07-14-18 Cassandra O’Leary

Monday, December 17, 2012

Don't Forget the Mistletoe - a little Christmas romance

by Christy Carlyle

The Westerley’s annual Christmas gathering
London, 1887

     “You’re not going to marry Eliza Hobbs, are you?”
     The question took Benedict Poole utterly by surprise, so much so that he nearly tripped over his own feet. One moment he had been indulging in the pleasure of playful banter with the prettiest girl in the room, and in the next she had shocked him to his boots. He regained his balance quickly but couldn’t keep the irritation from his voice when he responded to the young woman at his elbow. “What makes you say such a thing?”
     “You spent a good deal of time with her at the Newland’s dinner party, and I heard that you accompanied her to mama's gathering tonight.” Was that a flush of pink he saw on Amy’s cheek? He noted that she was suddenly very interested in studying the cut of the crystal glass in her hand.
     “I offered her the use of my carriage. I delivered her to your house. Not the same thing at all.” It was the truth. He had as much interest in Eliza Hobbs as he did in any of the other eligible young ladies in his circle. He did his duty, danced when necessary, offered the use of his carriage when needed, but none of them endangered his heart. His heart was secure. Uselessly, pointlessly devoted to the one woman who had no interest in it at all.
     “You aren’t going to marry her then?”
     Amelia Westerley was nothing if not tenacious. It was one of her qualities that he most admired. But her newfound interest in his marital status was a shock. More than a shock, it was an irony. He had only ever asked for one woman’s hand in marriage, and Amy had refused him.
     “Are you so eager to marry me off?” He wondered, for the first time, if their continuing friendship was difficult for her too. For very different reasons, of course. She would want him married off to be secure from any more unwanted declarations of love.
     The Westerley’s home suddenly seemed too crowded and the fire in the drawing room grate blazed too high for comfort. Benedict began devising an excuse so that he could make an early departure without causing too much offense.
     “No!” Amy must have felt the heat too, as her cheeks were clearly flushed with color. He felt the light pressure of her hand on his upper arm. She was warm. He savored the heat of her fingertips as they grasped him.
     “Don’t marry her, Ben.”
     He looked into the mirror over the mantle and studied her as she turned to him, practically pleading with him. She looked strikingly beautiful, with that pink flush in her cheeks and a sparkle in her eyes. His hopeful heart thought, for just a moment, that it read a glint of desire in those glistening eyes. No, she did not desire him in that way. They had crossed that ground already. That was the way of pain. Those notions were the road to folly.
     When he didn’t speak, she continued. “I have heard things about her.”
     “Amy, you know how I detest gossip. Spare me a recitation of the latest girlish tittle tattle.” He lifted his cup and drank down the final swig of Mrs. Westerley’s warm Christmas punch, determined to put an end to this evening. He had looked forward to it for weeks, mostly for the opportunity to see Amy, but no amount of overly spiced punch could blunt the pain of discussing matrimony with the one woman who would not consider it with him.
     “I am not a girl anymore. What you call gossip may simply be facts shared among friends. Facts that one should know before yoking yourself to a woman for life. I know you are eager to marry, but—”
     “Who says I am eager to marry?” Amy didn’t answer. She opened her mouth as if to speak and he could see that she was nearly bursting with some emotion. But still she said nothing. He wanted to help her, to draw from her all of the emotion that he could read in her lovely face, whatever it might be.
     He wanted to recapture the ease they had shared in each other’s company earlier in evening. Conversations that ambled from topic to unrelated topic and good-natured mutual teasing had been the hallmarks of their interaction almost from the moment they had met.
     Before he could speak and say something benign to cut through the growing tension between them, she struck him speechless by reaching out to take his hands. As she was at home, she had not worn gloves and he had shed his own with his coat and hat.
     It had been so long since he had touched her bare flesh. He recalled the moment the previous September when he’d held her hands, caressed her face. He had been the one pleading then. A surge of pain came with the memory, fresh and sharp, as if her rejection had been just yesterday.
     “Amy, I must go—”
     She cut him off. “You can’t go.” Nothing she could say could persuade him, not even her supple hands still holding his tightly. “Have you forgotten about the mistletoe?”
     “Mistletoe?” His lips formed the word, but his thoughts scattered as if a stiff wind had just blown through the Westerley’s stuffy drawing room.
     Amy tugged at his hands, pulling him a few steps into a corner of the room, not far from the glow of the fragrant, candlelit Christmas tree. A sprig of mistletoe hung from a red satin ribbon above their heads.
     “You do know what you must do under the mistletoe, don’t you?” Benedict sensed no tension in Amy’s expression now. Indeed, a smile a curved her lips and she stood close, achingly close to him.
     He slid his hand along the sleeve of her dress, grasped her arm, and pulled her closer. “Has something changed, Amy?” Hope flared in his chest like an ember.
     “Yes.” Her voice was quiet, nearly a whisper. Benedict leaned closer, relishing her familiar rosewater scent.
     His voice grew husky, the words thick in his mouth. “Shall I kiss you, Amy?”
     She didn’t answer, not with words, but she lifted up on her tiptoes and pressed her mouth to his. Benedict slid his arms around her waist and held her as tightly as he dared, gently, fearful of breaking the spell that had placed his heart’s desire back in his arms.
     All too soon, she pulled away from the kiss, but she did not move out of his embrace. Another question filled his mind. A question he had asked once before and vowed never to ask anyone again. He could not fathom a change of heart or surviving the pain of another rejection. Now, with Amy in his arms and a love that mirrored his own shining in her eyes, he thought Christmas might just be the right time to risk his heart again.


Judith Ashley said...

Another winner! I love all your stories, Christy. Thank you for sharing Benedict and Amy's.

Sarah Raplee said...

Thank you for the lovely story, Christy!

Christy Carlyle said...

Thank you, Judith and Sarah, for your kind words. Like most of my short story characters, I'd love to give these two their full story. :)

Thanks again!

Paty Jager said...

A heartwarming Christmas treat! The emotion was wonderfully played out. Great job, Christy!

Cathryn Cade said...


Another teaser ... I so look forward to a longer story from you.

Altho I'll never miss one of your short stories!


Anonymous said...

Absolutely lovely. Thank you so much for this holiday treat.