A Proposal on Christmas Eve - Erin Knightley
Despite being an avid reader and closet writer her whole life, Erin Knightley decided to pursue a sensible career in science. It was only after earning her BS and working in the field for years that she realized doing the sensible thing wasn’t any fun at all. Following her dreams, Erin left her practical side behind and hasn’t looked back. Now a USA Today bestselling author, she is living her own Happily Ever After in North Carolina with her tall, dark, and handsome husband and their three spoiled mutts.
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Merry Christmas, everyone! The following is a quick little story of a proposal at Christmas Eve. I hope it makes you smile!
The goodwill and Christmas cheer were positively palpable as Olivia made her way across the crowded ballroom, winding around the many groups of gaily-conversing merry-makers. Hundreds of candles and both of the room’s fireplaces blazed brightly, adding warmth and light to the already glittering space. Music produced by some unseen orchestra played softly in the background. It was all quite magical, really. Any other year, she might have enjoyed such an evening.
But this was not any other year.
This wasn’t even any other month. It hadn’t even been four weeks since her father had rejected Jasper’s offer for her hand in marriage. The disappointment and heartache were still far too keen to want to return to these sorts of events, especially considering it was Christmas Eve. Tonight, she wanted nothing more than to curl up on her favorite sofa besides the fire and lose herself in the new gothic novel she had purchased yesterday.
Alas, her mother had forbidden it. Mama was generally so very reasonable. It had come as quite a shock when she had marched into Olivia’s room, held up a sparkling gown of silver and green, and announced that they were going to the gala in four hours whether Olivia wanted to or not.
So here she was, desperately avoiding eye contact with anyone who might offer her that most dreaded of all sentiments: pity. She didn’t want to see them shake their heads at the poor little heiress who had been foolish enough to fall in love with a mere baronet when her father was determined that she would be a lady. Never mind that she would have been a lady. In her father’s eyes, anything less than countess was unacceptable. Unfortunately, the obscenely high dowry he had bestowed upon her practically guaranteed that he could secure an earl or better.
It mattered not if prospective suitors were twice her age or missing half their brain. So long as he was a proper peer, Papa would be happy.
And Olivia would be miserable.
Even more so than she was now, attending this lovely, awful party without Jasper at her side. The worst of it was, her father had admitted that he believed Jasper was in love with her. He had readily acknowledged that the baronet was an exceptional young man from an honorable family. “You’ll understand when you are older, my dear,” he had said, his tone gratingly condescending. “Love matches are for the poor. One cannot selfishly pursue a marriage based on one’s finicky heart when the opportunity to elevate the entire family exists.”
The words still stung. She was not some commodity to be bought and traded. Or was she? Blowing out a frustrated breath, she veered toward the dessert table, which was heavily laden with delectable looking cakes, pies, and what looked to be figgy pudding. Pudding made everything better, didn’t it?
“Olivia! Whatever are you doing here?”
She looked up in time to see her best friend Anne gliding toward her in a gorgeous pale pink gown, her arms outstretched in welcome. She slipped both her hands in Olivia’s and squeezed. “If I had known you were planning to attend, we could have come together.” Despite her bright smile, Olivia didn’t miss the concern in Anne’s eyes as she looked her over.
“If I had known,” Olivia said dryly, “I would have happily done so. Unfortunately, my mother ambushed me a few hours ago, and wouldn’t allow me to beg off.”
“Well, I am glad for it. It’s one thing to visit you at home, but I miss your company at events like these.”
Olivia stifled a sigh. “I know. I’m sorry, Anne. I shall make more of an effort in the New Year, I promise.” As much as her heart ached, she had to find a way to move on. Jasper hadn’t written a single word since their parting, nor had he attempted to call at the house. Not that she was surprised by the latter—she knew her father wouldn’t welcome the baronet’s attention.
Her smile was bittersweet, thinking of the way they had first met in the park four months ago. They’d both been taking a morning constitutional, and when their eyes had met, her heart had leapt. Over the next few days, their smiles had grown bolder as they passed each other on the path. And then, after a week, they had fallen into step together. Each morning, they had talked and laughed and shared a little more of themselves as the days went by.
Her maid, bless her, had never said a word. Geraldine was the housekeeper’s niece, and she and Olivia had frequently played together as children. Olivia was grateful for both her friendship and her discretion, and in return, had happily turned a blind eye to Geraldine’s tendre for Olivia’s twin brother, Lancaster.
Anne smiled as she released Olivia’s hands. “You certainly couldn’t have chosen a more interesting night. I hear that Lord Hartwell is making a big announcement, and everyone is buzzing about what it might be.”
“Oh?” she replied distractedly as she selected a healthy slice of buttermilk cake topped with blackberry preserves. She didn’t wish to discourage Anne, but she certainly had no interest in their host’s news, whatever it was.
Nodding, Anne said, “Indeed. I wonder if it is a Christmas Eve betrothal announcement. He’s been widowed for so long, perhaps he has finally found love. Could anything be more romantic than that?”
Thoughts of her own failed betrothal stole the smile from her lips. “I suppose not,” she murmured before stuffing a bite of cake in her mouth to keep from having to say more.
Anne’s hand flew to her mouth as her eyes widened. “Oh, Olivia, I’m so sorry. That was terribly insensitive of me.”
Swallowing quickly, Olivia shook her head. “Think nothing of it. I certainly hope for the marquess’s sake that he does have a happy announcement.”
As though summoned by their conversation, Lord Hartwell appeared at the small balcony overlooking the room. The orchestra played a few heralding notes before quieting, capturing the attention of the crowd.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” he began, his deep voice echoing across the room. He was tall and thin, with a regal bearing that was not to be ignored. Both times she’d met him, he’d been very kind, offering a genuine smile and actually listening to what she had to say. Though he was at least twenty years older than her, he was still an attractive man.
“Thank you all for joining me to celebrate Christmas, one of the most wonderful days of the year. I can scarcely think of a better time to make this announcement. On a day so filled with love and goodwill, I am beyond delighted to announce a very special betrothal.”
He turned then, seeming to gaze right at Olivia. She froze, a bite of cake halfway to her lips, the plate held beneath her chin to catch any crumbs that might fall. Why was he looking at her? She quickly lowered the fork, afraid he might have taken offense to her eating during his announcement.
“Miss Olivia Hart, would you please come join me?”
She very nearly dropped the plate. Her nerves rioted as she felt the curious gazes of several hundred attendees land squarely upon her. What in heaven was this all about? What could he want with her?
Out of nowhere, her father appeared at Lord Hartwell’s arm. His expression was unreadable from this distance, but the fact that he was there at all spoke volumes. Oh Lord. Oh, please no. Her knees went weak as she realized exactly what was happening. Heaven help her, Papa was marrying her off without ever having consulted her. The marquess was old enough to be her father!
The plate magically disappeared from her hands as Anne nudged her forward. “Go on,” she whispered, giving Olivia another push. “You can’t ignore him.”
No, but she could run. Olivia was considering just that when Mama materialized in front of them, smiling kindly and holding out her arm. “Come along, dear. We mustn’t keep your future husband waiting.”
Olivia’s stomach plummeted. She could hear the whispers now, the hollow hiss of words breathed from one ear to the next. Panic built in her chest, squeezing her lungs and making her heart pound. “Mama please, I can’t.”
But her mother didn’t relent. “You can, and you will. Now please; I won’t have you making a scene.”
With her ears ringing, Olivia followed dumbly in her mother’s wake, her mind racing all the while on how she could get out of this. Decrying the announcement now would be the scandal of a lifetime. And if her father had already signed the betrothal agreement, she was stuck with Lord Hartwell whether she wanted it or not.
As she reached the marquess’s side, she didn’t meet his gaze or that of her father. Instead, she stared mutely at the balcony railing as Lord Hartwell hand to the small of her back. “Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in celebrating the betrothal of Miss Olivia Hart to my own Godson, Sir Jasper Upton.”
The cheer that arose from the crowd below barely penetrated Olivia’s shock. Her gaze snapped up, and much to her surprise, this time she met the beautiful blue eyes of her beloved. “Jasper!” she gasped, stumbling toward him where he stood on the other side of Lord Hartwell. “How can this be?”
He stood tall and proud, his shoulders straight and his eyes shining as he grinned down at her. He looked so handsome, her heart squeezed in her chest. Oh, how she had missed him these last few weeks. “A little persistence goes a long way,” he said, grinning that perfectly wicked grin of his.
“That’s an understatement,” Papa said, shaking his head. “I received no less than two notes a day from him, imploring me to reconsider. The man was as determined as any one I have ever encountered, including Admiral Nelson and the Duke of Wellington.”
Mama swallowed Olivia up in a tight hug. “I’m so very happy for you, my dear. I knew that there would never be anyone else for you but Jasper.”
“Yes, and she was quite vocal about it,” Papa grumbled. “Between the two of them, I hadn’t a chance.”
Jasper stepped forward, boldly slipping his hand around Olivia’s waist. “I hope you don’t mind the surprise. Since you had already accepted my proposal the first time, I wanted to do something special for the announcement. I thought it might make for a Christmas Eve you would never forget.”
Joy swirled within her, smothering all the pain and heartache of the last month. “Yes, of course I don’t mind. But why didn’t you write me? Why didn’t you tell me sooner of your success?”
Papa cleared his throat, clearly uncomfortable. “Sir Jasper’s notes may have been, er, misplaced in my office. I’ll see to it that they are returned to you tomorrow.”
Jasper had written her after all? Relief coursed through her, easing the knot of tension that had been growing with every day she hadn’t heard from him.
The baronet sent a wry look to her father. “As for why I we didn’t tell you, I secured your father’s blessing only this morning, thanks to my Godfather. His endorsement of my character may have been just the reassurance your father was looking for all along.”
Olivia knew what he was saying: Papa would never displease a marquess. If Lord Hartwell had vouched for Jasper, Papa would have had no choice but to give his blessing. On impulse, she turned and rose on her toes before placing a light kiss on the marquess’s cheek. “Thank you,” she said, pouring a wealth of emotion into the two tiny words.
He smiled kindly before nodding. “My pleasure, young lady. Now then, I think a bit of privacy may be in order?”
Grinning broadly, Jasper led her to the nearest room, a wonderfully appointed library with enough books to make her eyebrows lift. He pushed the door closed, his eyes never leaving hers. “Olivia, my love. You’ve said it before, but I’d love nothing more than to hear it again. Will you marry me?”
She couldn’t contain her happiness as she nodded in earnest. “I will! With all of my heart, and all of my soul, I will most assuredly marry you. As soon as possible!”
He stepped forward and slid his hands beneath her jaw and guided her lips to his. His mouth was warm, gentle, and oh-so perfect. She leaned into the kiss, loving the feeling of his body pressed against hers, with nothing between them but a few scant layers of fabric.
When at last he pulled away, they were both breathing hard. Running a hand through his dark hair, he offered her a lopsided little grin. “I know Christmas is tomorrow, but I have something for you now.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out the most gorgeous emerald ring she had ever seen. It was flanked by diamonds and set in shining gold, and large enough to make her eyes widen. “A beautiful ring for a beautiful bride.”
As he slipped the ring on her finger, she couldn’t help but laugh with the overwhelming delight that filled every part of her. “But I haven’t anything for you,” she said, only half teasing.
“Worry not, my soon-to-be lady. The only gift I want is you by my side, for the rest of our lives.”
She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him close. “Nothing, my soon-to-be husband, could make me happier.”
Sophie Wembley is about to discover two hard truths: When planning a rushed betrothal, one must not be picky; and when the perfect earl happens by, one must not be shy.…
After receiving word that her sister has eloped, even ever-optimistic Sophie has trouble staying positive. She needs to secure her future before the scandal destroys her prospects, although she doesn’t relish the idea of a hasty marriage. But her longtime crush has just shown up for the summer festival in Bath. He may be the key to avoiding disgrace and getting a happily ever after…if she can bring herself to pursue him.
John “Evan” Fairfax, Earl of Evansleigh, is one of the most popular bachelors in the ton. However, his easygoing ways hide a dark past he’s determined to keep secret. Evan has always kept acquaintances at arm’s length for self-preservation, but there’s something irresistible about Sophie…and her seductive charms may well sway the confirmed bachelor to seize a chance at love.
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