A Christmas Secret

By: Janelle Daniels

Scandals & Secrets - Book 4.5

A Christmas Secret

Everyone knew the Father Christmas activity at the Weston’s annual party was just another attempt to throw together unmarried ladies with reluctant, single gentlemen. That suited Lord Harold Emmorey, Viscount Gloucher, just fine. In fact, he was counting on being paired with one woman in particular.

He glanced over the ladies and gentlemen assembled in the parlor, separated on different side of the room until their names were drawn. The fire crackled merrily in the hearth, adding warmth and atmosphere to an already festive occasion. The room filled with excited chatter as each person anxiously awaited the name of whom they’d be matched with for the rest of the day. At this magical time of year, anything was possible. Plans were hatched; affairs were launched.

Proposals were accepted.

Harry’s heart thumped hard as he felt the weight of the sapphire and diamond engagement ring in his pocket. His eyes automatically drew to the one woman he’d come to the party for.

Miss Rosalie Winthrop.

Meeting his eye from across the room, she gave him a quick wink and mouthed good luck.

He smiled back and nodded. If only she knew who he was here for. This was the first and only time he’d participated in such a setup, but he didn’t plan to leave the choosing of his partner up to chance.

He and Rosalie had been thrown together at balls and parties for years, politely dancing with one another. But that stiffness hadn’t lasted. They were too much alike, too open for confined, polite conversation, and Harry quickly realized he looked forward to seeing her more than anyone else at such affairs.

After his friend, Lord Quinton Devericks, his wife, Lady Sera, and their children had permanently moved to their country estate, Harry was surprised how easily Rosalie had filled the gap Quinton left. She was his best friend, even if society dictated the activities they could engage in because of her unmarried status.

Although Harry had always been attracted to her, his desire for her had flared to uncontrollable portions in the last six months. Well beyond what was appropriate for a purely platonic relationship.

He wasn’t the type of man to sit around and wait for things to happen, but with no indication of Rosalie’s feelings, he hesitated to press for something that could ruin their friendship.

Until now.

He couldn’t fight it anymore. If she rejected him, she rejected him. And if she did, he’d have to figure out some way to smooth it over, because he couldn’t imagine living his life without her. Even if it killed him, he’d remain her friend.

But he couldn’t hold off not knowing any longer.

Lady Weston maneuvered her generous form in front of the group, her full cheeks turning rosy as she smiled kindly at her audience. “Thank you all for joining us this evening. As you all know, the Father Christmas activity has become a tradition at Weston Manor. Couples are paired together, one lady and one gentleman.”

She winked and the group chuckled at the jest. “I will assign each couple a name of someone else at the party, someone not in this room, and the couple will become that person’s secret Father Christmas. You may surprise them with a gift, an act of kindness, or anything else that falls in line with the spirit of Christmas. You’ll have until midnight tonight. Now,” she grinned widely at the group as if she knew this is what they’d all waited for, “we’ll commence with the drawing of the names. And since I was accused of tampering with the pairings last year,” she drawled, “I’d like to ask Viscount Gloucher if he’d do the honor of selecting the couples.”

A few hoots echoed in the air, and Harry grinned. Exactly as planned. “Of course.”

He walked up in front of the group, but didn’t dare glance in Rosalie’s direction. He’d never be able to pull this off if he looked at her now.

Lady Weston handed him two new felt top hats, and he briefly wondered if he’d be caught manipulating the drawing. The folded slips of paper he spied in each hat contained all the names of those present. He’d have to be tricky.

With a mischievous grin to the group, he stirred the names in the first hat like a witch brewing a potion. “Let’s see who’s first.” He pulled out the first slip. “Lord Bartholomew and,” he mixed the other hat before pulling out another paper, “Lady Caroline.”

Applause sounded in the room as he called each subsequent couple. The duos clustered around the edges of the room, laughing when only Rosalie and himself were left unmatched.

“And I guess that leaves Miss Winthrop and myself.” He tamped down the triumph he felt and quickly dumped all the scraps of paper into one hat. No one would ever suspect he’d lied about each and every pairing, maneuvering things so he and Rosalie would be called last.

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