Christmas With The Marquis
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The Yule log was satisfactorily ablaze, although Abigail muttered about how it was a shame they didn’t have a sliver from last year to light it with. Jared turned away so she wouldn’t see his smile. Hell, he couldn’t even remember where he’d been last Xmas. All the footman were bringing in berry-laden holly and laurel as well as the mistletoe, and under Abigail’s direction swags of greenery were twined down the stair rails and around the mantels on the fireplace. Ivy and holly made sumptuous wreaths around the base of every candlestick on the dinner table.
The entire house smelled wonderful. The mulled cider was kept accessible through out the day, with everyone welcome to warm themselves when they came in from the cold. Jared served himself and walked casually to lean against the wall, cup in hand. He found it hard to believe this cold mansion could be so transformed. Everyone, guest or servant, was going about the tasks Abigail has assigned, and everyone had a smile on their lips.
By god but she’d make a wonderful Marchioness. And eventually, a wonderful Duchess.
She was perfect. And for the first time in his life, he was not at all certain he would win the one girl he wanted.
To his surprise Abigail turned from the garland she was twining around the staircase, and walked up to him.
“Jared, have you noticed the snow is falling more thickly?” Her eyes were as excited as a child’s. “We’re going to have a really white Christmas.”
He grinned. “Do you think it will be thick enough we’ll be forced to miss the Christmas service at the church? I’ll start thinking up pleasant alternatives if you’d like.”
She laughed. “You’re a heathen, aren’t you? Don’t worry, I’m sure we can make it to the church.” Her eyes lit. “Do you by any chance have a sleigh? Oh, I’ve got to go see.”
He grabbed her arm. “I have no idea, but I’ll send a footman to find out. If we have one it will be half buried in some barn. You insane girl, you’re enjoying all this fuss and bother, aren’t you?”
She didn’t look at him, but she whispered a reluctant yes, and then spun away. Fleeing the room, and him.
He swore under his breath. He nearly gave up and went to his room with a bottle of brandy. But some niggling feeling kept him there.
It was not a nice feeling. A premonition of danger overtook even his lust for Abigail. Something was wrong and he didn’t know what it was. He searched the rooms until he found Abigail wrapping some small objects in glittering paper. She immediately stood and swept everything behind her.
“Go away, Jared. This is a surprise for everyone!”
What he wanted to do was scoop her up in his arms and carry her to his bed. He’d lock her in his room to keep her safe, if she’d only let him.
Instead he looked at with a grave expression she’d never seen.
“Come, Abigail. Something is wrong and I don’t know what it is. I want you protected. Let me see you to your room and you can lock the door behind me. I intend to have the property searched and want to know you’re safe while I do so.”
She put both hands to her lips. “Jared, you’re frightening me.”
“Then let me make you safe. I promise to consult with you in the morning, if you’ll stay in your room tonight.”
“Of course, Jared.”
Holding her hand tightly, he walked her to her door, planted a sweet kiss on each eye and then her lips, waited till he heard the lock turn, and left. At least Abigail had let him kiss her three times, even if they were only little pecks instead of the deep embrace he longed to give her.
It was getting too dark to search far or well, but at least the intruder he intuitively felt was on the property would know he was alert.