Erin Knightley is the USA Today Bestselling author of the Prelude to a Kiss series (The Duke Can Go to the Devil, The Earl I Adore, The Baron Next Door) and the Sealed with a Kiss series (Flirting with Fortune, A Taste for Scandal, Miss Mistletoe, More Than a Stranger). Despite being an avid reader and closet writer her whole life, Ms. 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 now spends her days writing. Together with her tall, dark, and handsome husband and their three spoiled mutts, she is living her own Happily Ever After in North Carolina.
A secret rendezvous on Christmas Eve with Erin Knightley
Hello everyone! Merry Christmas and Season’s Greeting to all of you =) I’m so happy to be joining in the fun with Rambling From This Chick’s Historical Christmas Eve event once again. I had great fun writing this little scene between Emma and Thorne as they meet for a Secret Rendezvous on Christmas Eve. Grab your tea or coffee, block out the world, and enjoy the read!
Emma stared down at the torn-off, crumpled bit of foolscap that had been pressed into her palm during the receiving line for her parents’ annual Christmas ball. It had taken everything inside of her not to react when Thorne had tucked it there. He’d smiled with tepid cordialness, but she knew it was only a mask.
At least she hoped it was.
If he had thought of her even a quarter as much as she had thought of him since he’d been forced to leave two years ago, then his cool composure would have had to be a carefully controlled facade.
Now, nearly half an hour later—thirty long minutes of utter torture as the scrap of paper had remained tucked down her glove, its presence all but searing her skin—she’d finally been able to break away from the festivities for a few moments. She’d shut herself into the first empty room she’d come across, twisted the key in the lock, and yanked the missive from her glove. Her heart pounded thunderously in her chest, drowning out the sounds of the ball mere rooms away.
She hadn’t known he would be here. How was that even possible? They’d once been so close as to presume a match, back before his father had suffered a stroke, and Thorne had been called back to his family’s estate without a moment’s notice. Back then, they had lived next door, she in her parent’s house, he in his father’s lesser holding, overseeing the manor as practice for his future role as marquess.
A role that had become reality only this summer, a year and a half after his father’s initial decline.
Emma swallowed, attempting to calm her rioting nerves as she smoothed the paper and read the four words printed in bold black ink: Meet me at midnight.
No signature, no designated meeting place, no explanation—just three simple words that sent her heart racing all over again. He didn’t need to say where. There was only one place he could be thinking of: the gazebo in the rose garden below her bedchamber window.
How many nights had she watched for him, then slipped down the servants’ stairs to meet him in the dark of night? It wasn’t to do all those things her mother had fretted and warned about; it was just to be together. To talk until their eyelids grew heavy and the first hints of dawn glowed on the horizon.
She’d wanted so badly to kiss him. To garner the courage to lean over and press her lips against his perfectly formed mouth. To feel the heat of his body, to breathe in the scent of his skin, to know what it was to be well and truly kissed. But At one-and-twenty, he was unbearably worldly to her seventeen-year-old self, and she never could bring herself to actually do the thing she’d dreamed of. For his part, he had sworn that, until she turned eighteen, he wouldn’t compromise her by stealing a kiss.
At the time, it had seemed just around the corner. Neither of them knew that only a fortnight before her eighteenth birthday, he would be called away for good.
Meet me at midnight.
She closed her eyes and pressed the paper to her chest. Would they pick up exactly where they left off? Would the long absence make them awkward and unused to each other? Her stomach lifted and pitched as though she were somersaulting. This was Thorne. Her Thorne. Feelings like the ones they shared didn’t simply go away.
After all, the note was proof. He wished to see her. Alone.
Opening her eyes, she darted a glance toward the fireplace, where her father’s gold and ivory clock sat carefully centered on the marble mantle. Only a quarter after ten. Midnight was nearly two hours away!
She drew a long breath and headed for the door. She could endure the wait. She had to. Lucky for her, two hours was much, much better than two years. She paused at the door and pressed the hand to her stomach. The next few hours would be torture, but the heaven that awaited when the clock struck midnight was more than worth the wait.
She’d been right.
The wait was indeed torture. Smiling and laughing as she spoke with their guests, dancing when asked, talking with old acquaintances—she’d performed each of her duties as co-hostess to the best of her ability. At least she hoped she had. Lord knew she couldn’t concentrate on the talk of weather and Christmastide merriment when he was only steps away.
She thought he might ask her to dance. It made sense. They were both unattached, after all, and certainly of an age. She tried over and over again to catch his eye, to make him turn his head at just the right moment so that he’d see her subtle invitation. But each time their eyes met, he simply looked away. Or worse: looked right through her.
Unease flickered in her belly. Had she misunderstood his meaning? Was this to be something altogether different than she was imagining? Did he wish to tell her something?
She swallowed, a thought occurring to her. Dear heavens, did he wish to inform her that he was getting married? He was just the type to want to break such news in private. There was a time when they were so close to exactly that, after all. Nervous butterflies took flight in her belly. Whatever his reasons for wanting to meet, she would know soon enough.
Moonlight lit the well-worn path toward the gazebo, but Emma didn’t need it. She could have walked the way blindfolded and never missed a step. Her breath crystalized on the chilly air as she hurried toward the rendezvous spot. She had grabbed her warmest wool wrap, but hadn’t dared search out her coat, lest she raise suspicion.
When she’d slipped away, her parents had been merrily singing Christmas carols with the others, most of them tipsy and grinning, swaying back and forth with the beat that her mother set on the pianoforte. Most held punch glasses filled with eggnog, which she’d seen her father add an extra portion of brandy to not half an hour earlier. She wasn’t likely to be missed for at least a quarter hour or more.
The rose bushes where dormant this time of year, their barren branches a pale grey in the moonlight. The gazebo sat in the center of the garden, ghostly white and wrapped in the gnarled vines of the climbing bushes. It was empty, but then again, she was a little early. She hadn’t been able to wait a minute longer.
She stepped up into the gazebo and sat on the wooden bench, pulling her wrap more tightly around her. She was shivering, but it was more from nerves than from the cold. She wanted to see him, to hug him, to tuck into his warmth. Would he allow it, or was his purpose altogether different?
Just then, the soft sound of footsteps on the path reached her ears, and she strained to see in the darkness. There he was, his tall, broad-shouldered silhouette black against background. His stride was purposeful, his posture confident. She counted the seconds until his feet hit the wooden steps, and she forgot to breathe.
“Emma,” he said, his voice nearly a caress.
She caught his hands in her own as he sat beside her. Lord, but he was so handsome. His jaw was sharp and well-defined, his nose straight, his mouth generous.
“Thorne,” she whispered back. Swallowing, she added, “I missed you.”
Her heart pounded. It was a bold declaration, especially since she had no idea why he wanted to see her.
His hands tightened around her fingers, sending a fission of delight curling up her arm. “Have you?” His murmured words were dark and intimate.
She nodded. “Very much so.”
A soft smile curled the edges of his mouth. “I asked you to meet me for a reason, you know. You see, I’m about to ask a woman to marry me, and before I approached her father for her hand, I thought I’d get your opinion about something.”
Her heart plummeted to her knees. “My opinion?”
“Well, a female point of view is very helpful in these situations, and I could think of no one else whom I trusted to ask but you, my dear old friend.”
Old friend. All her hope, all her excitement, all her joy left in one great whoosh, taking her breath with it. She drew in a cold lungful of air before saying, “How can I help?” She almost sounded normal.
He leaned forward while tugging her hands closer to his own body. Despite herself, butterflies erupted in her belly. “Would you,” he said, his lips only inches from her cheek, “be terribly upset if a man asked you for your hand in marriage before seeking your father’s approval?”
She blinked, trying to discern his true meaning, hoping he meant what she thought, but very much afraid that she was wrong. Licking her lips, she said, “Not at all, so long as my father wasn’t aware of the unconventional method.”
Smiling fully now, he looked into her eyes. “Then will you marry me, sweet Emma? As soon as possible, before another season can get away from us?”
She couldn’t help the laugh of delight. “Yes! Of course I will!”
Almost before the words were out, his lips were on hers, warm, firm, and deliciously brandy-scented. Her heart took flight at the kiss—her first! She pulled her hands from his and wrapped her arms around him, prompting him to do the same. The kiss went on and on, his tongue gently dancing with hers as he held her tightly too him.
When at last the kiss ended, she pulled back slightly so that she could gaze into his eyes. “How…when…why did you wait so long?” she finally got out. “It was all I could do not to throw myself at you when you arrived today.”
He grinned. “And that’s precisely why. I didn’t want anyone being witness to our reunion, and I didn’t want to have to pretend that you meant less to me than you do. When we first talked, I wanted it to be between us, so I could finally speak the words I’ve waited months to say.”
“It wasn’t very nice, nearly giving me a heart attack just now. Wanting my opinion indeed.” She bumped him with her shoulder, holding no real grudge. There was only room for joy.
“Which reminds me. What is your opinion concerning a Christmas Day wedding?”
She tilted her head. “You wish to wait an entire year? I couldn’t bear it!”
“No, my love,” he said, smiling wickedly as he pulled a piece of paper from his coat. “Tomorrow. Actually, make that today. It is after midnight, after all.”
She gasped. “Is that a special license?”
“Oh Thorne,” she exclaimed, throwing her arms around him and hugging him tightly. “Nothing would make me happier. So long as my parents agree,” she added, some tiny part of her remaining grounded enough to remember such a thing.
But then even that fell away as he gathered her tightly in his arms and kissed her again. Her parents, their guests, and the party could wait; this was a Christmas rendezvous that she planned to make the most of!
Gavin Stark, Viscount Derington, learned his lesson when his childhood love was swept off her feet by another man before Dering could declare himself. Ever since, he has lived a life of no regrets—reaching for what he wants while never again allowing himself to lose his heart. If the experience taught him anything, it was never to risk what he wasn’t willing to lose.Lady Felicity Danby had everything she ever wanted in life until the moment her husband died, turning her world upside down. A year and a half later, she is finally ready to return to Bath to spend the summer visiting family. She finds comfort in her old childhood friend, but is taken off guard when passion begins to simmer between them. She’s already lost everything once—can she possibly risk her heart a second time?
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