QSFer Gillian St. Kevern has a new queer holiday gothic paranormal romance out (bi/trans): “The Christmas Party.”
Tidings of comfort and—ghosts?
As the solitary inhabitant of a notoriously haunted house, Micah Evanovich is braced for another miserable Christmas. He passes his days playing the piano, brooding on his failure to produce a sonata worthy of the woman he loved, and hiding from the world. When a wilful heiress decides his house is the perfect location for her spooky Christmas soiree, Micah’s very existence is threatened. Will the party provide Micah with the chance to put his past behind him—or further cement his failures?
Pippa Goodfellow has five thousand pounds a year and a simple wish: to scare the socks off her infuriatingly superior cousin Julian and his odious friend Bryant. But when her revenge threatens the professional reputation of her beloved Uncle, Pippa needs Micah’s help to ward off disaster. Can an eternal pessimist and hopeless optimist ever find common ground? Or will Pippa’s Christmas Party end in Christmas tragedy for all?
The Christmas Party is the fourteenth in the Read by Candlelight series of standalone novellas featuring an LGBTQIA+ cast. Pairs nicely with Christmas mince pies and ginger beer.
A light dusting of snow fell overnight, rare for Market Weighton. It transformed the country lane into a scene from a Christmas card, making the green of the hedges stand out, and putting the skeletal tree limbs into greater relief. Or was that years of accumulated grime? Micah made a half-hearted attempt to wipe the window, but there was not much he could do against decades of neglect. The scene beyond the window remained hazy, and Micah remained inside, alone in the empty house.
Another Christmas. They were inevitable, yet the weight of the house’s silence, heavier now than at other times of the year, always caught him unawares. The sight of a labourer trudging down the lane, a few branches of spruce tucked under his arm, or a gaggle of village maids skipping past, their arms laden with holly and mistletoe gathered from the woods, cut deep. Micah glanced behind himself to the holly, dry and brittle on the mantelpiece. How many decades now since the house had last seen a Christmas?
It had been his favourite time of the year. Now, seeing a pair of sweethearts heading into the woods with a saw sent him plummeting into despair.
Micah returned his gaze to the window, only to receive a shock. A girl stood in the lane, staring at him. He blinked, too surprised to do anything but stare back.
The girl—woman, Micah corrected himself. Although youthful, she wore her chestnut hair in artful curls rather than schoolgirl plaits, a sure sign she had left the schoolroom for society—studied the house. She wore a coat over her dress, a mink collar around her neck, and her hands were plunged into a matching fur muff. Her hat was a work of art, grey hat band set off by an ostrich feather. Micah’s interest in fashion was nominal, but even he knew this ensemble was better suited to the streets of Paris than Market Weighton. On closer inspection, he was not sure she stared at him. She weighed the house, her expression speculative.
What on earth was this apparition doing in the village? And why did she stare so at the house?
Whatever the woman saw seemed to please her. Her mouth curved in a smile and she nodded, marching up to the gate in a businesslike way.
Micah backed away from the window. Had she seen him? Hopefully, the grimy windows were as much a barrier to within as without.
There was a sharp knock at the door. After an interval, the knock repeated and the door handle rattled. A determined young woman. What business did she have with the house? Surely it was obvious from the neglected appearance that the house was empty.
Silence. Micah listened, but he did not hear the telltale screech of the gate’s hinges. Was she still there? Perhaps she’d left the gate ajar and had already departed. After all, there was nothing in the house or garden to interest a fashionable young lady.
A tapping at the window. Micah looked up. The woman stood there, her eyes fixed on him. She smiled and tapped again on the glass.
No question about it. She’d definitely seen him. Micah lurched over to the window. His fingers trembled as he unhooked the latch. How would he explain his presence in the house?
“You must be the caretaker,” said the young lady. “I’m here to see the house. Would you let me in? I went to the landlord’s office, and they told me they’d lost the key. Can you believe that? Lost the key indeed! I’m sure if I was a gentleman they would have produced it instantly. Then they had the gall to tell me it was unoccupied.” She jutted out her chin. “But I mean to rent this house regardless of what they say—so if you’d let me in, I’d be much obliged.”
“Of course,” Micah said faintly. “One moment.”
The lady flashed a smile at him. Her pearly teeth dazzled and her eyes sparkled. “Thank you so much. You are a dear.” She turned, skirts rustling as she made her way to the front door.
Micah closed the window, re-latching it as though dazed. Why had he agreed to let her into the house? Once she realised the house had no caretaker, she would report him to the landlord and he would surely be removed—
Micah bit his lip. If she realised the house had no caretaker… He took a deep breath, opening the door. “This is most unusual. Visitors are generally required to give notice.” His voice sounded rusty from disuse.
“I suppose you thought I had no business here, and that was why you pretended not to hear me knocking.” The young lady bustled in, looking about her with keen interest. “I do not blame you. I would have done the same. There is nothing I detest more than people who foist themselves upon you uninvited. Still, no harm, no foul as Harry says.” She held out her hands, still encased in the fur muff to Micah. “I believe that is a football reference. Sport is the only thing that Harry can talk on—though most of what he says is unintelligible to me.” She paused.
Waiting for him to remove her muff. Micah swallowed. “There is no fire, the house as cold inside as it is out. I suggest you keep your coat on.”
“Goodness!” She watched her breath mist on the air. “If anything, I think it is colder inside. How peculiar—although I suppose that is all for the best. It adds to the atmosphere, you know.” Her gaze roved across the hall, taking in the remaining furniture, the light fixtures, the grime and layers of dust.
Micah followed her gaze. “The house has been much neglected. No one has lived here for decades.”
“All the better for me. Although I suppose I will have to do something about the dust. Millicent and Candice would object to their hems getting dirty, and Julian is even worse.” A shadow fell over her face, her jaw tightening. “Do you have cousins?”
“I cannot recommend them. I only have the one and Julian is a complete ingrate, caring nothing for all the happy hours we shared together as children.” She huffed, her mouth forming a pout. “I blame the universities. Sending boys away to have their egos stroked and their heads stuffed full of obscure references to Greek philosophers and then congratulating them for it. George—that’s my older brother—was insufferable even before he went to University, but now he is an absolute bore, and it’s absolutely ruined Julian. He’s so full of himself. Far too superior to spend any time with his cousins. I mean to change that—and I really do think this house is perfect. Is this the drawing room?” Without waiting for Micah’s response, she walked into the room he’d vacated.
Micah massaged his temples. He must shake off this stupefaction and think! If the lady rented the house, it would all be over for him. He took a deep breath, and, steeling his shoulders, followed her into the drawing room.
She gazed at the withered spruce leaves with what seemed like genuine delight. “Why, this is splendid! Just like the story says.”
Micah stared at her. “You know the house’s history?” And she still visited?
She turned a vivacious smile on him. “You mean, do I know about the ghost? I do—and she is the reason I am here.”
I realised I wanted to be an author when, as a teenager, I found myself getting annoyed that the characters in the books I read weren’t doing what I wanted them to do. Now that I’m a writer, they still don’t.
I write a variety of genres, ranging from short and silly contemporary romances to urban fantasy and mystery. My current project is the Read by Candlelight series of gothic romances inspired by the works of M R James, J S Le Fanu and the Brontë sisters.
In my non-writing life, I live in my native New Zealand, where I enjoy flat whites, playing pretend with my niece and nephew and trying to keep up with my ever increasing to be read pile. I’m the co-founder of the New Zealand Rainbow Romance Writers.