Lily Maxton grew up in the Midwest, reading, writing, and daydreaming amidst cornfields. After graduating with a degree in English, she decided to put her natural inclinations to good use and embark on a career as a writer.
Lily is currently mixing her love of history and all things romantic by writing historical romance for Entangled Publishing. Her newest series will kick off in March 2017 with Enchanting the Earl.
Hello and happy holidays!
The story I decided to write, “A Christmas Waltz,” is a stand-alone, with characters unrelated to any of my published books. It’s centered on a marriage proposal between two neighbors who were childhood friends. The proposal goes a bit awry, but there’s snow, and dancing, and mistletoe, and everything sweet.
A Christmas Waltz
December 24th 1816
Juliet’s mother snatched a sprig of holly from her hands and glared at her, in a way that was equal parts disapproving and exasperated. Juliet had grown used to this look over the years.
“Why must you daydream so?” Her mother shook her head and turned back to the mantel, her body outlined by the glow of the fire. “It’s fine. I shall finish on my own.”
Juliet still had mistletoe in her other hand. She tucked it into her hair before her mother could grab that away, too, and then fetched her cloak and changed into her half-boots. She’d gotten distracted from decorating the drawing room with greenery when she’d glanced out the window and saw that it was snowing. The best sort of snow, too—large, light flakes that fell as softly as goose down.
Decorating could wait.
Once outside, she took a deep breath of cold air, let it flow into her lungs. Maybe Juliet was a little too dreamy at times, maybe she was too easily distracted—she certainly wasn’t the paragon of practicality that her mother was. But then, twenty-one years ago, her mother had named her Juliet—she must have been whimsical once.
At least a little.
Though, she supposed the name could have just as easily been a reminder to obey her parents. With her mother, it was difficult to tell.
Juliet walked for several minutes underneath a gray sky, the occasional snowflake landing on her cheek or forehead and quickly melting. She noticed movement through the trees, and stopped. A moment later, relief sighed through her heart. Along with a potent sort of happiness.
Oliver Bell stood between two pine trees, breath frosting the air. He’d stopped when he’d seen her, just as she’d stopped when she’d seen him. The slightest smile curved his lips, and for a moment, she soaked him in—tall and slender, wild, dark hair, friendly gray eyes, warm in a way that gray usually wasn’t. He had a slightly curved nose and deep set eyes.
Oliver had been her neighbor for as long as she could remember. As children they’d played together. They’d been best friends, really. After that, there was a span of years where Oliver was at school and then university when they hadn’t seen each other much, though they’d maintained an easy friendliness.
And then he’d returned from university, and their relationship had subtly shifted. They were no longer children running wild and playing games with a favored companion. They were adults. They spoke of adult things—hopes and fears and dreams. They’d grown closer.
Juliet didn’t really know what their relationship was. They’d run the gamut backward, starting as best friends in that trustful way only young children could manage and then becoming acquaintances, and now neither word seemed to fit.
Her heart leapt when she saw him. Surely, that wasn’t only a friendly reaction?
But she didn’t broach the subject, for fear that Oliver’s heart didn’t leap when he saw her. It was no secret that Oliver’s parents wanted him to marry Eliza Collins, the daughter of a wealthy family who were cousins to an earl. Juliet’s family wasn’t all that wealthy, and they certainly weren’t cousins to an earl.
She was almost positive that Miss Collins held Oliver in high esteem—she’d noticed the young woman’s gaze following him at a ball once. Her mother might call Juliet oblivious, but there were certain things she saw quite clearly. Though she couldn’t really blame Miss Collins for liking Oliver—he was handsome and kind and just so good. She didn’t know why anyone wouldn’t like him.
His feelings for Miss Collins, however, were more difficult to discern.
He was polite to everyone. He’d never treated Miss Collins with more or less regard than he showed any one person. And he never spoke of her when he was with Juliet. She didn’t know if this was because he didn’t have feelings for the woman or because he did. A part of her suspected the latter. When things were important to Oliver, he tended to play his cards closer to his chest.
But regardless of how he felt toward Miss Collins, he was here, now. She wasn’t going to waste it.
“Were you escaping?” she asked him.
A slow grin spread across his face. That was how his smiles were—slow and subtle until they encompassed his whole face and then suddenly Juliet found herself smiling, too.
His cheeks were flushed pink, but she couldn’t tell if it was from cold or something else.
“All four of my younger brothers are home for Christmastide, and, as you would expect, it’s sheer chaos. When Charles knocked a bowl of hot furmity onto my lap, I decided it was time for some fresh air.”
She winced. “Are you all right?”
He approached her. “Well enough. Will you walk with me?”
She fell into step beside him. It was as easy as breathing, they’d done this so much by now; somehow they started on solitary walks but always ended up finding one another. This time, though, Oliver’s step was a little too hurried, his hands a little too restless. The second time his gaze went to her face and skittered away again, she grew concerned.
“What is it?” she asked softly.
He stared at her. Blinked. Cleared his throat. “You have mistletoe in your hair.”
“Oh.” The hood of her cloak had fallen back. Her hand went up to touch the sprig she’d tucked into her chignon. “I’m trying to start a new fashion,” she teased, but when he only smiled halfway in response, she grew serious. “But that’s not why you’re agitated, is it?”
“Agitated?” He laughed, abashedly. “I’m making a hash of this, I suppose…” He shoved his gloved hands into his greatcoat pockets. “Do you ever think of marriage?” he asked, the words tumbling out quickly.
Marriage? Her spine stiffened as her thoughts flew back to Miss Collins.
Oliver must have read something foreboding in her expression. “I know we’re a bit young to discuss it. But, well, the fact is, my parents don’t seem to think one and twenty is too young.”
This was territory they hadn’t broached. She felt a prickle of unease. “Your parents want you to marry Miss Collins,” she said, tentative.
His shoulders sagged a bit. “I wasn’t sure if you knew.”
“You like her,” It was half question, half statement.
“Yes…she’s everything amiable. But that’s not exactly what I wanted to discuss.”
Juliet felt her heart turn to ice. What, exactly, did he want to discuss? Had he already asked Miss Collins? Was he going to tell Juliet that this would be their last walk together? Was that why he was so agitated?
“Goodness, Oliver,” she said quickly. She didn’t want to hear it. If he was ending their friendship, she didn’t want to hear another word. He would have to send her a letter—then, if she fell apart, she could do it privately. “You must calm yourself,” she said, as cheerily as she could manage. “Do you know what I’ve always found soothes the nerves?”
He shook his head, wide eyed.
“Dancing,” he repeated slowly, as if he didn’t recognize the term.
She nodded. This might be the last time they were together like this, with nothing between them, no obligations. No betrothal. No wife. And if it was the last time…she would make it something to remember. And when her mother scolded her for staring out the window, dreaming, at least it would be a very sweet dream.
“We should dance.”
He looked around like he might have missed something. “Outside? In the snow? With no chaperones? And no music?”
“Yes,” she said pertly, holding her hand out, palm up. “That’s obviously the best time for it.”
His expression was still a little reluctant, but amused. He followed her outstretched hand as if he had no other choice.
When he was near enough, she rested her hand lightly on his back, and stretched her other hand overhead, waiting for him to do the same. At this miniscule distance, she could see flecks of icy blue in the gray of his eyes, see the flare of his pupils. She hoped he didn’t notice the heat rising in her face.
He lifted his eyebrows. “A waltz?”
They’d danced together at public assemblies before, but never a waltz. She wanted this. She wanted to be this close to him, at least once.
She hummed a tune, though it was a bit off key. Oliver smiled and they started to move. A thin layer of snow crunched beneath her boots and she glanced at their footprints—a temporary record of an impromptu, reckless waltz. Soon enough they would be filled in by more snow. And the only trace of this moment would be in her memory.
Partway through the dance she closed her eyes, and let the sensations sink into her skin. His arm along her back, and then her hand in his, the whisper of warm breath against her cheek, her feet gliding across the ground, led by Oliver’s steps. She was so focused on him that she didn’t even feel the cold.
“You’re a very good dancer,” she said, eyes still closed.
His voice sounded close, close and low. “I knew you liked to dance.”
She didn’t know exactly what he meant by that.
“At balls I noticed that even when you weren’t dancing, your feet would still tap the rhythm. I feared if I didn’t learn well, I wouldn’t be able to keep up with you.”
“I would slow down,” she whispered.
“No. I like that your feet are always moving and your mind is always spinning. I’d rather catch up to you than have you wait.”
A snowflake landed on her cheek. Oliver’s thumb ghosted across her skin to swipe it away, and her pulse stuttered.
It was the jolt she needed.
Somewhere along the way she’d lost track of the minutes. This was a lovely dream, but even Juliet knew that dreams ended when one opened one’s eyes. She let her grip on his hand loosen and slowly lifted her eyelids. It was already growing dark around them—the days were so short this time of year.
Usually darkness was an invitation, to recklessness, to fantasy. But tonight, it was only a reminder. She needed to be practical for once. The farther she drifted, the harder the fall.
“Does Miss Collins like to dance?” she asked.
Oliver stopped moving but he didn’t let go of her. His face was baffled, and perhaps a little hurt. “I don’t want to talk about Miss Collins.”
“Then what do you wish to speak of?”
A new determination hardened his features. She’d never seen him look quite this intent before, and her heart gave a sudden flutter.
“I don’t really wish to speak at all.”
His hand cupped her jaw, slowly and gently lifted her face, and then he bent his own head to meet her. His lips were cold, but against her, they warmed. She tasted peppermint when her mouth parted and his breath eased between her lips. He dug his hand into her hair, dislodging the mistletoe and gripping her tightly against him.
She’d never felt so overwhelmed, so overpowered, so perfectly in over her head. Her hands clutched at his greatcoat and she kissed him back harder, fiercer. She poured all of her love into that kiss.
She loved him. Yes, she loved him. She wished she’d told him sooner.
Eventually, she had to draw away to catch her breath. Oliver’s face was now an even deeper shade of pink than before, but he was staring at her like he’d just seen the sunrise for the very first time. Hope flared in her chest.
“Does this mean you’re not marrying Miss Collins?”
He stepped back, as though he’d received a sudden blow. “I never said I was.”
She frowned. “Then what was all that about marriage and your parents?”
“I…” Suddenly, he laughed. “Good God, I did make a mess of it. Forgive me, I’ve never done this before.” He smiled self-deprecatingly, took his hat off, and ran his hand through his hair, making it even more tousled than it normally was. “Even though my parents want me to marry Miss Collins, my own heart has led me elsewhere. My own heart has led me to you.”
She stared at him.
He moved his hat from one hand to the other. “You are the person I’m happiest to see, the person I miss most of all when I’m gone. You surprise me…and…and delight me. We’ve been friends for so many years, and I am grateful for your friendship, but I also want you in a way that is not…friendly…at all. Juliet…” he swallowed hard. “I love you, and I think it’s only difficult for me to speak of because I feel it so well. Just tell me what you want of me. One word and I’ll go. Or I’ll stay, for as long as you’ll let me stand beside you.”
The silence stretched on.
“I am yours to command, Juliet.”
She pressed her hand to her mouth, and he looked horrified, until he saw that she was smiling. And crying a little, too. Her heart felt like it had broken free from the cage of her chest, and was soaring. Perhaps some dreams didn’t have to go away when she opened her eyes.
“I’m sorry. I was simply…letting it all in. I want to remember this.”
His hat fell from his hand as he reached for her again. This time, when they kissed, it was less urgent and more awkward. Neither of them could stop smiling long enough to kiss properly.
“And I agree with you,” she said. “I don’t think one and twenty is too young to marry.”
“Well, then let us make haste,” he said succinctly, tipping her back dramatically just so he could sweep her into another kiss.
She was laughing, and he missed her mouth and settled his lips on her jaw instead, then slid down to her throat. She found she couldn’t complain about his imprecision.
Later, Oliver walked her home, through the gloaming, a snow still falling gently around them. When he arrived, he didn’t delay in asking Juliet’s father for her hand in marriage. And Juliet’s father, who saw the joy in his daughter’s face and who’d always been fond of Oliver, made no delay in giving his blessing to the match.
That night, Juliet sat by the window in the drawing room and stared out into the darkness, thinking about a waltz in the snow and kisses in the winter air. Perhaps Juliet’s mother also saw the joy in her daughter’s face, because, for once, she didn’t snap at her for daydreaming.
Juliet wondered if love and happiness could be contagious. She thought the world would be a better place if they were.
And all through Christmastide, through the darkest nights of the year, and beyond them, the love in her heart was more than enough to sustain its own warmth and light.
Cold, arrogant, and demanding Henry Eldridge, Marquess of Riverton, would never dally with a mere servant. But when Henry is injured in a horrible fire, his pretty housekeeper Cassandra nurses him back to health, throwing them together day and night. As he slowly heals from his burns, their friendship blossoms, and the class walls between them start to crumble. Cassandra is surprised by glimpses of a kind and thoughtful man beneath her employer’s hard façade—and even more surprised when she develops tender feelings for him. But anything between lord and servant is impossible…and besides, as a widow, she knows love only leads to heartbreak.Henry is changing, as well. His close brush with death has opened his eyes to his self-imposed emotional isolation…and has urgently reminded him of his duty to marry a well-bred lady and produce an heir. Determined to do right by his family name, he immediately begins searching for a suitable bride. But Cassandra is the only woman who is never far from his mind or his heart. Contrary to everything he’s been taught to believe, he realizes his lovely housekeeper might just be his perfect match. Now, if only he could convince everyone else of that. Especially Cassandra…
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