A Match Made in Mistletoe(2)

By: Anna Campbell

“You!” she spat, lurching back.

“Indeed,” Giles Farraday, Lord Hallam, drawled.

That deep voice echoed in her ears when she jerked up against her pillows in gasping horror.

What madness was this? She was meant to marry Paul, not his sarcastic, annoying friend, the Marquess of Hallam. Good heavens, she wasn’t even sure she liked Giles. She hated how he watched her, as if he saw past her outward poise to the wild, headstrong girl inside. If it was her choice, she wouldn’t have him to stay at Torver. But he’d been a regular visitor since his schooldays. And when the young Serena had asked her mother not to invite the quiet, dark-haired boy, she’d promptly received a scolding for lack of charity.

Giles Farraday was an orphan. His parents had died in India, and he had no family to go to at Christmas. He and Paul had been great friends since they’d met at Eton, although she’d never understood why. Paul was beautiful and golden, an Apollo. Giles was dark and difficult, a Vulcan or a Hades. Giles’s humor leaned toward the black, while Paul’s was unfailingly sunny.

With a choked growl of disappointment and anger, she ripped the mistletoe from beneath her pillow and flung it to the floor.

She should know better than to trust in old wives’ tales.

Chapter One

* * *

Serena still felt out of sorts the next afternoon, when the carriages rolled up to Torver House to disgorge the Christmas guests. A fortnight of family and friends and fun lay ahead. Or so she told herself as she trudged downstairs to join her parents on the wide front stairs, where they waited to welcome the visitors. The house was set on a rise above the train of vehicles making their way along the winding drive.

The day was fine and cold, with a pale, wintry sun in a pale, wintry sky. Beside her, her ebullient, gray-haired father was almost incandescent with anticipation. There was nothing Sir George loved better than this yearly gathering of Talbot connections. Her mother, a more contained personality than her father, looked equally pleased in her serene way.

First to bound up the stairs toward Serena was her brother Frederick, tall, dark and exuberant like their father. Followed by Serena’s older sisters Belinda and Mary with their families, and a horde of aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends.

By the time everyone shifted into the great hall for spiced wine and gingerbread, the air resounded with laughter and squeals of excitement. Gangs of children chased each other through the cavernous room hung with boughs of Christmas greenery, and various dogs added to the mayhem.

Serena found refuge from the cheerful chaos beside the hearth, where the Yule log blazed. Most years, she loved this explosion of life in a house that had become sadly quiet since her sisters married and her brother took up residence in London. But now, a headache nagged at her, and she couldn’t help wishing that the children weren’t quite so ecstatic to see their cousins.

“Serena, are you all right?” Mary asked, coming up beside her.

Serena forced a smile. “Fine.”

Searching gray eyes, so like her own, leveled on her. “You don’t seem yourself.”

She didn’t feel like herself, but even to this, her favorite sister, she couldn’t confess the details of last night’s unsettling dream. Anyway, what was there to confess?

A footman opened the main doors to some latecomers, distracting Mary. To Serena’s relief. “Ah, here are Paul and Giles,” her sister said with transparent pleasure.

Two vigorous young men strode into the crowded hall and stopped beneath the kissing bough suspended near the door. Torver House always set up a mistletoe corner, although the decoration was less extravagant than the one in St. Lawrence’s.

In her ears if not in reality, the cacophony receded, and for one breathless moment, Serena observed the new arrivals as if she’d never seen them before. Which was mad, when she’d known Paul since she was a baby, and Giles since eight-year-old Frederick had brought the orphaned marquess home the Christmas after he started at school.

Sir Paul Garside was a sight to set any girl’s heart fluttering. The handsomest man she’d ever seen. Tall. Golden. Perfectly turned out in a dark-blue coat that matched his eyes. At ease with his world.

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