Once Upon a Winter's Eve (Spindle Cove 1.5)

Page 15

“I wonder that you took the trouble to come all this way back to England,” Jemison said. “Wouldn’t it have been simpler to catch a ship from Antigua to Guiana instead?”
“Undoubtedly,” Christian agreed. “But I had an important errand to see to here in London. ”
“An errand?” Jemison chuckled. “Important enough for you to cross an ocean?”
Christian’s warm, spice-brown eyes caught Violet’s gaze. “Important enough for me to cross a world. On hands and knees. And then double-back to cross it again. ”
Violet’s heart melted. Her knees tended toward a liquid state too.
“You see,” he went on, “I came back all this way for one reason only. To ask Miss Winterbottom to dance. ” His gloved hand reached for hers, and he whispered tenderly, “Will you, Violet?”
“Yes. Oh, yes. ”
They moved to the dance floor, leaving Mr. Jemison with two cups of ratafia and an expression of abject confusion. Violet felt a twinge of remorse, but she forgot it soon enough when they reached the dance floor.
As Christian’s hand slid between her shoulder blades, his sharp intake of breath was audible. Tears pressed to her eyes.
To be so near to him, after so many months… She could barely abide having a foot of space between their bodies. She wanted to throw herself against his strong chest, feel the tight embrace of his arms, inhale deeply of his unique scent. Her body warmed, and her sense of rhythm deserted her. They weren’t moving in time with the music at all, but neither of them cared.
“From the shock in everyone’s eyes,” he murmured, “it would seem you kept your end of the bargain. ”
“It wasn’t easy. I’ve amassed quite a cadre of suitors, you know. ”
“I can’t claim to be surprised. ” His eyes narrowed. “But I will admit to being jealous. ”
“You needn’t be. In all these months, I’ve scarcely thought of anything but you. I’m so glad you’re safe. ” As she squeezed his arm tight, emotion swelled in her breast. “How long before you must leave again? Please tell me we have more than just one night. ”
“We have a few weeks. ”
Oh God. Only a few weeks?
“We’ll make the most of them,” she said, trying to be strong. This was Christian’s career, his tribute to Frederick, his solemn duty in the service of the Crown. If he could bear the separation, so could she. “I assume you aren’t really going to Guiana?”
He drew her close and whispered in her ear. “No, my love. We are going to the south of France. ”
“We?” Her heart leapt. Oh, the stab of pure hope—it was sharp and sweet. “Did you say we?”
“Assuming you agree, of course. ”
“You know I’d follow you anywhere. But France? The war is over. Napoleon is to be exiled. ”
“Many of his supporters remain. Vigilance is necessary, particularly to the south. So I have a new appointment. I’m to be an itinerant professor, of all things. God knows I’ll need your help to manage that. The living won’t be much, but I’ve been promised a cottage near some vineyards. The countryside is beautiful, I hear. ”
Violet had no doubt of it. A picture appeared in her mind’s eye. Rolling hills scored with rows of grapevines. An ancient cottage with green shutters, nestled on a south-facing slope. White, freshly laundered linens hanging from a line and billowing like sails in the lavender-scented breeze. Dogs. Chickens.
Excitement buoyed her next twirl in the dance. “It’s going to be perfect. ”
He grinned. “I know I promised you a lavish affair. But can you make do with a simple wedding? They’d want us settled by late summer, and you’ll have training to complete. I’d like a proper honeymoon before we depart. ”
“I’d like that too. Where shall we honeymoon?”
“Anywhere. ” He pulled her indecently close, and his hand slid down her spine until his fingertips grazed her backside. Heat flared between their bodies. “So long as I have you and a warm, soft bed, we don’t need exotic scenery. We don’t even need clothing. ”
She laughed to herself. Oh, what a wonderful, thrilling, passionate, love-filled life they were going to share.
“From tonight on, we should speak French whenever we’re alone. They will give us new names, but I shall make a habit of calling you mon ange, to make it easier. Have you come up with a new pet name for me?” He lifted a brow. “I hope I’m no longer The Disappointment. ”
“Certainly not. ” Tilting her head to give him an assessing look, she ran through possible endearments in her mind… mon coeur, mon amour, mon cher.
“Ma moitié,” she decided. “My half. Because when you left, my heart was ripped right down the middle. And when you came back, you made my joy complete. ” Her voice broke a little, and her gaze fell to the snowy drifts of his cravat. “Christian, I… I wouldn’t know how to live without you. ”
He stopped dancing and slid both hands to her face, tilting her gaze to his. His eyes were solemn and ardent. “You will never need to learn. ”
All onlookers were forgotten. The ballroom ceased to exist. They closed the distance between them, each leaning forward by slow degrees…until their lips met in the middle.
Two halves of one perfect, passionate kiss.