A Christmas Secret

By: Janelle Daniels

Once the cheers subsided, he glanced again at Rosalie and the bright smile on her face. He walked to her and pulled her to the side of the room for a moment of privacy as Lady Weston discreetly assigned each couple their Father Christmas recipient.

Harry closed his eyes as Rosalie’s hand brushed his arm, the sweet smell of apples and cinnamon from one of the holiday treats she’d eaten earlier mingled with the soft lavender scent she must add to her bath.

To be this close to her, to see the sparkle in her lively green eyes, to hear her voice, to divine glimpses of her soul as she spoke, was almost too much to bear. His fingers itched to hold her against him, to touch her, to know the taste of her, to make sure she knew that he valued no one above her.

How could she not see it? At times, he thought he’d choke from the strong emotions she evoked in him. How she had never guessed was beyond him.

Or perhaps, she had. And ignored it. He cleared his throat. “Are you disappointed?”

“Not at all.” She placed her hand on his arm reassuringly. “I’ll have a much better time with you than I would with any of them. Besides, the likelihood of making a match in such a short amount of time isn’t high.” She smiled apologetically. “But I’m sure you’d rather a different partner.”

“Absolutely not. Why would you think so?”

She shrugged, casting her gaze around. “You’ve never participated in something like this. I assumed you weren’t looking to form an attachment with someone.”

He pursed his lips playfully. “Is that what this is all about? Finding a wife? I thought we were joining forces to bring Christmas cheer to others.”

She pinched his arm and he laughed. “Don’t tease. Some of us need a little extra time with the opposite sex to form an attachment.”

“Is that what you want? To form an attachment?” he asked quietly, watching for any flicker of emotion on her face.

Her eyes widened with surprise. “Of course. I’m twenty-three, Harry. I’m running out of time if I want to marry. Spinsterhood is around the corner.”

When Rosalie turned her attention to Lady Weston, Harry grinned. Rosalie would never be a spinster.

* * *

Rosalie’s heart pounded as she and Harry tiptoed down the hall on their first mission to deliver Christmas cheer.

She’d been paired with Harry. Of all the rotten luck!

How was she supposed to ignore her feelings for him and form an attachment with another if she was constantly around him?

She’d been in love with Harry for years. And although she was grateful for their friendship, she wanted so much more from him. But he obviously didn’t feel the same. He was friendly enough, all right. She’d even go so far as to say he loved her in a platonic sort of way. But she wanted more.

No matter how painful it was, if she ever wanted a family of her own, she needed to move on. She needed to banish her feelings for him and continue to look for someone who was open to having a romantic relationship with her.

No matter how much she wished it, Harry would never be that man.

“Oomph.” She’d slammed into Harry’s back as he abruptly stopped at a corner. She hadn’t been paying enough attention.

He turned quickly, reaching out to steady her. The hairs on her arms stood on end at the contact.

“Are you all right?” he whispered.

She nodded, not trusting her voice in that moment.

“All right. I see Lady Tisdale in the library.”

Rosalie’s eyebrows crinkled. “Can she still read? I thought her eyesight was poor.”

“Her companion is reading to her.”

“Ah.” That made a lot more sense. The woman was old, to be sure, but she still had the mental acuity of a twenty-year-old.

Harry glanced at the box in his hands. “Are you sure she’ll like this?”

Her lips turned up ruefully. “It’s chocolate, Harry. All women like chocolate.”

“I know you do,” he said so quietly she almost didn’t hear him.

Her eyes slowly met his, and for the first time, she saw something deeper there. Something that sent a hot surge down her spine.

Her breath caught. Could he possibly be attracted to her?

He’d never shown any indication of that before. But then again, when had she huddled in a dim hall, practically pressed up against his side, as they whispered quietly like lovers?

It had to be the atmosphere. A trick of the light. Nothing had changed between them for him to want her after all this time.

She was being foolish, seeing things that weren’t really there just because she wanted them to be. “How do you want to deliver it?” she asked, hoping to distract herself.

His gaze slid over her face one last time, and she could feel each sweeping caress as if it were his fingers instead of his eyes.

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