Hi, everyone! It’s time for part two of my holiday story! I’m still writing on it, so we’ll see if it’s one or two more posts. I’ll definitely let you know when the next part goes online, too 🙂 Thanks for reading!
The Advent Calendar
Elizabeth smoothed the red satin over her stomach and turned, checking her reflection in the full-length mirror, nestled in a corner of her bedroom, while Grunt watched from his cozy perch on her bed, his gaze stern.
“Don’t sulk. You’re a cat. You aren’t supposed to give me the stink eye if I leave. Besides, I know that once the door closes behind me, you’ll drink the water from the Christmas tree, play with the ornaments, then fall asleep on top of your kitty tower. You won’t miss me yelling at you to stop misbehaving.” He’d taken such a liking to so many of the shiny glass baubles that she’d had to move them up the tree and relocate the less destructible plastic and wooden ornaments near the bottom. He was still so much the kitten she’d adopted almost a year ago, always into something. He yawned and she laughed, turned to face him, and held out her arms. “Do you approve?”
He yawned again widely, stretched, and lifted his paw, bestowing a long lick along its edge before dragging it over the top of his head.
Her hands dropped to her sides. “You could’ve said something. A hiss would’ve at least been a little helpful. A chirp even? Perhaps a meow?”
Grunt ignored her while he proceeded thoroughly to wash his ears. The doorbell rang and her suddenly silent companion halted his bathing when his head jerked toward the bedroom door.
Grabbing her clutch from beside him, she hurried down the hall of her apartment and stood on tiptoe to see through the peephole. A man she didn’t recognize, wearing a black suit, stood in the hallway. She wasn’t expecting anyone. “Who is it?”
“Car service, ma’am. I’m here to take you to the Darcy holiday party.”
Car service? She cracked the door enough to speak to the man face to face. “There must be some mistake. I didn’t arrange for a car.” He held out a small wrapped package with the number twenty-four on the top and she stiffened at the sight of the glittery, silver number. It was another Secret Santa gift?
“I was told to give you this.”
Elizabeth shook her head and sighed as she carefully took the package. “I’m sorry, but I can’t accept something so expensive. Can you call whoever hired you for the evening and refund their money?”
“I’m afraid we don’t issue refunds, ma’am. Whether I drive you to the party or not, the money is spent.” He pointed to the package. “My advice would be to open your gift, grab your purse, and enjoy the ride. The money’s wasted otherwise.”
Carefully, she pulled back the paper and stared at the flat square box. What if another Hermes scarf lay inside? She had to discover who her Secret Santa was at the party! She needed to discover his identity and return whatever she could of his gifts. This had gotten out of hand!
When she lifted the lid of the box, no expensive scarf or trinket lay inside—just a card on a bed of silver snowflake printed tissue with a neat script that read,
“I hope to dance with you this evening.
No name? He wanted to dance with her, but how in the blazes was she supposed to do that without his name? “I don’t suppose you know who my Secret Santa is?” she asked.
The man lifted both his eyebrows and shrugged. “No ma’am. I don’t know anything about a Secret Santa. I’m just the driver.”
She bit her lip and stared at the card for a moment. If she didn’t take the car, her Secret Santa wasted his money. How did she have a choice? Her best option was to take the ride and then pay him back, regardless of the cost. She certainly wasn’t broke, but she didn’t splurge on cars and drivers. Paying the bill for her Juke’s tiny parking space under the building was painful enough.
“I’ll be back in a moment.” She closed the door, grabbed her coat and clutch, and glanced around her living room. “Why do I feel like I’m forgetting something? Oh! My Secret Santa gift!” She grabbed a small silver-wrapped box from under her tree and opened the door. “Okay, I’m ready.”
With a smile, the driver nodded and waited for her to lock her door before he led her down to the sidewalk in front of her building. A Rolls Royce Phantom stood grandly along the curb, looking quite out of place in her neighborhood. The driver opened the door, and she climbed inside, trying not to flinch or squirm at touching the plush creamy leather and dark-stained wood interior.
The driver leaned down into the doorway. “Would you care for a glass of wine?”
She looked at the soft and quite pale leather seats. “Wine?” What if she spilled it?
He chuckled. “I have red or white. It’s your choice.”
“I suppose it’s also paid for already.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said with a slight twitch to one side of his lips.
After another look at the upholstery, she sighed. “Let’s not tempt fate. A glass of the white would be nice.”
“Prosecco or Chenin Blanc?”
Seriously? She had a choice? She leaned forward and scanned the front seat to find an ice chest on the passenger side floorboard. “Chenin Blanc, please.” She may as well! As he said, it was paid for and she had something niggling at her gut that cried she would need it before the end of the evening.
He took his place in the driver’s seat, served her wine, and started the car while she relaxed back and carefully buckled herself in with one hand. Soon, they were moving steadily in the direction of the ballroom the company had hired for the annual holiday party while she sipped her wine and watched the passing storefronts. She’d always loved holiday window displays. Every year, she made a point of taking a day to walk around the neighborhood so she could enjoy the lovely trees, quaint snowclad village scenes, and toy trains adorning the more festive décor, yet tonight, despite the pleasant scenery, a part of her was wound as tight as could be! What was she going to do about her Secret Santa? Would he be at the party? The big gift exchange was to take place tonight, but her Secret Santa had already given her today’s gift. What if he didn’t reveal himself to her because he hadn’t given her the gift for the twenty-fifth yet?
All she could do was take a gulp of her wine and exhale a long breath in a futile attempt to relax. She needed to stop stressing about this! Regardless of who her Secret Santa was, they’d simply have to accept her reimbursement for the car and take back the Hermes scarf. If they were friends at work, it would make things much simpler, but she was still relatively new with the company. She hadn’t really gotten to know everyone yet.
Before she was really ready, the car pulled up to the curb at the ballroom and the driver came around to open her door. When she stepped out, she paused and handed him the glass. “Thank you.”
He almost tilted forward, like he was giving a miniscule bow. “I will be right here when you’re ready to leave.”
Her eyes widened. “This person hired you for the entire evening?”
“Yes, ma’am. My instructions were to convey you to the party and to ensure you arrive safely to your door when the party is over. I know that you may prefer not to remain for the entire night, so when you wish to leave, I will be waiting for you here.”
“There you are!” She turned abruptly as Charlotte approached and whistled. “Sweet car! When did you decide not to drive?” After a quick “thank you” to the driver, she and Charlotte began climbing the steps.
“I didn’t hire a car. He came with a package.”
“Is that gift twenty-four? Nice! I wouldn’t have minded riding in that! It’s certainly better than the smelly taxi I took here.”
“I doubt it was that bad,” said Elizabeth with a giggle.
“It was! I think the person before me must’ve had a bag full of raw fish they were taking home for dinner.”
“You’ve had a flair for melodrama since we were teenagers. You should’ve studied acting and gone into theater.”
Charlotte’s nose crinkled. “You know how much I love to perform in front of a group. That’s always worked so well for me in the past.”
The two of them laughed. She would never forget their fourth grade Christmas program. Sister Mary Margaret almost fainted when Charlotte’s nerves got the best of her and she got sick on stage. Charlotte was hailed the hero of the evening by everyone but Lauren Hazelton, who was furious Charlotte’s digestive pyrotechnics went off at the beginning of the girl’s solo during Silent Night.
They stopped at the coat check. Elizabeth traded her coat for a ticket and then, waited for Charlotte. “Is Bill joining you?”
“No, he had some last-minute job at de Bourgh’s. He wanted to make sure no last-minute shopper left without some expensive piece of jewelry.” She rolled her eyes. “Besides, I don’t want to stray too far from you. I can’t miss the big reveal! Your Secret Santa is bound to approach you sometime tonight, and I’m dying to see who it is.”
Elizabeth gasped when they entered the opulent ballroom decked out in Christmas trees and twinkling lights. “It’s incredible.”
The same whistle as earlier came from beside her. “Have I thanked you lately for bringing me with you when you started at Darcy Holdings?”
“You know I couldn’t leave you behind. Who else would I find to second-guess me and make sarcastic comments?”
Charlotte gave a huge grin. “You know you love me.”
Elizabeth looped her arm through her friend’s. “Let’s grab a glass of wine.”
The two strode straight to the bar where Charlotte leaned forward and placed her order. While she waited for her turn, Elizabeth slowly pivoted to look at the room but startled at a tall, black-clad figure who suddenly appeared in her way.
“Good evening, Miss Bennet. I hope you’re having a good time.”
Her eyes traced up the red and silver tie in front of her to the face of her boss, William Darcy. He had leaned in slightly when he spoke.
“I just arrived, but everything is beautiful.”
A tiny lift appeared to one side of his lips. “I’m glad you approve.” His eyes left hers for a moment when Charlotte turned around. “Miss Lucas.”
“Mr. Darcy,” she said quickly. “You throw a great shindig.” She waved off to the side. “Excuse me for a moment. I want to say hi to Belinda from personnel.”
No! She couldn’t leave her alone! Not with their boss! Elizabeth opened her mouth to stop her, but Charlotte shook off the quick attempt of Elizabeth to grab her hand and scurried away with a little grin, like the little traitorous witch she was.
“Were you waiting to order a drink?”
She turned back to Mr. Darcy, and nodded. “Yes, I wanted a glass of wine.”
He held out a hand over the bar. “Red or white?”
“White, please. Chenin Blanc if they have it?”
He leaned in as he spoke to the bartender, who then hurried away, returning a few moments later with a glass. Mr. Darcy handed him a folded bill, and then passed Elizabeth her wine.
“I thought it was an open bar?”
“It is, but the house Chenin Blanc is only so-so. I thought you would prefer this one.”
She set the gift she carried on the barstool beside her and propped her clutch on top while she attempted to open the clasp. “Then let me pay you back. I don’t expect you to buy me drinks.” His hand covered hers, and she jumped. His palm was so warm!
“I ordered the upgrade without asking. I don’t expect you to pay for it. I’m happy to do it.” He almost seemed to shift a little closer and something inside her chest fluttered. “I owe you an apology as well. I was abominably rude on your first day and you didn’t deserve it. I’m sorry.”
After a sip—or was it a gulp—of her wine, she shook her head. “You don’t owe me anything. Charlie wanted to hire me and you didn’t. You’re entitled to your opinions.” Was he ever going to move his hand? The heat radiating from that point was slowly spreading up her arm. What was going on with that? She’d never had that happen before and it was unnerving. In a last-ditch effort to preserve her sanity, she shifted her purse off the barstool and his hand dropped to his side.
“Even if my opinion was wrong?”
He watched her reaction carefully. She definitely disliked him, but how he wished she didn’t! It was impossible to miss her wide eyes and the slight grab at her assistant’s hand when Miss Lucas left, not to mention her moving her purse so his hand was no longer touching hers.
She stared into her wine and cleared her throat. “You don’t have to say that.”
“I wouldn’t tell you I was incorrect unless I truly meant it. Truthfully, I should’ve apologized a long time ago. Your work has been exemplary. I’m pleased Charles insisted on hiring you. You’ve been an asset these past months, and after New Year’s, I hope you will meet with Hurst and myself to set up the transition of the department from his hands to yours.”
When he mentioned the meeting, her eyes darted from what had to be the most interesting drink on the planet directly back to his face and her mouth opened. She did a fantastic job. She wasn’t surprised, was she?
She put her hand to her forehead and closed her mouth. “Does that mean you intend for me to take over as head of the legal department?”
“I hadn’t intended to tell you tonight . . . like this . . . but yes.”
“I thought Craig Denny was in line for that promotion.” Her hand moved from her forehead to her hip as she stared at him as if she were trying to find something on his face—some smudge or mark he didn’t know was there.
“Before you started at the company, he was our top choice if we promoted from within. He is a competent corporate lawyer, but we still would’ve taken applications in the event a more qualified attorney applied. He wasn’t guaranteed the position. We just happened to hire a more qualified candidate a few months ago, so there’s no reason to search for another.”
Her eyes searched his and she took a large gulp of wine. “You want me to head the department.” She sounded rather in awe. “Did Hurst insist, or perhaps Charlie? I don’t want the position if Charlie is responsible.”
He should’ve known she’d feel that way. “Charles has had nothing to do with this. He knows you became Hurst’s recommendation, but he hasn’t had any input in the decision. Hurst and I met a few days ago, and I happened to agree completely with his assessment.”
“Miss Bennet, you’ve completed every project you’ve had in a timely and thorough manner, and without guidance from Hurst or any hiccups. You know what needs to be done as well as he does and you don’t miss a beat. Why wouldn’t we promote you?”
She blinked and her chin gave a slight hitch back. “I suppose when you put it like that,” she said softly. “Thank you, Mr. Darcy.”
“Does that mean you accept?”
“I do. I will certainly attend the meeting. Just have Charlotte add it to my calendar.”
With a nod, he held out his glass of scotch. “To new beginnings.”
She touched the rim of her glass to his. “To new beginnings.” Despite her acceptance of the promotion, she almost looked like a deer in the headlights. “If you will excuse me, I should join Charlotte.”
She took a step, but stopped and peered back over her shoulder. “Merry Christmas, Mr. Darcy.”
Miss Lucas stood at the buffet when Elizabeth approached her. He watched as Elizabeth whispered in her assistant’s ear and Miss Lucas all but dropped her plate and hugged Elizabeth. Could he ever manage to repair the damage he’d done or would he be forever in her company but watching from the outside?
The evening dragged by like one of those epic movies that never seemed to get to the point. He couldn’t avoid business obligations and tried to ensure he spoke with as many of his employees as he could, but could never quite catch up with Elizabeth. He caught glimpses of her here and there—she gave the gift she carried to one of the accountants in finance, she and Miss Lucas made plates at the buffet, and now, she was dancing with Hurst. The old man sported an enormous grin as he swayed her around the floor while she laughed and giggled just loud enough to be heard over “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” As soon as the music ended, he found himself standing closer than he had planned.
“Darcy!” called Hurst during the break. “I believe this is the best Christmas party yet, and your mother did an excellent job of planning the holiday festivities when your father ran the company.”
He gave a brief nod. “Thank you. Now that Mrs. Reynolds has planned the party for a few years, she has become quite good at it.” He shifted on his feet. “Hurst, if you don’t mind, I was hoping to dance with Miss Bennet. If she’ll give me the honor of her company.”
With a grin, Hurst held Elizabeth’s hand in Darcy’s direction. “Of course! She doesn’t want to be stuck with me for the entire evening.” Before Elizabeth could argue, he held up his hand. “It was kind of you to dance with an old man, but you should dance with some men your own age.” After a wink at Elizabeth, Hurst called after one of the executives and hurried in that direction.
Darcy gestured further into the dance floor. “Would you like to dance?”
She glanced between him and those slow dancing only a few feet from them. “I . . .”
“We’re starting over, aren’t we?”
“Well, yes, but you don’t have to—”
“I know I don’t have to, Elizabeth, but I would like to; however, if you don’t want to, you don’t have to.” She placed her hand in his and stiffened, but instead of looking at him, she stared at where their hands touched. There was a jolt of something that shot up his arm when her soft palm pressed against his, but could she feel it, too? Was that the reason she wouldn’t look him in the face?
When her hand rested on his shoulder, a current of sorts seemed to run through him, almost as if someone attached one end of a set of jumper cables to a battery and the other to his hand and the shoulder she touched. How did he feel that spark through his suit coat? He’d never experienced anything like it.
Before he could dwell on it, she licked her lips, which drew his eyes to her mouth. What would it be like to kiss her? Were her lips as soft as her hands or could they be softer? He gave himself a subtle shake. He had to get his mind away from that topic. She wouldn’t appreciate it if he gave into the temptation and suddenly leaned in for a kiss.
“I understand you will be at Charlie and Jane’s tomorrow to open gifts and for Christmas dinner.”
Thank the Lord! Something to think about other than her lips. No, he couldn’t go there again! “Yes, my sister is spending the holidays in Maine with her boyfriend’s family. By her pictures on Instagram, she appears to be having a wonderful time.”
One side of her lips curved upwards. “You have an Instagram account?”
“My sister set it up. She insisted Facebook was for old people and that I had to have Instagram to stay in touch when she travels.” He drawled it out a little just as Ana had said it.
Elizabeth giggled. “How old is your sister?”
“Does she travel that often?”
“She’s studying cello at Julliard. Her advisor has been exceptional at locating study opportunities abroad the past two summers. She spent last summer in Paris and the summer before in London.”
“You must miss her when she’s so far away.”
He sighed. “I do. I don’t see her nearly as often as I would like.”
“Perhaps once she’s graduated and settled, you’ll see more of her.” Her voice was upbeat—optimistic even.
“Perhaps. I hope so.”
He continued to savor the feel of her in his arms until the song faded to an end. Elizabeth drew back almost like he shocked her and glanced around them. “Thank you,” she whispered. He didn’t have a chance to respond since she turned quickly and strode in the direction of the restrooms.
Had he done something wrong? They had been talking and things were going well until the song ended. “Elizabeth!” She’d disappeared in the crowd, but he followed. When he reached the hallway, no one was there. Could she have changed her mind and gone somewhere else or could she already be in the ladies’ room?
He slumped against the wall and drew the small package from inside his coat—the silver twenty-five reflecting the light filtering into the hall from the ballroom. He had to find some way to give it to her, some way to tell her he was her Secret Santa. He also would need to find some way to convince her to keep the gifts. He had no use for them and he purchased them with her in mind. They belonged to her.
After a glance at the ladies’ room door, he shook his head. What was he doing? Stalking her? This wasn’t the way to approach her. Before the end of the evening, he needed devise a way to tell her who he was. Pushing from the wall, he went to slip the package back in his coat, but instead of sliding into his pocket, it fell to the floor.
He bent to pick it up, but a feminine hand touched it just as he did. “What’s this?”
His eyes darted up to find Elizabeth, holding the other side of the gift, her eyes huge as they turned to him. “You? You’re my Secret Santa?”
Well, Darcy is unveiled! How will Elizabeth take it?