Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Drunken Christmas Escapade

As seen on Not Another Romance Blog, this is the scene I wrote for the Historical Christmas Eve Giveaway with two authors posting a scene from December 2nd to December 23rd. It was such fun participating in this, so I thought I'd share it with you here as well in case you missed it =)
Without further ado, I give you:

A Drunken Escapade on Christmas Eve
by Sophie Barnes

Lady Amanda (daughter of the Marquess & Marchioness of Hawkwood) is celebrating Christmas with her family at their country estate. Her father’s best friend and his wife have been invited and are staying for the holidays along with their son Peter (the Earl of Charington) who is best friends with Amanda’s brother – the two have gone to Eton together and later to Oxford.

Amanda has known Peter her whole life (thus the use of first names) and is hopelessly in love with him. In attendance however, are also Amanda’s aunt and uncle who have brought Amanda’s three annoyingly beautiful cousins along. They are blonde and fair-skinned whereas Amanda has inherited her mother’s darker Italian complexion and chestnut hair. To make matters worse, the three cousins are all in love with Peter as well and have been fawning over him all evening. Jealous and insecure over his attentions toward them, Amanda finds it impossible to sleep. Desperate for something to take her mind away from Peter, she slips out of bed and heads downstairs in search of  The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edmund Gibbon – a book that Amanda has found most helpful on other sleepless nights.

The scene opens with Amanda entering the library:
Amanda set her oil lamp carefully on the side table next to the door and adjusted the flame, brightening the space with a yellow glow. With the fire reduced to embers, the room was no longer as warm as it had been earlier in the evening and Amanda found herself pulling her dressing gown tight across her chest to ward off the chill. She glanced about, her gaze settling on the boughs of evergreen that had been cut from a fir tree earlier in the day and tied with crimson ribbons as per her mother’s instructions.

Taking a deep breath, Amanda closed her eyes for a moment to enjoy the rich scent of the pine. She loved Christmas and the atmosphere that accompanied it when Rambly Hall was filled with people – she just hadn’t anticipated how difficult it would be seeing Peter again.
With a small sigh and an admonishing shake of her head, she padded across the floor to one of the bookcases, spotting the thick volume she sought almost instantly. Reaching for a stool, she pulled it toward her and stepped up onto it. It wasn’t quite enough though and she was forced to go up on tiptoes, her right arm straining to reach the book she wanted. She almost had it – she was certain of it – if she could only …

The sound of the library door opening caught her attention and she turned her head on reflex, losing her balance in the process and falling straight back until she landed on the floor with a loud thud. “Umph!”

“Good God, Amanda. Are you all right?”

Amanda squeezed her eyes shut and nodded, praying that the man of her dreams would leave it at that, walk away and forget he’d seen her in such a humiliating sprawl. Of course this was too much to hope for and before she knew it she felt Peter’s warm hands beneath her armpits as he pulled her upright. “What were you thinking?” he asked, sounding as if he had the urge to give her a good shake. “You could have been seriously injured.”

“I couldn’t sleep so I came to get a book, though I don’t believe I would have fallen if it hadn’t been for you,” she said, looking away from his familiar and much too handsome face. “You startled me.”

With a grunt of marked disapproval, he guided her over to a chair, then stepped away and went to the side table. “Would you care for a drink?” he asked, raising what looked like a bottle of sherry.

Amanda steeled herself. Enjoying the company of the one man she was trying not to think about, wasn’t exactly the best plan. A drink would indeed be welcome – especially after making such a complete cake of herself in his presence, but she wanted something stronger, and besides, she was tired of being so predictable. “Thank you, but I do believe I’d prefer a brandy instead.” Peter raised an eyebrow and his lips parted as if he meant to say something, so she hastily added, “It is Christmas, after all.”

“Very well,” he agreed, abandoning the bottle of sherry in favor of a crystal carafe. He poured two fingers of the amber liquid into a pair of tumblers and then closed the distance between them so he could give her one of them. Amanda took it without hesitation, thanking him as he took the seat across from her. He frowned and asked, “Have you tried this before?”

Amanda shook her head. No, she had not, but the thought of having him in her house while her beautiful cousins showered him with attention – attention which he had happily returned - had distraught her enough where she would try anything as long as it dulled the ache in her heart.

“It may burn a little on the way down,” he warned with a crooked smile. “I advise you to take small sips until you grow accustomed to it.” Raising his glass toward her, he then added, “To friendship.”

To friendship.

Amanda gritted her teeth as she followed his lead, allowing her glass to clink against his. She nodded in acknowledgement of his toast, fearful that if she spoke her words would lack conviction. To friendship indeed. She wanted more than that, but would likely never have it. Irritation flared inside of her and she forgot his words of warning and took a large gulp of her drink. Oh dear God! Her throat was on fire and she gasped, choked on her own breath and finally coughed until tears sprang to her eyes and she thought her lungs might burst.

“Take another sip,” Peter said. He’d risen from his chair and had proceeded to slap her back.
Where on earth was that gaping hole she hoped would appear and swallow her up? Another sip indeed. Was he mad?

“I assure you it will help,” he said, taking the glass that she’d somehow managed to place on a table at the start of her attack and holding it toward her. Tilting it slightly, she soon felt the strong drink biting at her lips and she reluctantly opened her mouth, swallowing just a little.
To her astonishment, he was right. The drink that had disagreed with her only a moment earlier, soothed her in its smaller quantity and she found herself relaxing, enjoying the heat of it as it warmed her insides. “Thank you,” she murmured, watching him carefully as he returned the glass to the table and sat back down.

He grinned. “In all the years I’ve known you, I don’t recall seeing you imbibe in alcohol even once – not even wine. That you would start now with brandy …” He moved to get up once more. “Perhaps I should fetch a glass of sherry for you after all.”

“No!” The word came out louder than she’d intended and was instantly met with a raised eyebrow. She swallowed hard to get herself under some measure of control. When she’d seen him last, it had been at her coming out ball. He had danced with her of course, but had not remained at the ball long enough to see her drink anything other than the glass of lemonade he’d offered her before making a hasty departure.

The fact that he still thought her a child, struck her with such force that she took her glass and tossed back the remainder of the brandy, wincing only slightly this time. Meeting Peter’s shocked gaze and taking a great deal of pleasure unsettling him, she smiled and said, “I do believe I’m learning to handle my liquor. Would you please be so kind as to give me a re-fill?”
Peter looked around, wary. “I don’t believe that’s a good idea, Amanda. I think you’ve had quite enough.”

“Nonsense,” she said, waving her hand to dismiss his concerns. She was starting to feel much better and idly wondered if it had anything to do with the brandy. Probably not. She’d heard of how silly people became when foxed. She didn’t feel like that in the least. Quite the opposite really – she felt confident and carefree.

Seeing that he wasn’t about to oblige her, she got up and went to the sideboard herself, pausing only once along the way when an overwhelming feeling of faintness made her worry about losing her footing - yet again. That simply wouldn’t do and she shook it away, reaching her destination without incident.

Peter watched her go, noticing the exact moment when she stopped to steady herself. What the devil had come over her? He’d known her since she was in swaddling clothes and getting foxed in the middle of the night behind closed doors and in the company of a bachelor no less, was completely out of character for her. She was demure and innocent – the kid sister of his best friend – yet here she was courting trouble. He groaned, knowing he must do something to stop her from pouring herself another glass. If her brother or, heaven forbid, her father were to happen upon them like this he’d surely find himself drawn and quartered. “Amanda, stop this at once,” he said, aiming for a note of authority.

“Or what?” she asked, her fingers already curled around the neck of the carafe.
“Or I shall have no other choice but to come over there and remove the carafe from you personally.” Was that really the best he could do? Even she looked skeptical as she offered him a sly smile and proceeded to pour. That did it – he had to put an end to this farce by acting upon his threat. He rose, and in three easy strides he was before her. “May I please have your glass?”

With a small frown she leaned sideways and looked past him. “Oh dear,” she then remarked. “It appears as though one of Mama’s decorations has unhinged itself from the ceiling.”
He automatically turned to look, not recognizing the trap she’d set for him before it was too late. When he looked back at her, he wasn’t the least bit surprised to discover that she’d already tossed back the contents of her glass. Frustrated and annoyed, yes, but not surprised. He had to hand it to her though – she did appear to have gotten quite good at handling her drink. Still, he would not stand for this insanity a moment longer. She was a genteel lady of breeding after all and this lapse in judgment on her part was really too much. “I cannot begin to imagine what might have brought this on, Amanda. You’re acting like a child and you’d do well to stop it this instant.”

Her eyebrows snapped together and he saw something then – something in her eyes that spoke of both sadness and longing. “I am not a child, Peter.” Her words surprised him in their harsh annunciation and he found himself leaning back as if she’d struck him. “I am eighteen years of age – old enough to marry and bare children if that is what I choose to do.”
It was his turn to feel affronted. He clenched and unclenched his hands, staring silently back at her before he turned away in search of his own glass. He needed that brandy. Now.

Finishing off its contents, he gave her a sideways glance. She was still looking at him as if he were the very devil incarnate, but her words … Christ. As if he hadn’t noticed that she was no longer the child he’d given piggyback rides to years ago. He’d been at her coming out ball and had danced with her because after all, that was the polite thing to do. As soon as the dance was over he’d found her a glass of lemonade and fled. He was not supposed to notice how good she felt beneath his touch as he’d guided her in a simple country dance, nor was he meant to appreciate the scent of her or to wonder … But God help him he’d wondered – repeatedly – ever since that night. Consequently he’d stayed away until now.

He expelled a heavy breath. He could never lay a hand on her unless he planned to make her his wife, but was that something that she would want? “Amanda, I …” he began, but his words faltered with the uncertainty of what he should say and instead he just stood there in the silence that followed, staring back at her.
Laying himself bare before her like this could ruin everything – his friendship with her brother as well as that between their parents. It was a tremendous risk to take when he wasn’t even certain of how she might respond, so he kept quiet instead, thinking of how to proceed when she suddenly laughed.

“I don’t believe I’ve ever seen you speechless before,” she said, pouring more brandy into her glass and taking another sip.

Her skin had grown flushed and he could tell by the slur of her words that the alcohol was taking effect. She wasn’t herself, and rather than standing about talking, he ought to do the responsible thing and get her to bed. By herself of course, not with him – though the thought did tempt him. He pushed it aside. “You’ve never spoken to me about marriage or children before,” he said.

She chuckled. “No, I suppose not.” Heading back toward her chair, she swayed a little, regained her balance and plopped down onto the seat. She leaned back and said. “Then again, what reason would I have to discuss such matters with you? My father will eventually see to it that I marry a respectable gentleman. You needn’t concern yourself on that score.”
Was she mocking him? He wasn’t certain, though she did sound annoyed. He was getting rather annoyed himself thinking of her in the arms of some faceless man.

“Besides,” she continued. “You are busy enough right now. I wonder which of them you’ll pick.”

Her comment threw him completely. “I beg your pardon?”

“You didn’t think I’d notice your interest in my cousins?” There was no mistaking the bitterness in her tone this time, and he found himself leaning forward with interest. “They’re truly stunning with their blonde hair and alabaster skin. I cannot fault you for being fascinated.”

“The drink has loosened your tongue too much, Amanda,” he said, irritated that she would think he gave a damn about three women who were no different than all the rest. “You speak without thinking.”

“They like you too, you know,” she added, not heeding his warning in the slightest. He was about to reprimand her again and suggest she get herself upstairs to bed before she said anything more, when a sad smile claimed her lips and she whispered beneath her breath, “Though not nearly as much as I.”

Peter stood for a moment frozen and unable to move. Hell, he could barely breathe, much less focus on his thoughts. Had he heard her right? He believed so and somehow found himself moving toward her – the woman he’d come to realize he wanted by his side forever, who’d just confessed to liking him quite a lot, even though it had taken a great deal of brandy for her to pluck up the courage to say so. “Would you mind repeating that?” he asked.
Her eyes met his, focused, and she suddenly leapt out of her seat, her hand clasped across her mouth as she stepped away from him. “It was nothing,” she gasped from behind her hand, her eyes darting toward the door as if calculating her chance of escape.

She obviously hadn’t realized she’d spoken her words aloud, or perhaps she just hadn’t counted on him hearing her. Whatever the case, she wasn’t deep enough in her cups not to know that her words had changed everything between them. There was no going back now.
“It certainly wasn’t nothing,” he said, following her as she edged her way along one of the bookcases until she’d backed herself into a corner.

She shook her head. “Of course it was. I only meant that they don’t know you as well as I do. After all, I’ve known you forever and I … I …” She had nowhere to go with him now standing before her, blocking her only exit.

Reaching out, he gently brushed her cheek with his fingers. “I have no interest in your cousins, Amanda.”

“You … you don’t?” Her eyes were wide with confusion. “But I thought—”
“Yes, you did, but you were mistaken.” His fingers traced the delicate structure of her jawline, leaving a deep blush in their wake. “You see, the thing of it is, Amanda, that there is only one woman I care for, except I dared not hope that she might care for me – until now. Do you care for me, Amanda?”

He saw the longing in her eyes as realization dawned, and knew she’d respond in the affirmative before she nodded her answer. As soon as she did so however, he immediately breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank God, for I don’t believe I could have born it if you didn’t.” And then he did what he’d wanted to do for so long. He lowered his mouth over hers and kissed her, chasing away whatever doubts she might have left that he would ever want someone else.

Her lips parted and he was there, coaxing her and tasting her until she gasped for breath. “I will speak to your father tomorrow,” he promised and her face lit up with a dazzling smile.
“This is indeed the best Christmas ever,” she said, leaning back into him for yet another smoldering kiss.

“I couldn’t agree more,” he said
She suddenly frowned. “I hope I won’t have forgotten about all of this in the morning. After all, I did have my fair share of brandy.”

Peter grinned. “That you did.” He placed a gentle kiss upon her forehead. “Fear not though – I shall leave you a note to remind you of all that has transpired.”

Amanda woke the following morning, groaning in response to the pounding headache that threatened to split her skull in two. She rolled onto her side and opened her eyes to find a crisp piece of paper perched on her bedside table. Picking it up, she frowned, read it, and finally leapt from her bed in a state of total and utter bliss. She hadn’t forgotten, but his words made her heart sing with joy:

In case you fail to recall last night’s events, allow me tell you that I love you, Amanda, that I have always loved you, and that I will never cease loving you. I hope you will do me the very great honor of marrying me, though it goes without saying that a formal proposal is in order. After all, you deserve the very best.
With the deepest affection and admiration,
P.S. I have a Christmas present waiting for you downstairs.

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