasn't like any of them to be late to a meal unless they were working. "Did they go shopping?"

"Perhaps, but Mrs. Heaton didn't say," Stephen Adams explained. "Just that we'd eat when they got back. I hope it's soon. I'm hungry. I know I had those Cracker Jacks at the game but they don't hold one forever."

"No they don't," Matt said. He'd enjoyed his day off going to the Giants game with Stephen and Joe. But the weather had been so nice, they'd walked back from the Polo Grounds where the game had been played, and all that walking mixed with the cool crisp air made him even hungrier than normal.

They heard the front door open and the three lady boarders entered—Matt knew because he'd come to recognize Millicent's tinkling laugh anywhere. They seemed to be quite excited about something, from all the chattering going on between them.

Then suddenly everything went quiet and Julia Olsen, the boarder who'd been there the longest, peeked into the parlor. "We know we've kept you waiting for dinner. I'll go tell Mrs. Heaton we're here now."

"Sorry we're late." Millicent Faircloud hurried into the parlor. She looked very pretty, her cheeks flushed and her deep blue eyes sparkling. It was evident she'd enjoyed the outing.

"We're glad you're finally here. We're starving," Stephen said.

"I don't see any packages—you didn't go shopping?" Matt smiled, thinking they'd gone to the Ladies' Mile for the day. Shopping was one of their favorite things to do.

"No," Emily Jordan answered. She was one of the newest boarders at Heaton House, along with Stephen and Joe. The three of them had moved in at the same time a few months earlier.

"Where'd you go, then?" Joe asked.

"We went to a suffrage meeting," Emily offered. "First time I've even been to one. It was wonderful!"

"You went to one of those meetings?" Joe asked.

"They can be dangerous, Emily!" Stephen said.

"It was in broad daylight, gentlemen. Nothing happened," Emily said. "I quite enjoyed it. Don't you think women should have the right to vote?"

"Vote!" Joe exclaimed. "I—"

"How would you feel if we had that right and you didn't?" Emily asked.

Her questions left both Stephen and Joe speechless for the moment and Matt turned to see Millicent shaking her head at Emily. "So you've brought Emily 'round to your way of thinking now, Millie?"

"I don't control anyone's thoughts, Mathew. If I did, I'd have changed yours by now." Millicent came back at him. "Emily found out Julia and I were going to a meeting and wanted to know what they were all about, so we invited her to come with us."

"Oh, I see and—"

"Dinner is served," Mrs. Heaton said from the foyer. "Come along, all. I'm sure you must be starving by now."

They all moved toward the dining room and Matt fell into step beside Millicent. "I don't know why you—"

"Shush, Matt. No more talk about the meeting," Millicent whispered. "We'll never agree about them and we don't want to upset Mrs. Heaton with our arguing. You know she doesn't like any of that at her dinner table."

Matt let out a huge sigh and gave a short nod of agreement. He loved their landlady. She was a mother figure to them all and no one liked seeing her upset. Besides, Millie, as he thought of her, was right, he couldn't see them ever agreeing on the women's movement. From what he'd heard about it, it wasn't all about getting the right to vote; they encouraged women—even married ones—to be more independent. And how much more independent could Millie get—wanting to open up her own business? And why did it matter to him anyway?

Before he could offer Millicent his arm, Stephen beat him to it and Matt's chest tightened as he watched her put her hand on his arm. He turned to Julia and offered her his, escorted her into the dining room, pulled out her chair and scooted it in closer to the table. He then took his own seat next to Millicent.

When Mrs. Heaton asked him to say the blessing, he had to take a minute to put all thoughts of Millie's desire for independence and those suffrage meetings out of his mind.

"Dear Lord, we thank You for this day and Your many blessings. We thank You for this meal we are about to partake of, and for Mrs. Heaton, who always takes such good care of us. May we keep that all in mind as we enjoy the meal she planned for us. In Je-sus's name we pray, amen."

Millicent breathed a sigh of relief at Matt's prayer. She hoped his words would serve to remind everyone that some conversations didn't belong at the dinner table.

To keep peace, and from past experience, the women had decided it best not to mention the meetings or anything about the movement around the men, if possible. But she and Julia evidently forgot to inform Emily when she moved in. It wasn't that they didn't want the men to understand; they very much did. But one couldn't force a man's comprehension. Millicent sighed inwardly. It seemed impossible that the men living at Heaton House would ever grasp why the women were all so interested in the movement—especially Mathew Sterling. She'd discovered since they both moved into the boardinghouse within days of one another the year before that he was one of the most stubborn men she'd ever met.

As Mrs. Heaton's maids, Gretchen and Maida, began to serve the meal, Millicent tried to put her and Matt's differences out of her mind and concentrate on the wonderful dishes being passed around.

"How was the ball game?" their landlady asked, guiding the conversation to a safe subject. Mrs. Heaton seemed to have a way of quieting any disturbance between her boarders almost before it began.

"It was great," Matt said. "Our Giants won by one point in the last play of the game."

"They did a bang-up job!" Stephen added.

"Oh, Millicent, I forgot to tell you—Elizabeth telephoned and asked me to remind you about having Sunday night supper with them tomorrow," Mrs. Heaton said.

"Oh, I haven't forgotten." Millicent smiled at her landlady. "I'm looking forward to it. She said they want to talk to me about something but didn't say what."

"Maybe they want you to take more photos of one of the apartments in the tenements," Julia suggested.

"They might. It's been a while since I took any for them." She'd been blessed when Elizabeth and John, one of the couples who used to live at Heaton House before they married, asked her to take photographs for some articles they were doing. It'd brought her some much-needed business and continued to do so now. But it still wasn't enough that she felt she could open her shop yet.

Matt handed her a basket of rolls and smiled at her, as if asking, Are we okay now? She sighed, raised an eyebrow and smiled back, trying to let him know that if he didn't bring up the topic of the meeting again, neither would she.

But as she took the basket from him and their fingers brushed, what she wished for most was to quiet her suddenly racing pulse. Why did this man have the ability to do that to her? He was very nice looking—with his almost black hair, sky-blue eyes and smile that showed even, white teeth. But he also could make her more frustrated than anyone else. She'd felt that way ever since the first night she'd moved in, when he'd made clear he disapproved of any woman wanting to open her own business.

He'd brought Robert Baxter to mind, the man she'd almost become engaged to. That was, until she'd seen his true side and realized all he wanted was someone to take care of his needs. From that time on, she'd decided she'd be better off making a living for herself than giving her heart to a man with no interest in her ideas and opinions. A man who thought his word was law. She was so glad she'd seen through Robert and never accepted his proposal.

Matt's attitude and that reminder seemed to have set the tone for their relationship from the first—in spite of any fleeting attraction she felt for him. And over time, when the topics they disagreed on weren't brought up, they managed to get along for the sake of Mrs. Heaton and the other boarders.

Millicent hoped that would continue—but perhaps it was better to be reminded of her resolve to not fall in love, in order to keep on guard when Matt did something to make her heart flutter.

As dinner came to an end, Millicent found she wasn't in the mood to spend time in the parlor with everyone. She didn't want to take the chance of another argument. "I think I'm going on up tonight. I'm kind of tired. 'Night, all," she said as she headed out the door. But Matt stopped her with a hand on her arm before she got to the staircase.

"May I speak with you a moment, Millicent?"

"What about? I don't—"

"Don't worry. It's not about the meeting."

"Oh? What is it, then?"

"John went to the game with us this afternoon and asked me to come to Sunday night supper at their place, too. Said he might need my help on something."

"I wonder what they want to talk to us about."

"I don't know, but I suppose we'll find out tomorrow. I thought I'd offer to escort you over. Seems silly not to go together and there's no need in having Joe or Stephen escort you when we're both invited."

Her heart gave a little flip. She didn't think they'd ever gone anywhere, just the two of them. But someone would have to escort her anyway—it was one of Mrs. Heaton's hard-and-fast rules. The female boarders must go in a group or have an escort if they went out at night.

At first Millicent thought her rule a bit old-fashioned—it was nearing the turn of the century after all.

But then she'd found out Mrs. Heaton's daughter had gone missing and that was the reason she'd started the boardinghouse to begin with—so young women would have a safe homelike place to live. Thankfully, Mrs. Heaton and her daughter had been reunited, but the edict remained in place. She must have an escort. "Oh, I... Yes, you're right. Thank you for your offer."

"You're welcome. John said six-thirty, so I'll meet you in the parlor at six, if that time works for you?"

"That will be fine. Good night."

"'Night, Millicent."

Millicent turned and hurried upstairs. What could John and Elizabeth possibly want to talk to the two of them about?

The next evening Millicent came downstairs and entered the parlor to find most of the boarders gathered waiting to be called to supper. Apparently, Matt hadn't come up from the men's quarters yet, and she felt quite proud of herself for being ready before him.

She'd chosen a brown skirt with pleated ruffles on each side, a green-and-brown bodice trimmed in green ribbon and a short green jacket to complete the outfit.

"Millicent, you're all dressed up. Are you going out?" Emily asked.

"Yes, I am. Remember, I'm going to the Talbots' tonight."

"Oh, that's right. We'll miss your company," Stephen said. "Do you need an escort?"

"No she doesn't," Matt answered from behind her, something in his tone sending her heart pounding.

"I'm escorting Millicent tonight, as I've been invited to dinner, too."

He looked quite striking in a brown suit, cream shirt and brown-and-cream tie. Matt worked as a foreman on a high-rise building that once finished would be the tallest in the city. Normally he hurried home in his work clothes to change into nicer pants and a clean shirt. That attire always seemed to emphasize the broadness of his shoulders—but in his Sunday suit, they seemed wider still, and Millicent fought down the fluttery feeling his presence quite often brought her.

"You ready to go, Millie?"

She'd let him know the first time he ever shortened her name that she wanted to be called Millicent only. But it hadn't stopped him. In fact, she was certain he did it just to get a reaction out of her.

"I've been ready and waiting for several minutes."

He grinned, as if he knew she was irritated with him, but he didn't apologize, only crooked his arm and said, "Then let's get going. We don't want to be late, do we?"

She fought to keep from showing her vexation. That was exactly what he wanted her to do, and she wouldn't give him the satisfaction—not here in front of the new boarders. She took his arm and gave him a smile. "Of course not. Let's be on our way."

But as soon as they were out of sight from any of the boardinghouse windows, she disengaged her hand and looked straight ahead as they made their way to the trolley stop.

"Did I say something to upset you, Millie?"

"Why, no, Matty, whatever would make you think that?"

He threw back his head and laughed, causing her to expel a breath of frustration. But his laughter was contagious and Millicent giggled in spite of herself—frustrating her to no end. They had the oddest relationship ever. One minute he had her laughing with him, the next he said something that tempted her to wallop him over the head with her parasol—or anything else within range. They reached their stop a few minutes early and she hoped they could make it through the evening without him irritating her to that point.

Their trolley arrived and Matt motioned Millicent on first, then followed her up the aisle, taking a seat beside her once she'd slid over by the window. She pretended to be looking at the scenery outside while trying to relax before they arrived at the Talbots'. It did no good to let Matt get under her skin—doing so only served to frustrate her further.

It was a beautiful September evening. Not too cool yet, with only a light breeze, making her glad she had a jacket on. If she didn't already know she and Matt were totally wrong for each other, she'd be thrilled with the opportunity to spend this time with him without the others around.

"How is the quest to open your business going?" Matt asked.

His question surprised her. Matt rarely showed any interest in her profession, and she wasn't going to pass up the chance to talk about it. She loved being a photographer.

"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.

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