A Match Made in Mistletoe(3)

By: Anna Campbell

Unwillingly, almost afraid, she let her attention stray to Paul’s companion. Dark. Quieter than Paul. Compelling in his self-possession.

Serena had always disbelieved the gossip that painted Giles as the gentleman the London ladies pursued. But even across the vast hall, something hot and dangerous quivered into life inside her when those unreadable obsidian eyes settled on her.

“Serena?” Mary said sharply, shattering her odd reaction. “Are you listening to me?”

Serena’s cheeks heated as she met her sister’s curious eyes. “Sorry, Mary. I was miles away.”

“No doubt dreaming of a June wedding to Paul Garside,” her sister snapped.

Serena’s blush deepened, and she checked quickly to see if anyone had overheard. “Shh.”

Mary rolled her eyes. “Nobody’s paying any attention. And what if they are? Your penchant for Paul is no secret.”

“Oh, how mortifying,” Serena said in horror.

“Well, in the family at least. It’s possible Paul doesn’t know. Men are always so clueless about things like that.”

“I…I like Paul, I always have.” Why on earth did that statement convey an edge of desperation?

“Of course you do. He’ll make you a wonderful husband. If you mean to catch him, you must know you’ve got the family’s approval.”

Serena’s annoyance persisted, although she wasn’t sure why. “I had no idea my hopes were subject to such speculation.”

Mary’s laugh was dismissive. “You’re mutton-headed if you don’t. A couple of years ago, Mamma made us all promise not to mention it, because you’re such a contrary creature, you might go off the idea.”

Serena’s attention returned to Paul. Her father and mother were giving him a rapturous welcome. Odd how difficult it was to resist looking toward his acerbic friend standing beside him, also welcomed, also loved. “When I was ten years old, I made up my mind to marry him.”

“And why not? It will be a marvelous match. We all love Paul.”

Why did Mary’s chirpy certainty grate? “You make it sound as if we’re already engaged.”

Mary subjected her to a thorough inspection and finished with a satisfied nod. “You’ve turned into a bit of a diamond in the last year or so. And the word is that Paul has noticed.”

This should be exactly what Serena wanted to hear, especially as she’d always been a harum-scarum disaster, more inclined to climb a tree or play a hectic game of cricket, than sit with her embroidery.

So why wasn’t she overjoyed at Mary’s praise—and the news that her family approved of her suitor? This niggle of discontent made no sense at all.

Before she could fathom her odd reaction, Paul and Giles approached.

“And here are my two favorite girls.” Paul smiled with the brilliance of a man who never doubted his welcome wherever he went. “Mary, you’re looking the picture of health. And, Serena, how lovely you are today. If we were under the mistletoe, I’d kiss you.”

“You may kiss me anyway.” She smiled at Paul and took his outstretched hands. “It’s the privilege of old friendship.”

Paul bent to kiss her cheek. She waited for the usual thrill at the touch of his lips. But the fleeting contact left her unmoved. Dear Lord, what was wrong with her?

As she drew away, she caught Giles’s interested gaze and stupidly, she blushed. The memory of that horrible dream constricted her breathing, so she sounded cursed fluttery as she greeted Paul’s friend. “And, Giles, welcome back to Torver. Did you have a good trip up from London?”

"Serena, how cruel.” Ironic humor lengthened Giles’s lips. “You’ve known me nearly as long as you’ve known this vagabond, yet I don’t merit the same rights?”

“Same?” Puzzled, she stared up at him. He towered over her, taller than Paul. How had she never noted that before?

A purr of laughter escaped him as he leaned in. “Who needs mistletoe?”

He’d kissed her before in silly Christmas games. Since their first term at Eton, Frederick had invited Paul and Giles to spend school holidays at Torver House. While Giles’s visits in recent years had become rarer, he’d never missed a Christmas. He was part of the fabric of her life.

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