It was a snowy Christmas Eve in 1981. I was home from my freshman year in college for the holiday break. My boyfriend, Garry, picked me up for our date in his old truck. We saw a movie, a bad one, but neither of us paid much attention. We were in love, it was dark, and there was plenty of time for kissing, after all. What Iâ€™d assumed would be a normal date turned out to be more. So much more that I thought my heart might burst. I received a gift, something we had talked about but wasnâ€™t supposed to happen yet.
Garry gave me an engagement ring.
We sat in the front seat of his truck beneath a streetlight. He handed me the tiny green cloth bag. Inside was a box with glittery gold lettering of the jewelry store.
The jewelry store!
His dark eyes squinted at the corners. â€œWell arenâ€™t you going to open it?â€
He smiled. â€œJust open it.â€
The hinges squeaked as I popped open the box. Inside was a 1/3 carat diamond ring that sparkled when it caught a gleam from the streetlight.
Garry reached for my hand. â€œI love you. Will you please marry me?â€
I blinked back tears. â€œYes. I love you more than you could ever dream.â€
He and I had been inseparable since the first night we met in the spring of my senior year in high school. When Iâ€™d first set eyes on him, I knew. He was different. Special. The one Iâ€™d been seeking.
The ring fit my finger perfectly, as if made for only me and no other girl in the whole world. In my heart I knew the gold band and diamond had been made for me, just as Garry had always been meant to be mine.
The love of my life wanted to marry me. We would never have to be apart again. Wouldnâ€™t have to say goodbye at the end of a date. Could share a home, a bed, a life.
It was the most perfect Christmas gift.
More than a ring.
The promise of a life together.
Is the chance for love worth the risk of a broken heart?
Cecilia Fletcher yearns for true love with the man of her heart. A life of her own away from her demanding mother would be an added benefit. But in order to do that, Cecilia must live a lie, making it necessary to use a false name in order to hide a family secret.
Barrington Radcliff was betrayed by a woman who he thought loved him. Because of that, trust is hard to willingly give. When he meets pretty Cecilia Fleming, his heart wants to give her a chance. Something about her doesnâ€™t ring true, but Barrington allows love to overrule his good judgment.
Can Cecilia and Barrington get past their hurt and secrets long enough to find true love?
Music from a different song began. Suddenly Barrington longed for nothing more than to hold Miss Fleming in his arms and never let her go. To sway to the music, twirl her dainty frame around and press his fingers to her waist once more. Would she place her hand on his shoulder, the other snuggly fitted in his?
â€œMiss Fleming, might I have the pleasure of a turn about the floor?â€
She blinked. The corners of her lips rose, the left side a tiny bit higher than the right. Adorable. â€œYes. I would like that. Very much.â€
The full skirt of her gown swished against his trouser leg as she stood. A ripple of desire went through him. From her gown? He swallowed hard. Something about this woman grabbed hold of him down deep inside. It was as if heâ€™d never truly lived until he met her. But how could that be?
Miss Fleming placed one hand on his shoulder, the other in his hand. They began to dance but she appeared to be inordinately interested in her slippers. Were they new? Perhaps she was concerned they would get scuffed amidst all the moving feet close by.
â€œYour slippers are lovely, Miss Fleming.â€
She inhaled sharply and raised her gaze to his. â€œOh. Thank you.â€
â€œI thought perhaps you were concerned for their well-being.â€
She shook her head, but the hint of a smile played at her lips.
â€œAre you enjoying your stay with your cousins?â€
â€œHave you done anything of particular enjoyment while there?â€
She lifted one shoulder. â€œNo.â€
Would he be required to have the whole conversation on his own? Maybe she was nervous. Sometimes crowds did that to people. Heâ€™d never particularly liked them. Perhaps if he could find something about which she was interested, she would be more willing to speak. Barrington twirled her around and sighed when she was rested once again in his arms. â€œDo you enjoy dancing?â€
â€œHow aboutâ€¦ card games? Have a particular favorite?â€
Wisps of hair danced around her face as she shook her head.
This wasnâ€™t going at all as planned. There must be something. He had a feeling that conversing about a topic as benign as the weather wouldnâ€™t coax any more from her than a shrug. â€œAre you fond of animals? Have any pets?â€
Her eyes sparkled and her entire face lit from within. â€œOh, I adore cats.â€
â€œDo you? Splendid.â€ Finally, something had caught her interest.
â€œMy catâ€™s name is Henry.â€
â€œNamed after a king?â€
She laughed. â€œNo, although Iâ€™m sure he thinks of himself as royalty.â€
â€œDoes he perhaps sport a tiny crown?â€
â€œCarry a tiny scepter around in his paws?â€
Her eyes crinkled at the corners. â€œIâ€™m afraid not, although if I could procure something of that nature, it would be fun to try.â€
â€œThe cats Iâ€™ve known over the years never struck me as being malleable and complacent enough to allow something to be placed on their heads, much less in their paws.â€
â€œYouâ€™re probably right. I suppose Iâ€™ll have to settle for using my imagination when it comes to dressing Henry in anything other than what he already wears.â€
Barrington lowered his brow. â€œYour cat wears clothing?â€
She sputtered a laugh and then covered her mouth with her hand. â€œNo. But he does wear fur, you know.â€
â€œGood point. Iâ€™m sure heâ€™d get quite cold in winter otherwise.â€
She stumbled and he pulled her close. But only for a moment. Any more than that and the whole room full of attendees would murmur and stare. Barrington stepped back to an acceptable distance.
â€œPardon me.â€ She glanced up, her gaze resting on his. Those eyesâ€¦ so incredible in color and surrounded by longÂ lashes.
â€œFor what, may I ask?â€
She looked down again to her slippers. â€œIâ€™m afraid Iâ€™m rather clumsy.â€
â€œNonsense. You dance beautifully.â€ She did seem a trifle unused to the steps, but of course, he would never make comment. Surely sheâ€™d been brought up learning to dance, as all of his peers had.
â€œNow youâ€™re just being kind.â€
Barrington gave her hand a gentle squeeze. â€œIf Iâ€™m being kind, itâ€™s only a natural inclination to your sweet disposition.â€
An attractive tinge of pink appeared on her cheeks. â€œThank you, Mr. Radcliff.â€
Barrington stared at her lips as she spoke. He couldnâ€™t help it. Their fullness rose and fell with each syllable, alternately exposing and covering her tongue as if playing a game of hide and seek.
Miss Fleming tilted her head and blinked as if waiting for something.
Waitingâ€¦ What was sheâ€”? Oh.Â â€œYou are quite welcome.â€
She shifted her gaze to the left and then right. Had he said something inappropriate so she was choosing not to engage him further? Barrington tried to recall their short conversation. Nothing stood out as being off-putting or rude. What could it be?
Barrington glanced about the room. He and his Miss Fleming were the only ones dancing. A glance down showed him that his feet were indeed still moving.Â Stop that at once! Only then did he notice the absence of music and people grinning at him as they passed by.
Good heavens. Iâ€™m losing my faculties.
Miss Fleming bit her lip and her face reddened. The color spread to her neck and all the way down to herâ€”
You canâ€™t stare at a womanÂ there.Â Especially not in public!Â â€œP-pardon me, Miss Fleming. W-would you care for some refreshment?â€
She extracted her hand from his and placed it on his arm. â€œThat would be quite lovely. Thank you.â€
I hadnâ€™t even let go of her hand yet. Barringtonâ€™s legs were as quivery as pudding when they made their way from the ballroom floor. What was happening to him? The tiny wisp of a girl brought him practically to his knees.
Barrington wasnâ€™t brave enough to look at his partner, but was fairly certain her polite cough covered a tiny laugh.
Oh the horror.
I’m giving away three digital copies of The Unwanted Earl. Comment for a chance to win.
Amelia Talbot has been issued a death sentence. At least it feels that way. The thought of marrying a man old enough to be her grandfather sends her into a panic. So much so that she sets off on a desperate search to find another man to marry herâ€”quickly.
Conrad Croome, the Fifth Earl of Lofton, knows all too well that blackmail isnâ€™t the way to form a marriage. How ironic that one Amelia Talbot uses a Croome family secret heâ€™d thought long buried to force him to marry her.
Is Conrad doomed to a life of marriage based on an exposed secret, or could Amelia learn to love an unwanted earl?