With over reviews here at GR and over 1, ratings Am I the last person on Earth to read this book? Why oh why did I wait so long to join the Wallflowers fan club? I adored this book! I love a good Cinderella story. And I love a scandalous rake. And I love Cinderella and a rake together!
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Singularly low, as if instead of being so close beside him, it were at a distance. As she continued to read, the magic of Mr. Christmas was a feeling. But Rafe had refrained from taking any such liberty, mainly because she seemed so determined to entice him into it. After Hannah had left the lower terrace, Natalie had been defensive and sheepish, telling him that men were fortunate not to require chaperones everywhere they went, because at times it could be maddening.
And Rafe had agreed gravely that it must indeed be quite inconvenient, but at the same time Miss Appleton struck him as tolerable company. And her mother is deceased. Perhaps I was a bit harsh on her a few moments ago, but she was being unreasonable. We should probably take you upstairs before we cause gossip. It was easy to like Lady Natalie, who was clever and pretty. And it would be no hardship to bed her. Marrying her would hardly be a difficult price to pay, to get the business deal he wanted with his father.
Oh, she was a bit spoiled and pettish, to be sure, but no more than most young women of her position. Moreover, her beauty and connections and breeding would make her a wife whom other men would envy him for.
As he walked with her toward the main entrance hall, they passed by the open door of the library, where he had conversed recently with his father. A very different scene greeted his gaze now. Warm light from the hearth pushed flickering shadows to the corners, spreading a quiet glow through the room. Hannah Appleton sat in a large chair, reading aloud, surrounded by a group of avidly listening children. An elderly man had nodded off by the hearth, his chin resting on the ample berth of his chest.
He snuffled now and then as a mischievous boy reached up to tickle his chin with a feather. But the boy soon left off, drawn into the story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his visitation by a Christmas spirit. Rafe had not yet read the wildly popular book, but he recognized the story after hearing a few lines. A Christmas Carol had been so quoted and discussed that its ever-growing fame had become rather off-putting to Rafe.
He had dismissed it as a bit of sentimental candy floss, not worthy of wasting his time with. Accompanied by the Spirit of Christmas Past, Scrooge was viewing himself as he had been as a schoolboy, lonely and isolated during the holidays until his younger sister had come to collect him.
She flashed a quick smile at Natalie. But her expression was more guarded as she looked at Rafe. Returning her attention to the book, she continued to read. Rafe was aware of that same warm, curious pull he felt every time he was near Hannah. She looked adorably rumpled, sitting in the large chair with one slippered foot drawn up beneath her.
He wanted to play with her, kiss her, pull that shiny hair down and comb his fingers through it. Rafe felt a mild sting of annoyance. Natalie wanted to go somewhere else and continue their earlier conversation, and flirt, and perhaps have a taste of the adult pleasures that were so new to her, and so damnably familiar to him.
Natalie was too clever to show her impatience. Rafe stood at the mantel, leaned a shoulder against it, and glued his gaze to Hannah as the story continued. Scrooge witnessed more from his past, including the merry Fezziwig ball. A mournful scene followed, in which he was confronted by a young woman who had loved him but was now accepting that his desire for riches had surpassed all else.
I do; and I release you. He had seen and experienced enough of the world to resist the pull of maudlin stories. But as he stood listening to Hannah, he felt unaccountable heat spreading through him, and it had nothing to do with the crackling fire in the hearth. Hannah read the Christmas story with an innocent conviction and pleasure that was too genuine for him to resist.
He wanted to be alone with her and listen to her low, charming voice for hours. He wanted to lay his head in her lap until he could feel the curve of her thigh against his cheek. As Rafe stared at her, he felt the quickening of arousal, the rising warmth of tenderness, and an ache of yearning. Sweet God, he would have married her on the spot.
But that was impossible, not to mention unfair to Natalie. And thinking it made him feel every bit the cad that Hannah had accused him of being. As Hannah finished the second chapter, and laughingly promised the clamoring children that she would read more the following night, Rafe made an unselfish wish for someone else for the first time in his life…that Hannah would someday find a man who would love her.
Some of the guests were still congregated there, including her husband, who stood in the corner speaking privately with Eleanor, Lady Kittridge. Trying to ignore the cold needling in her stomach, Lillian went to Daisy, who had just finished talking with some of the children. Nothing at all. Why do you ask? Daisy waited patiently. Her suspicion was too awful to voice. Her husband was interested in another woman.
Not that anything would come of it, because Westcliff was a man of absolute honor. It was simply not in him ever to betray his wife, no matter how acute the temptation. Lillian knew that he would always be faithful to her, at least physically. But she wanted his heart, all of it, and to see the signs of his attraction to someone else made Lillian want to die.
Everyone had said from the beginning that the earl of West-cliff and a brash American heiress were the most improbable pairing imaginable. And for his part, Marcus had seemed to enjoy her irreverence and high-spirited nature.
The past two years of marriage had been more wonderful than Lillian could have ever dreamed. But lately Westcliff had started paying marked attention to Lady Kittridge, a gorgeous young widow who had everything in common with him. Lady Kittridge was the perfect woman for Westcliff. At first Lillian had not worried about the interactions between Lady Kittridge and her husband. Women were always throwing themselves at Westcliff, who was one of the most powerful men in England. But then a correspondence had begun.
And soon afterward he had gone to visit her, ostensibly to advise her on some financial matters. Finally Lillian had begun to experience the pangs of jealousy and insecurity. It still seems a miracle that he should have wanted me enough to marry me. But now I think…I fear…he might be tiring of me. Is that a sign of infidelity?
She glanced at a nearby window, out at the cool black night. Therefore, Hannah was relieved not to be included when Natalie and Lady Blandford went with a group of ladies on a festive carriage ride through the countryside.
Other women had elected to stay at Stony Cross Park, conversing over tea and handiwork, while a sizable contingent of gentlemen had left for the day to attend an ale festival in Alton. Left to her own devices, Hannah explored the manor at her leisure, lingering in the art gallery to view scores of priceless paintings.
She also visited the orangery, relishing the air spiced with citrus and bay. It was a wonderfully warm room, with iron grillwork vents admitting heat from stoves on a lower floor.
She was on her way to the ballroom when she was approached by a small boy whom she recognized as one of the children she had read to. The boy appeared apprehensive and uncertain, hurrying through the hallway in an erratic line. He was clutching some kind of wooden toy in his hand. Are you lost? Is there anything the matter?
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Singularly low, as if instead of being so close beside him, it were at a distance. As she continued to read, the magic of Mr. Christmas was a feeling. But Rafe had refrained from taking any such liberty, mainly because she seemed so determined to entice him into it.
Historical Romance Back cover copy New York Times bestselling author Lisa Kleypas invites you to spend the holidays with the Wallflowers--four young London ladies who finally found the men of their dreams The magic of Christmas Rafe Bowman has just arrived from America for his arranged meeting with Natalie, the very proper and beautiful daughter of Lady and Lord Blandford. Before the courtship can begin, Rafe realizes he must learn the rules of London society. But when four former Wallflowers try their hand at matchmaking, no one knows what will happen
A Wallflower Christmas (Wallflower Series #5)