Quick note: Eisley has traveled to England to research a family-history mystery and Wes is a reformed British baddy movie star. Eisley's pretty convinced that Wes is a fictional character who offers no risk to her wounded heart. Wes is convinced Eisley is as self-centered and conniving as most of the other women in his circles. They're both pretty wrong - and are just starting to figure it out in this chapter. A little Christmas magic goes a long way :-)
Merry Christmas and I hope you enjoy!!
JUST THE WAY YOU ARE (excerpt)
Eisley wasn’t in Pleasant Gap anymore. If the accents and expensive food didn’t convince her, then the white Christmas lights sprinkled about a magical 14th century manor house clued her in. She stopped in the doorway and closed her eyes to steady her nerves. Lord, don’t let me embarrass Mr. and Mrs. Harrison, or fall flat on my face, or have another stupid migraine…
She sighed and stepped across the threshold.
Voices murmured into a quiet hum with the music from a string quartet, crystal and silver tinkled like Christmas bells, and the soft breeze from the dance floor whispered against her warm cheeks carrying the scents of cinnamon and berries. Magical. A smooth parade of couples glided across the dance floor, moving to the music like a foggy dream. A rivulet of envy spliced her middle. She’d practically lamed poor Mr. H during his brief dance instructions before the Gala. Proving one thing: Two lessons dost not a dancer make.
The couple in the middle of the room caught her attention. Wes danced with a goddess to match his Adonis persona. Long, smooth legs. Thin, freckle-less arms. A Scarlet O’Hara look-alike wearing a red…towel? From the flow of it, it couldn’t really be a towel. Maybe an oversized red scarf.
Vivian Barry in the flesh – enough visible, wrinkle-free flesh to model for Victoria’s Secret. If possible, Vivian was more stunning in person than the magazine photos. Oh to have curves and a waistline like that. Eisley sucked in her stomach and stood up a little straighter. No use. She groaned. Chocolate ice cream was such a traitor.
Daniel Harrison nudged Eisley out of her stupor and whispered, “Would you care to dance, luv?”
She pressed into his shoulder with her own, curbing a touch of homesickness with his camaraderie. “No thanks, you sweet man. I’ll just stand here and do my dad’s kind of dancing.” Eisley pointed to her black heels. “Tap my toe, nod my head to the beat, and smile as if I know something no one else knows. Believe me, it’s less catastrophic this way.”
Daniel chuckled. “I’ve a mind to like this family of yours.”
Eisley pushed a mock-shudder through her body. “And you think I make a lasting impression? Just wait until you meet my dad and brothers.” She whistled low. “You’ll never be the same.”Her attention drifted back to the couple on the dance floor. Wes’s hand rested on the small of Vivian’s back, the awareness of it sending sparks skidding up Eisley’s spine. Stupid hormones. Vivian’s palm touched Wes shoulder, their poise a perfect match. They looked beautiful.
“Pardon?” Daniel asked, leaning closer.
Eisley nodded toward Wes and Vivian. “The two of them look perfect together, like a fairytale.”
Eleanor made some noise resembling a growl and murmured something that sounded suspiciously like “wicked witch.”
Eisley bit the inside of her lips to keep from asking, but curiosity unlocked her jawbone. She reached for a glass of water, feigning indifference. “They’ve been together a long time, haven’t they?”Eleanor closed her eyes, wearily. “I’ll not deny they’ve had a past, but I certainly hope he’s outgrown her shallow ploys. If he doesn’t have wits enough to steer clear of her, he deserves a sound slap.”
The thought of Wes Harrison receiving a sound slap tickled a grin and drew her attention back to the dance floor, as the music drew to a close. Just then, Wes’s gaze caught hers. His smile started from one crooked corner and spread all the way across to dimple on the other side.
He walked toward her, his James Bond appeal growing with each step. Open collared white shirt and black slacks added to the pure attraction. She pinched herself to make sure her imagination hadn’t gotten the better of her. Tall, dark, and dreamy belonged to the lady in the red-towel, right?
A trail of model-look-alikes littered his history and the glamour of brilliant stardom glittered in his future. He lived totally out of her league and danced with a past which mocked hers. But why didn’t the man from the papers match the guy she’d hung out with all day?
She released her clutched breath and offered him a smile. A shared smile for a friendly acquaintance. And only a nice safe acquaintance…with swagger.
“It’s a pleasure to see you again, Mrs. Barrett.” Wes took her cool hand into his warm one. “Are you feeling better?”
The candlelight haloed his face, giving his eyes a golden glow, and inviting an intimacy she ignored like the electricity traveling up her arm. She pulled out of his hold and waved away his concern. “Yes, thank you. Please don’t use anything I said during my aura-induced state against me, okay?”A dimple flickered in his cheek. “And where’s the fun in that?”
Heat skittered up her spine at the theatrical combination of charm and good lucks. Oh how she loved fiction. “Right. Well, I’m sure your day with a crazy Appalachian provided lots entertainment.”
He closed in and all sorts of strange fireworks shot off in her stomach. Okay so admiration from afar may not be far enough, but this was a perfectly impossible kind of admiration. She could enjoy it while it lasted, since it was perfectly safe and deliciously one-sided. Very movie-like.
“I haven’t had such a pleasant afternoon in a long time. It must be the company I keep.” He winked, controlled grin honed to perfection. The actor emerges.
Yep, totally fictional.
***** And just so you can get a sense of closure, I'll give you the last bit of the scene from Wes' point of view.
“Well, if Christmas is the season of miracles, you’ve renewed my faith in them.” She stepped away from him and smiled through her curtsy. “We both survived my first dance.”
The music had ended?
“You seem surprised at your success.”
“Are you kidding? I’ve spent the last eight years of my life with preschoolers as my primary conversational partners. I feel accomplished if I use more than two syllable words in a sentence and don’t end up with kid stains on my clothes. This is definitely a storybook moment for me.”
Her look of appreciation fed him to his core. The sweetness in her unpretentious joy poured over his raw soul with a healing touch. Somehow by the light of the Christmas glow, he almost believed in miracles again. Even for a reformed scoundrel.
May the greatest Christmas miracle of all bring hope, peace, and joy to your hearts this Christmas!
Pepper Basham writes romance peppered with grace and humor. She’s a native of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a mom of five, a speech-language pathologist, and a lover of chocolate. She writes a variety of genres, but enjoys sprinkling her native culture of Appalachia in them all. She currently resides in the lovely mountains of Asheville, NC where she works with kids with special needs, searches for unique hats, and plots new ways to annoy her wonderful friends at her writing blog, The Writer’s Alley. She is represented by Julie Gwinn and is debuting her first novel in Spring 2015.