A Christmas Secret

By: Janelle Daniels

He looked around the corner again. “There’s no way to sneak in there unseen. And if she catches us, we won’t be able to do anything else before our time is up.”

She chewed her bottom lip. “It’s not as exciting, but shall we ask a maid to deliver it? I’d like to do something else before our time is up.”


Harry flagged down a passing maid, and gave her instructions on delivering the chocolates. The fresh-faced young woman bubbled with excitement about playing a part in the Christmas tradition before she was off on her new errand.

“Follow me,” he whispered again, taking her hand in his as he led her to the conservatory.

The air was ripe with blossoming plants that mingled together in one earthy scent. It was warmer in here, the winter sun’s rays trapped by thick panes of glass, but that only helped their cause. No others would want to be in here this time of day when sunset was two hours away and the room was at its warmest.

They listened for a moment making sure they were alone.

Harry rubbed his hands together. “Now what should we do? Any ideas?”

A dark lock of hair rested on his forehead. He looked younger, more carefree. Was it the festive atmosphere that had done that?

She wanted to reach forward and caress that unruly section of hair.

He was so handsome. Why was it in moments like this, when the lighting hit his features just right, when he said something, or did something, that she saw him as if seeing him for the first time? As if all the times they’d spent together, she’d never truly looked at him.

She looked away from him. It hurt too much. She needed to get this activity over with as soon as possible so she could spend time with others and possibly find a match. Wanting Harry this much couldn’t be good for her. “Why don’t I ask Miss Smith for ideas? I’m sure Lady Tisdale’s companion would know much more about what she’d like than we would.”

“Let’s go together.”

She shook her head, hoping the movement didn’t appear as frantic as she felt inside. She couldn’t be with him right now. She needed a moment away. A moment to settle herself and her feelings. “If we go together, Lady Tisdale would know. If it’s just me asking to speak with Miss Smith, then it’s nothing. That isn’t suspicious.”

“You’re right. Why don’t you see if you can speak with her now, and we will meet back here in two hours? We should have enough time to plan whatever we need to before dinner.”

Two hours. It was just what she needed to get her feelings under control.

Or so she hoped.

* * *

She’d been able to pull Miss Smith away from Lady Tisdale easily enough. Her employer had fallen asleep the chapter before, and Miss Smith was sitting there, merely waiting for the Lady to wake.

But now, she was headed to meet Harry again. And two hours hadn’t been nearly enough.

For the first time, she realized how serious the situation had become. She couldn’t be around him. And that one realization deflated her. She was going to have to avoid him after this.

But why did it have to hurt so much?

Straightening her shoulders, she notched her chin up and marched into the conservatory. She had to be strong right now. She could fall apart and figure out what needed to be done after they completed their task.

“Harry?” she whispered.

“Over here,” he called quietly.

She walked toward his voice, but didn’t see him. “Where?”

“A little farther.”

She could hear him clearly, but couldn’t see him. Her steps slowed on the path, her hands fisting at her hips. “I don’t see you—ah!” she shrieked as arms reached out, pulling her into the dense bushes to her right.

Her heart thundered in her ears as he chuckled. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t help myself.” He laughed, completely unrepentant.

The happy sound warmed her soul, but she shut her eyes against the feeling, guarding her already bleeding heart.

“Are you all right?” he asked, sensing something was off rather than seeing her face in the dim lighting now that the sun had set.

“Of course.” She cleared her throat as she stepped away from him. “Just a little pressed for time. The gown my mother laid out has a million buttons down the back, and my maid needs extra time to dress me.”

He was silent for a moment, but she couldn’t tell if he believed her or not. “We won’t take too long then. Were you able to find anything out?”

“Yes. There’s a particular song she loves. Apparently it’s her favorite, especially this time of year.”

“Do you know why? What’s the significance?”

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