A Wallflower Makeover
on Christmas Evewith Erin Knightley
on Christmas Evewith Erin Knightley
About the Author:
Despite being an avid reader and closet writer her whole life, Erin Knightley decided to pursue a sensible career in science. It was only after earning her B.S. and working in the field for years that she realized doing the sensible thing wasn't any fun at all. Following her dreams, Erin left her practical side behind and now spends her days writing. Together with her tall, dark, and handsome husband and their three spoiled mutts, she is living her own Happily Ever After in North Carolina.
Christmas is the time of year when anything can happen. Testing that theory, one wallflower allows her sister to transform her for the family’s Christmas Ball, but soon has second thoughts. When her secret crush takes notice, will the makeover be a Christmas gift… or a curse? -Erin
Her Christmas Transformation
“I look ridiculous.”
“You look gorgeous.”
Mercedes leveled a patently unconvinced glare at her sister’s slightly blurry reflection. “Perhaps you should wear my spectacles, since you clearly aren’t going to allow me to have them.”
Hyacinth smiled back unrepentantly. “I can see perfectly well, thank you very much, which is how I know you will cause a sensation tonight.”
“And that is a good thing how, exactly?” People like Hyacinth caused sensations. Delicate-boned, smooth-haired, ready-smiled young ladies who blossomed in the attention of the ton. People like Mercedes not only did not cause sensations—they didn’t want to cause them. They, in this sense, being specific to her.
She glanced down at the shockingly bold scarlet gown, dipping precariously low at the bodice. It was beautiful in the way ancient Greek statues were: exquisite to behold, but not emulate. She felt as bare as Venus on her clamshell. Although, at least Venus had her hair to cover up with. Mercedes’ was piled high on her head, coiffed within an inch of its life and completely useless to her rebelling sense of modesty.
Adjusting her own golden gown in the mirror, Hyacinth rolled her eyes. “It is a good thing, my dear sister, since I am bound and determined to pull you away from the potted palms and into the arms of an actual man.” She paused to wink at Mercedes in the mirror. “And a handsome one at that.”
She should have known. “Hyacinth! I only agreed to this nonsense because you said this scrap of fabric wouldn’t fit you, and you refused to let it go to waste. Did you plan this all along?”
“Of course! Someone had to pull you out of your shell. You’re four-and-twenty, Mer—high time to make people notice you.” She looked quite pleased with herself as she held out her hand. “Now, come along. We mustn’t be late to our own ball.”
Of all the conniving, traitorous, wretched things to do to a sister. Hyacinth was lucky it was Christmas—killing one’s sibling this time of year was highly frowned upon. “Fine. But don’t think a silly gown and fancy hair will pull me from the outskirts of the ballroom. I don’t dance because I don’t wish to dance, not because I’m not able.”
It was mostly true, anyway. There was only one person she had ever wished to dance with, and he had never once deigned to ask. Which was rather convenient, since even if he had, she’d never have the nerve to actually dance with him. Whether she admitted it or not, she was a wallflower for a reason.
Sliding her gloved hand into the crook of Mercedes’ elbow, Hyacinth grinned. “We shall see about that.”
The scent of mulled wine lent a warmth to the ballroom that had nothing to do with the glittering chandeliers and two merrily burning fireplaces at either end of the grand room. Laughter echoed to the vaulted, arched ceiling, nearly drowning out the gay music from the small orchestra tucked into a small alcove behind the stairs.
But despite the jovial atmosphere, Mercedes couldn’t bring herself to step away from the curtains. After all, if she wasn’t supposed to be a wallflower, than surely her gown wouldn’t have been the exact color of the velvet drapes, effectively disguising her. Never mind that it was her own house, and her sister had probably subconsciously chosen the fabric that looked so well in the ballroom. A match was a match, and Mercedes was staying put.
Heaven knew she had endured enough leering glances at her décolleté while greeting their guests. She tugged up on her bodice just thinking about the unwanted attention. Everyone had been so shocked to see her looking so well, as if up until now she had been wearing bed sheets for gowns and buckets for hats. It was more than a little insulting, since she rather liked the way she dressed.
“My dear Lady Mercedes. How positively radiant you look tonight.”
“Lord Farwell, how nice to see you.” Thou shalt not lie really only applied outside the ballroom, surely. She hoped.
The young lord offered a satisfied nod of his head, as if to say, Yes! It is nice to see me, isn’t it? “Do you know, it only just occurred to me that I cannot for the life of me recall having danced with you?” He smiled a little smugly and held out a hand. “Shall we? It is Christmas, after all.”
Drat. She couldn’t very well turn down a direct invitation—even if it was directed to her bosom rather than her face. She almost replied, “Only if you can tell me my eye color,” but something told her Mama would somehow sense the rudeness across the ballroom. Last time, she had threatened to take away Mercedes book allowance, which was galling in the extreme. She knew full well that was the worst of all fates for Mercedes. With a sigh, she started to reach for his hand, but a gloved hand sliced between them.
“Beg pardon, Farwell, but Lady Mercedes has already promised this dance to me.”
At the sound of his voice, her heart slammed to a stop, stealing the air from her lungs. As if in a dream, she looked up into the dark, nearly black gaze of the Duke of Warington. Good heavens, he knew her name. Well, of course he knew her name, they had attended functions together for years, but he had never actually paid her any mind.
Actually, that wasn’t true. She had spent so much time trying to avoid his company—one needed one’s heart to be working, after all—they had never actually been this close. And now that they were, only one thought seemed to form in her suddenly blank brain: Lord, but he smelled good.
Like winter wind, and wood smoke, and subtle spice. She blew out a breath, realizing that she had done nothing but breathe in since she met his startling intense gaze.
“Is that true, my lady?”
Mercedes jerked her gaze back to Farwell, finding his pale eyes narrowed. No, it wasn’t true in the least! They had never even spoken—how was she to have arranged a dance? “Indeed it is. How silly of me to have forgotten.”
It was a very good thing there was the ballroom caveat to lying.
Tightening his jaw, Farwell gave a stiff nod and strode away. Which meant… it was just the duke and her. Alone. Well, in a ballroom full of people, but having nearly ten square feet to themselves was practically like being on their own continent.
She blinked, looking up to meet his gaze. “You lied. I merely agreed.”
He bent his head a bit in deference to their height difference. “I wasn’t sure you would.”
“I’m not sure why I did.” What an utterly absurd conversation. They stood there, she in brilliant red, he in unrelieved black, like two actors in an overly dramatic opera. If she hadn’t have felt so completely at a loss of what to say or do, she would have said it was a dream. Her heart pounded with impressive speed, making her a bit lightheaded.
What did one do when confronted with the man one had secretly admired for three years?
“Perhaps because you wished to dance with me?”
“I beg your pardon?” In her frazzled state, she had completely lost track of the conversation. A duke really had no right to be quite so handsome.
The slightest hint of a smile turned up the corner of his lip. “Perhaps you agreed with me because you wished to dance with me.”
Dance with him? Touch him? Oh lord, she was going to faint. Without her agreeing or disagreeing with him, he held out his hand to her, the humor having left his gaze completely.
She squeezed her hand into a fist, trying to quell the tremor in her fingers. This was exactly what she had imagined happening for years—it was time to seize her chance. Relaxing her hand, she accepted his offer, setting her fingers over his as lightly as a falling snow.
He led them to the dance floor, where the next set was just about to begin. Finding an empty space among the couples, he positioned them for… oh good heavens, it was a waltz!
The music started then, and he swept them into the revolving tide of couples, expertly maneuvering between the swishing skirts and jutting elbows. For the first minute, she stared steadfastly at the shoulder of his jacket, too nervous to actually look at the man. In her periphery, she saw the evergreen garland and glowing candelabras glide by in a soft blur as the two of them became the center of the universe.
His smell enveloped her while the feel of his muscled shoulder beneath her thin gloves melted her insides like ice in the midday sun. This was happening, it was actually happening.
Her head snapped up, meeting his eyes. Any humor from earlier had vanished, and he looked oddly stern. “Yes.”
What on earth was she to say to such a query? “My sister’s idea.”
“Well, it certainly seems to have garnered notice.”
Her brows came together as she puzzled over his tone. If she didn’t know any better, she’d say he was disapproving. A bit of her nerves slipped away, replaced by indignation. “It apparently garnered yours.”
“How could it do otherwise? That gown is a hair’s breadth away from total indecency.”
She stumbled, barely avoiding trodding on his feet. If she had had her wits about her, she wouldn’t have stopped herself. “I beg your pardon, my lord, but that is completely uncalled for. This gown is perfectly respectable, and not unlike any of the others being worn tonight.”
“Yes, but other women don’t have your figure.”
She gasped. How dare he say such a thing? “That is—”
“And where are your spectacles?”
For heaven’s sake, what was wrong with the man? Had she been harboring tender feelings for a boorish cad all these years and not even known it? She had no one but herself to blame—she had been the one too terrified to speak with him.
“It’s none of your business where my spectacles are,” she snapped, pulling away from him even as he tightened his hold. Thankfully, the music came to an end, freeing her of the prison of good manners.
Mercedes jerked out of his grasp, stepping back a good foot before offering him the briefest possible curtsey. She had been such a fool to hold him up like some sort of hero, when he was naught but a self-important fool.
“My lady, wait—”
But she didn’t stop to hear him out. She dashed for the exit, wanting to be free of the need to maintain her slipping composure in front of their one hundred guests. Escaping through the half closed door leading to the East Wing corridor, she headed straight for her sanctuary—the library.
The room was dim and quiet, and she breathed a sigh of relief as she closed the door. She should have known the man could never have lived up to the dream. Seconds later, the knob turned and the door pushed inward. Blast, why had he followed her? She backed up, putting the nearest piece of furniture, a heavy wood chair, in between them.
The door swung open to reveal her tormentor, framed in the open doorway. His dark hair seemed black in the low light, his eyes the color of the night sky. “Mercedes, let me—”
“No, you shouldn’t be here. And more than that, I don’t want you here.”
He ignored her, striding into her sanctuary as if he owned the place. “I must apologize.”
She took a few steps to the right, keeping the chair in between them. “Why ever would you wish to apologize? For insulting my gown? My figure? Bringing up my spectacles? Save it. What I really want to know is why you ever asked me to dance in the first place.”
He paused, tilting his head slightly to one side. “Because for the first time, you looked like you wanted to dance.”
“What?” Not the most eloquent of responses, but his statement made no sense.
“You never dance. Ever. Every time I see you, you are doing your damnedest to blend in with the greenery or decorate the wall. If men walk toward you, you go the other way.”
She shook her head slowly, trying to make sense of what he was saying. “So? What did that matter to you?”
“Because, if you were finally going to dance, I wanted it to be with me.”
The chair that she had been keeping between them suddenly seemed very convenient as her legs grew weak and she lowered herself onto it. “I don’t understand. You insulted me. You insulted my gown…”
“Because that gown isn’t you. That hair isn’t you. Not that it’s not all very pretty,” he said, another ghost of a smile playing over his features. “But I like your spectacles. I prefer your simple gowns and hairstyles. The better to show off your natural beauty.”
Heat bloomed in her chest and spread, staining her cheeks and warming her toes. “You . . . you like the way I look? Looked,” she said, correcting herself.
“Yes, I always have. Just as I have always wished to dance with you. To speak with you, for that matter.”
He had walked his way around so that he was directly in front of her, towering over where she sat. Slowly, as if fearing he might startle her, the handsome duke lowered himself to his knees so that they were at eye level. “And now I’ve done a lovely job of botching both of those.”
No, he hadn’t. Not in the least. She had always wished for a man who saw her for who she was. Suddenly filled with the kind of confidence that usually evaded her in his presence, she offered up a smile. “Isn’t it fortunate, then, that it’s Christmas?”
She nodded, leaning forward scandalously. “Yes, and I have a very good imagination. From all of my reading, I suspect.”
He lifted a single eyebrow. “Is that a fact? What are you imagining at this exact moment in time?”
“Don’t look now,” she said, close enough now that his breath caressed her lips, “but I believe we must be under the mistletoe.”
The duke smiled, his dark eyes sparkling with joy. “Exactly where I always wished to find you.”
With that, he pressed his mouth to hers in a kiss so searing, even her eyelashes curled. Her last thought as she gave herself over to the perfection of the moment was that she’d have to remember to thanks her sister for a Christmas makeover so unsuccessful, it worked like a charm.
*Don't forget to stop by Ramblings From This Chick for Tessa Dare's Scene*
Coming December 4th:
A TEMPTING DIVERSIONThings have always fallen into place for Richard Moore, Earl of Raleigh. His good looks, abundance of charm, and the small matter of being heir to a marquisate make him quite the catch. So when a delectable young woman wants nothing to do with him, he can't help but seize the irresistible challenge.
AN UNLIKELY COURTSHIP
Jane Bunting knows all about responsibility—she has managed to support herself and her brother with their bakery—but she knows nothing of excitement or passion. When dashing Lord Raleigh crosses the threshold of her shop, she has no idea of the potential danger to her reputation . . . or to her heart.
AN IMPOSSIBLE MATCH
Neither imagined things would go so far—until the night their worlds collide, irrevocably changing both their lives. But when duty calls for Richard, and with everything Jane has worked for suddenly at stake, will their taste for scandal be their downfall?
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