Hi all! I thought to post some Holiday scenes from my books, not always Christmas Day but sometimes the time around it as a fun thing this last week before Christmas. I hope you enjoy this from Unwrapping Mr. Darcy! You’ll notice I put a photo of Grunt as a chapter break 🙂
Light began to permeate the crack in his eyelids, burning a trail along the nerves to his brain. Darcy squeezed them tight and pulled a pillow over his head. Why did it feel like someone was pounding his cranium with a sledgehammer?
A knock vibrated through his skull, and he squeezed the pillow tighter over his ear with a moan.
“William? Are you decent?”
He shifted the pillow so his mouth peeked out the edge. “William isn’t here.”
His sister giggled, and the bed dipped on one side. “Come on, sleepyhead. You promised we’d go Christmas tree shopping today.”
“You were imagining things.”
“No, I wasn’t. You promised, and I’m holding you to it.” Something rattled on his bedside table. “How much scotch did you drink last night?”
“I went to dinner at Bingley and Jane’s. Had several glasses of wine.”
“And then you came home and drank scotch? No wonder you’re such an Oscar the Grouch this morning. You never sleep this late.” The bed shifted. “I’ll get you some Tylenol and a glass of water. Then I want you to get your behind out of that bed, and shower. You owe me some Christmas shopping today, mister.”
He exposed part of his face and squinted in an attempt to lessen the piercing pain caused by the light in the room. Why had he forgotten to pull the curtains before he went to bed? Oh, that’s right. He downed half a bottle of scotch and stumbled to bed without thinking of much. He pushed himself up to a seated position and rubbed his eyes.
Ana returned a few minutes later and handed him two pills, followed by a large glass of water. He swallowed the medicine and drank down the contents of the entire glass before handing it back to her empty.
“Don’t thank me yet. Go get in the shower. It’s almost time for lunch, and we have some serious decorating to do today.”
He scanned around the bed, looked down, and frowned. He wasn’t wearing a shirt. Had he gotten naked before he crawled under the covers or had he left on his underwear? Four glasses of wine and that half bottle of scotch rendered his memory a little hazy. He pulled the sheet back just enough to take a peek. “Um, Ana?”
“Yep,” she said as she picked up the empty liquor bottle from beside the bed.
“I’m not getting out of this bed with you in the room.”
Her eyebrows furrowed as she gave him a sidelong look before she flinched. “Oh! I’m going!” Without any hesitation whatsoever, she was out of the door, and he suddenly had all the privacy he could desire. What he wouldn’t give to sink back into the plush mattress. But he couldn’t. Ana would only come back to wake him again.
With a yawn, a stretch, and a scratch to the back of his thigh, he shuffled into the shower and turned the knobs until a stream of hot water flowed over his head. He leaned his forehead against the grey slate and gave a long, satisfied exhale when the hot water ran in rivulets down his back. The slight sting and the intense heat were heaven and helped ease a lot of the tension from his head and his shoulders.
Forty minutes later, showered and dressed, but not shaved, he walked into the kitchen. His headache had diminished some with the medication and the heat of the shower, but he needed one last thing to bring him back to the land of the living.
“Coffee, Mr. Darcy?” Mrs. Hill held out his favorite mug, filled to the brim with black, steaming goodness.
“You’re an angel of mercy.”
The older lady tittered. “Oh, Mr. Darcy. You sound like Mr. Bingley when you say that.” A plate of toast was set before him when he sat at the table. “I saw that empty bottle Miss Ana brought down, so I didn’t make you eggs.”
A burp escaped before he could stop it. “Excuse me.” He moved the plate closer. “This is perfect, thank you.” She patted him on the back and hurried out of the kitchen, passing Ana as she came in.
“Hey, you’re alive.”
“Ha, ha!” He leaned back and glanced over what she was wearing. When she hit her teens, Ana went through a major change, shifting from her old pink frills and rainbow unicorns to some of the most interesting combinations of clothes he’d ever seen—and today’s ensemble was no different. The red tartan plaid skirt she wore had an asymmetrical hem and a leather lace-up waistband. She paired it with thick black leggings, a black turtleneck, and her favorite Dr. Martens, which had red roses embroidered up the sides. She topped off the outfit with a ruby red stud that glittered from the side of her nose.
She grinned and pivoted in a circle. “Do you like it?”
“What happened to the little girl with pigtails and braces?”
“Ew! She gained some style. Thank goodness!” She plopped into the chair next to him and took a bite of his toast. “So what made you finish off a bottle of scotch?”
He snatched his toast back. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Must be a woman to have you this moody.”
He stuck his tongue out at her.
“That’s mature.” She laughed and rolled her eyes. “You might scare your employees, but you forget that I have access to your baby photos. I’m not afraid of you.”
“Who would you show them to? Your boyfriend or some of your friends from school? I believe I’m safe.”
A wicked gleam lit her eye. “Not if I post them as public on social media. One click on Instagram or Twitter and I could ensure the entire world has access.”
“I could say the same to you, little sister.”
“You could, but you’d have to know how to post something first.” Her elbow landed on the table and she leaned her chin in her palm. “So, what drove you to drink last night?”
“My boyfriend is fine. He has to finish his piece for composition class or he would’ve come with me. No changing the subject.”
“Perhaps I don’t want to answer.” He took a large bite of toast and started to chew.
“I could just ask Charlie.”
He dropped his hand to the table with a thud. “Why do you have to know?”
“Because usually you won’t talk to anyone when you’re upset. You can’t keep everything buried inside that way. It’s not healthy.” She tilted her head a fraction to one side. “Is it a woman?”
He nodded. This was humiliating.
“Is she a Caroline?”
He grimaced. “No.”
Ana lifted her head just enough to bite her thumbnail while her eyes remained on him. Suddenly, those same hazel eyes widened, and she straightened. “Oh my God! You like her, but she isn’t interested!”
His stomach tightened. “It’s a little worse than that. She can’t stand me.”
“Then she doesn’t know you. You should make more of an effort. You’re so reserved and quiet. She needs to know what a great guy you are.”
“It’s not that simple.” He tapped his toast on the plate. “Bingley hired her a few months ago for the legal department. I wanted to wait until Hurst was ready to retire, but Bingley insisted on hiring her then and there. On her first day, he brought her to my office to meet me, but I didn’t want to at that moment. I . . .”
“You were an imbecile and said something stupid.” She sat up straight and crossed her arms over her chest. “Exactly, how much of an imbecile were you?”
He rested his forehead in his hand. “She’s Jane’s sister.”
“Charlie’s girlfriend?” she asked.
“Yes, but Elizabeth and Jane are very different. Where Jane is quiet and serene, Elizabeth is fiery and likes to tease.”
“So, what did you say?”
He dropped the toast onto the dish and dropped back in his seat. “I more or less said I didn’t have time. I also might have implied she got the job because he was dating Jane. She overheard.”
Ana gasped and a sharp pain in the back of his head whipped his head forward while his brain rattled back and forth against his skull. The Tylenol had kicked in, but it was still a painful shock.
“You hit me!”
“Someone ought to! Mom and Dad would be ashamed of you. I can’t believe you said that. How long have you known Charlie?”
“Ana.” He drew out her name.
“No, how long have you known Charlie?”
“Dad told me all of the time how he first hired Charlie at Darcy Holdings when he was sixteen, and how the two of you worked together there each summer, learning your way around every department. When he graduated from Columbia’s business program, Dad brought him in as an assistant department head and ensured he finished learning the company inside and out, remember?”
Darcy nodded and rubbed the back of his head.
“Dad wasn’t an idiot.”
He glared at her. “I know that.”
“So why say Charlie hired her for such a stupid reason? You know I once overheard Dad telling Mom why he trained Charlie and hired him into the company like he did.”
“You never told me about that.”
“I suppose it never occurred to me until now. I think they must’ve been revising their wills so the topic came up. The point is, Dad knew that if something happened to him, you’d need someone in your corner; someone you could trust to help you run Darcy Holdings. You and I would hold most of the shares of the company and while I was underage, you held mine in trust. Your place as CEO was secure, but he worried about the older executives. He wanted you to have an ally. Fortunately, Charlie never took advantage of Dad and always did an excellent job. Charlie loved Dad and he loves Darcy Holdings. You should know that. You didn’t just insult Elizabeth, you were incredibly insulting to Charlie, too.”
He slumped in his chair. She was right.
“When Mom and Dad were killed, Charlie did exactly what he was hired to do. Dad’s last instructions gave him a promotion and a substantial pay increase so he was in precisely the position Dad wanted. Your best friend helped keep you and Darcy Holdings going while you adjusted to the responsibility of CEO and the responsibility of being a single parent to a despondent teenager. He would never do anything to jeopardize the company. If he insisted on hiring Elizabeth at that moment, then he had a damned good reason.”
“He did. He never explained why though until after he spent over an hour talking her into staying.”
One side of Ana’s lips curved. “She tried to quit on her first day? I like her. She won’t take your crap.”
“Thanks a lot.”
She grinned. “Don’t mention it.” After a moment, she wagged a finger at him. “I think I can guess what happened after that. You passed her in the hallways, finally got a good look at her, and found yourself attracted to her. She’s definitely no slouch at her job or you wouldn’t care how hot she is, you would’ve dismissed her at the first sign of laziness or incompetence. Now, she probably won’t interact with you above the barest civilities outside of work, and you don’t know how to fix things.”
He swallowed hard. “Am I that predictable?”
His little sister laughed softly. “Probably only to me and Charlie. So, what happened last night?”
“Charlie and Jane invited me to dinner. Elizabeth was there. I wanted a moment alone with her to apologize, but anytime she realized she would be left without a buffer, she ran for it. Because of the cold weather, I gave her a ride home, and I finally managed to get in that apology.”
“How’d she take it?”
“Alright, I suppose. She thanked me.”
Ana put her hand over his. “You’re probably going to have to prove yourself to make her believe it. I hope you know that.”
He nodded. “I walked her to her door despite her protests that it wasn’t necessary. I even helped her clean up the broken glass from her cat until she insisted she could do it herself. I didn’t want to force my presence on her.”
“No, I think that’s the last thing you should do. Just keep trying to speak to her. Make her see who you are.”
“Wow.” He tugged at the end of the long auburn braid she had resting over her shoulder. “When did you grow up?”
“Who says I’ll ever grow up? Now, eat the last of your breakfast. I want a Christmas tree.”
He picked up what was left of his toast, put his plate in the dishwasher, and waved her to follow. “Let’s go. I can eat this while we walk. The tree lot isn’t that far.”
She gave a girlish squeal and tore from the kitchen. When he met her in the huge foyer, she was decked out in her heavy coat with a tartan cap and scarf.
The moment they were walking in the direction of the tree lot, he nudged her with his elbow. “So, how’s school going?”
“The same as always. You know I live for it. My cello professor has me learning a Bach piece that I absolutely love.”
He took a half-step to the side and looked at her. “You’ve never been a huge fan of Bach.”
“I know!” Her eyes sparkled, and her voice sounded a little breathless. He was familiar with that look and the slight tremor in her voice. “I adore this one, though. It’s difficult technically, but so much fun to play, and I like the melody as well. I can’t wait for you to hear it.” She wouldn’t just master this piece, she’d perfect it, just as she’d done to the all of the pieces she became infatuated with.
“Whenever you’re ready for an audience, I look forward to hearing it.”
She skipped a few paces ahead and turned to walk backward. “We’re getting a big tree, aren’t we? I know you said it wasn’t necessary, but it wouldn’t be the same. Besides, how would we choose which ornaments to leave in the boxes and which to put on?”
“You’re going to Maine with Jacob, so it will be just me and Mr. and Mrs. Hill. Charlie invited me to spend Christmas Day with them, so I don’t need a huge tree. If you didn’t want to decorate one so badly, I’d probably not even bother this year.” They rounded the corner and crossed the street.
“Then I’m glad I made you come out to buy one. Everyone should have a Christmas tree.”
“What if someone is Jewish?”
Ana gave a slight snort. “You know what I mean.”
He smiled and took her hand. “Come on, let’s pick out a tree.”
When they reached the small corner of the park cordoned off as a tree lot, they walked through the rows of fir and spruce trees, all different shapes and sizes. Of course, Ana chose the biggest Noble Fir they had with a tremendous toothy grin. He didn’t need such an extravagant Christmas tree, but he couldn’t say no when it made her so happy. At Christmas, she behaved with some of the mannerisms she had when she was a little girl. The glimpse of that child made every penny he spent worth it.
She bounced up to him. “Tree taken care of. You just need to go pay.”
“And set it up for delivery.”
“We could carry it home.”
He glanced over her shoulder at what had to be a fourteen-foot tree. “Not on your life. You’d be complaining by the end of the first block.” Before she could make a sarcastic comment, he pinched her side and walked by to go talk to the lot manager.
Five minutes later, he was the proud owner of a Christmas tree. Fortunately for them, most people carried their trees home, so the man was willing, for a hefty price, of course, to load theirs up and deliver it. He slid his credit card back into his wallet and glanced around for Ana, who was next to the wreaths.
After a quick text to Mr. and Mrs. Hill to warn them of the tree’s impending invasion. He returned to Ana and tugged her braid. “What are you doing, Squirt?”
She pointed ahead of them. “Look, it’s Charlie and Jane. I’ve never met her, but he posts a lot of pictures of her on Instagram. She’s very pretty.”
He glanced over, his gaze not landing on Bingley or Jane, but on the brunette a few trees down. Her eyes glowed, and a small smile tugged at her lips as she touched a branch, stroking the needles.
“Is that Elizabeth?”
He started. Ana’s cheek was right next to his shoulder. “Yes, that’s her.”
“She’s pretty. Not in the usual way, though. I think it’s her eyes. They’re very expressive.”
“Darcy!” He turned as Bingley approached and kissed Ana on the cheek. “How are you, Squirt?”
She crossed her arms over her chest and huffed. “Not you, too.”
Bingley chuckled as Jane walked up and hugged Darcy. “Thank you for seeing my sister home last night. I know she was probably a big grump over it, but I can’t thank you enough.”
“Really, it was no bother.” He put a hand to Ana’s back. “Ana, I’d like you to meet Jane Bennet.”
Jane beamed as she shook Ana’s hand with both of hers. “I’ve heard so much about you from Charlie and your brother.”
“I’ve heard a lot about you as well.”
“Did the two of you pick out a tree?” asked Bingley.
“Ana selected one. I’m just the poor sod with the credit card.”
“Lizzy wanted to pick out a tree today, so we all came out together.” Jane glanced over both shoulders. “I wonder where she went?”
“We’ll let you get back to her.” Darcy put a hand to Ana’s elbow, starting to steer her forward. “I promised Ana some hot chocolate from Goulding’s, and we still have to make a stop to buy her a new ornament.”
Jane’s eyebrows raised slightly.
“When she was born, my mother started the tradition of buying her a special ornament every year, so when she has her own family, she has a collection for her own tree.”
“What a wonderful idea! Well, we won’t keep you. It was nice to meet you, Ana.”
His sister nodded. “It was nice to meet you, too. See you later, Charlie.”
After Ana and Jane both gave a quick wave, he led Ana across the street to Goulding’s coffee shop and straight to the counter.
“You don’t want me to meet Elizabeth?” She looked up to him with a sly smile on her lips.
“You know better than that. You agreed I shouldn’t push, and after last night, she was probably hiding from me.”
“William,” she said, drawing out his name.
“No, I’ll see her tomorrow at the Monday morning planning session. I’m not giving up. I’m just giving her a break.”
“Don’t give her too much of a break. She might find someone else.”
Elizabeth wandered through the trees touching the lush needles and breathing in the smell. She loved that scent! It meant Christmas was here. She pulled a tag from the tree she wanted and glanced around. Where had Jane and Charlie gone? When she backtracked through the trees, she stopped when she found them standing on the other side of the lot talking to Mr. Darcy, who had a woman on his arm.
Something about seeing the girl touch his arm made her want to slap him. What was up with that? Who was the woman and why would she want to hit him for being with her? Elizabeth squinted. The lady was graceful and attractive, but seemed . . . young, very young compared to him. No one ever mentioned a girlfriend, but who else could she be?
Elizabeth started over to say hello, but he and the girl walked off while Jane and Charlie started back towards her. “Sorry, were you looking for us? The trees are nice this year, don’t you think?” Her sister ran her fingers along the needles of a nearby branch. “Did you see William? He was just here buying a tree, too.”
“I saw him when I came looking for you.” They started to walk further into the trees while Charlie followed behind. “Who was the girl?” Why did she ask that? Why did it peeve her that he was there with a woman? She didn’t even like him. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of him dating anyone.” Oh, good grief! Why hadn’t she stopped before that came out?
Jane’s eyes narrowed a bit. “That girl wasn’t his date, but even if she was, what difference would it make?”
“Okay, his friend.” Elizabeth attempted to walk around Jane, but her sister stepped in front of her.
“Ana is William’s little sister. She’s quite a bit younger than he is and attends college here in the city. He brought her out to buy a Christmas tree.”
“Yes, Charlie has told me they’re very close. They’ve had to be since William raised Ana after their parents were killed by a drunk driver.”
“Oh, I vaguely remember the headlines after the accident, but I didn’t remember that he had a younger sister.”
“I think she was about sixteen, which would’ve made him about thirty. It couldn’t have been easy.” Jane peered back over her shoulder toward Goulding’s. “Could you imagine having to suddenly take over raising Lydia for Mom and Dad?”
Elizabeth shuddered. “Mom and Dad better not go anywhere until Lydia can take care of herself. She couldn’t live with me. I’d throw her out the window before the first week was out.”
Jane giggled and shook her head. “Lizzy!”
“Well, it’s true! Not everyone is as patient as you are. Now, you and Charlie need to pick out a tree.” Elizabeth held up her ticket. “I found one right over there. I’m going to go pay for mine, so we can carry them back.” She made her way through the trees until she found the man to pay. While she waited for him to run her card, she watched the people around her—the children’s happy faces as they ran through the maze of trees, the people walking by with shopping bags, and the customers leaving Goulding’s with steaming cups cradled in both of their hands.
She froze. That wasn’t some random person, it was Mr. Darcy. He spoke with the woman she’d seen him with earlier, his sister, pointing down one way then the other. She couldn’t stop herself from staring. He was wearing jeans. She’d never seen him wear anything but suits, but William Darcy actually owned jeans—and was that stubble on his cheeks? He hadn’t shaved?
Despite the cold day this warm sensation began to spread from her stomach through her body. She shifted to get a look at his sister, but instead, met the girl’s eyes and immediately turned away, her cheeks hot. What was that?
Unwrapping Mr. Darcy is available on Kindle, Kindle Unlimited, and paperback!