A Match Made in Mistletoe(4)

By: Anna Campbell

So why did his casual kiss stop the world? At the cool brush of his lips across her cheek, shivery heat rippled through her. She closed her eyes, fighting for balance.

“Serena?” Giles’s soft, deep voice—why had she never before recognized its beauty?—seemed to come from far away.

She blinked and with surprising reluctance, stepped apart from him. Another horrid blush stained her cheeks, and she only just stopped herself from raising a hand to touch where he’d kissed her. Her skin burned where his lips had touched.

Drat that dream. It had turned her batty.

Reluctantly, she met Giles’s eyes. Dark and somber, they settled on her face. She’d learned through the years that little escaped his penetrating intelligence. The idea of him seeing her confusion made her cringe.

“Welcome home,” she stammered, only realizing what she said after the words emerged.

For once, Giles’s smile lacked an edge. “Well, that’s a nice reception.”

She blinked again to bring the bustling room into focus and realized that the whole interaction had lasted mere seconds. Mary and Paul weren’t looking at them but discussing some mutual acquaintance.

Still those enigmatic eyes examined her face. She shifted awkwardly from one foot to the other. “I…I meant…”

To her surprise, he touched her cheek with one elegant hand. Mostly Giles kept his distance from her. Gestures of affection were unheard of. “Don’t spoil it.”

The brush of his fingers was almost as devastating to her composure as his kiss. “Spoil?”

Could she sound any more like a complete ninnyhammer? Paul stood beside her, yet her attention riveted on Giles.

Giles was still smiling with a sweetness she’d never before associated with brooding Lord Hallam. “I’ve always thought of Torver as my home, presumptuous as that may be.”

“What about Lanyon Castle?” The Marquess of Hallam had vast estates in Devon. She’d never visited them, but Paul and Frederick had spoken with awe of the splendors of the Farraday feudal pile.

“Brr.” Giles gave a theatrical shiver. “Just thinking about the place makes me feel like I’m coming down with a cold.”

She frowned. He might sound like he was joking, but something in his expression made her wonder if he was. “It sounds magnificent.”

The irony crept back into his smile, and she found herself regretting the loss of that unsuspected sweetness. “Oh, it’s that, all right.”

“But not a home?”

“It takes love to make a home.”

Before she could question his statement—surely the most astonishing part of what had so far proven an astonishing day—he turned to speak to Belinda and Frederick who had dodged darting attacks from overexcited youngsters to reach the fireplace.

Released at last from his blazing black gaze, Serena took her first full breath since that extraordinary kiss. When Giles stared at her, she’d felt as though someone tightened a strap around her chest.

What in the name of all that was holy had just happened?

Nothing. Everything.

Who knew Giles concealed a romantic streak beneath his cynical hide?

But that wasn’t what had made her heart clench with poignant emotion. No, what made her ache was the revelation that beneath his rakish dash, Giles Farraday was lonely.

* * *

Giles looked out the window of the bedroom he always used at Torver House and pondered the bleak winter landscape outside. The estate nestled in a pretty valley where a river ran down toward the distant sea.

But that wasn’t what he saw, as he stood above gardens and fields, hills and coppices, all bare with the season.

No, his attention was centered on the knot garden directly below, where his best friend walked in the gathering dusk with the only woman Giles had ever wanted. His best friend, who had informed him a week ago that this Christmas, he meant to offer for Serena Talbot and that he had every hope of being accepted.

Of course he did. He’d be a deuced blockhead if he didn’t.

The girl had never had eyes for anyone else. And Paul was quite the catch. Rich, handsome, honorable.

And, Giles admitted grudgingly, a damned nice fellow.

There were no impediments to the match. The families were close, Serena would make the perfect chatelaine for Paul’s charming Palladian house. After the wedding, she wouldn’t even have to move far from the parents she loved. Paul’s estates were only several miles away from Torver.

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