Snowbound with the Viscount – Shana Galen

Everyone agreed the house party was an unmitigated disaster. The weather had been rainy but not cold enough to snow. All of the outdoor events—the ice skating, the sledding, and the gathering of greenery for the coming Christmas holiday—had been cancelled due to inclement weather. No one wanted to traipse about in puddles of slushy mud. Thus, when the first flakes of snow drifted lazily to the frigid ground the night before the party was to conclude and the guests were to depart for their family estates to celebrate Christmas with loved ones, most of the guests eyed the steadily falling flecks with narrowed eyes. When the worst was confirmed, and the gray morning revealed mammoth snow drifts, howling winds, and a blur of swirling white outside the frosty windows, no one was pleased to be snowbound. No one but Holly. She had no one to go home to. She was to spend Christmas with her sister and her sister’s family, as she had the last three years, but the experience had always proved more depressing than joyous. Anne and her husband were so happy. They had such beautiful children. They had a lovely home. They had everything Holly wanted. For a little while she had thought she was the luckiest woman alive. She’d married a man she loved and esteemed, and they’d been happy.

But then James died, and she’d watched all her dreams slip through her fingers. She hadn’t planned to come to the house party. Even if Lady Dorsey was one of her good friends from childhood, Holly had little interest in parlor games or freezing her cheeks and toes to skate in circles around a frozen lake. Some days it felt like it took all of her energy just to breathe. Holiday frivolity seemed a distant memory. But then Eva—Lady Dorsey—had casually remarked that Lord Ivy would be in attendance, and Holly hadn’t been able to decline. Now that she stood in the morning room, peering out the window at the blur of white obscuring objects even a few feet away, Holly considered that Eva had known what she was about when she’d mentioned Lord Ivy. Eva knew Holly blushed whenever Ivy was near and became tongue-tied when he spoke to her. He’d been her brother’s friend at school, and he’d often come home with Edward on school breaks. But Adam, now Viscount Ivy, had never paid the slightest bit of attention to shy, quiet Holly.

He’d been much more interested in horses. His family was known to breed and train the very best horses in England. Clearly Ivy’s father and grandfather had passed the interest on to the new heir. Her brother, Edward, had been similarly infatuated with horses, and the two boys spent more time in the stable and paddock than in her parents’ house. Holly hadn’t minded. She had a clear view of both locations from her bedroom window. She’d been watching Adam from a distance ever since. She’d forgotten about the viscount when she’d fallen in love with and married James. But after her husband’s death and one year of mourning, she went out in public once again and for the next two years she saw Viscount Ivy at practically every E turn. He had also been just out of mourning, having lost his father about the same time she lost James.

They had both suffered a devastating loss, but Holly dearly wished they had something else in common. Adam had been an attractive boy with wavy hair that was neither brown nor blond but somewhere in-between and with the best shades of both running through it. His brown eyes were always warm, as though someone had stirred gold into the brown to make it softer. His face had been rounder when he was younger. It thinned as he grew older, the cheekbones and jaw looking almost as though a sculptor had chiseled away the baby flesh to reveal the sleek bone structure beneath. And though she knew he was not particularly tall, he carried himself in a way that made him seem to tower over other men. His back was straight, his shoulders broad, his thighs perfectly shaped in his tight breeches. And so, when it appeared that the house party would continue at least one more night and perhaps two, leaving the guests stranded on Christmas Eve, Holly didn’t really mind. She pretended to mind, but there were worse things than spending the holiday with her oldest friend and the dashing Lord Ivy, even if she hadn’t done more than whisper a hello or smile shyly at him from across the room. She heard the door to the morning room open and turned with an apology on her lips.

She expected to see Eva, coming to scold her for sneaking out of charades in the drawing room. Instead she stared into the handsome face of Viscount Ivy. He looked as surprised to see her as she was to see him. His eyes widened, and his brows rose. “Mrs. Farthing.” He gave a quick bow, recovering his composure. “Lord Ivy,” Holly said, her voice little more than a whisper. If he had come to the morning room, he wanted solitude. She should leave him to his peace and quiet.

“I was just leaving,” she said, aware her cheeks must be flaming red. Her face felt as though she was mere inches from a roaring fire. “You needn’t leave on my account,” he said, moving into the room and closing the door behind him. “In fact, I had been looking for the chance to speak with you.” Holly’s breath caught, and she stared at him in disbelief. “Y-you wanted to speak with me?” He smiled easily. “Is that so strange? We are old friends, are we not? I asked you in passing, I know, but now that we are alone, I wanted to inquire again. How is your family? How is Edward? I haven’t seen him for some time.” “Edward?” She understood the question, but she couldn’t quite move past the fact that Viscount Ivy thought of her as a friend. On the one hand, she was grateful he’d noticed her at all.

On the other, her feelings toward him were much warmer than friendship. “Yes, your brother?” Ivy said when she didn’t respond to his question. “How is he?” “Fine,” she finally managed. Ivy’s eyes narrowed. “Have I caught you at a bad time? I should excuse myself.” “No!” She couldn’t let him leave. This was her chance to…to…she did not know what this was her chance to do, but she did know she wanted Adam to keep talking to her. “I mean, I am quite well, thank you. And so is Edward. He has taken over the management of my late parents’ estate.

It keeps him well occupied and also makes him very happy.” “I can imagine. Well, if anyone is up to that task, it is Edward. He was always a brilliant student.” He nodded at her. “And you? How are you? I know this time of year must be difficult for you.” He was referring to James’s passing, of course. “Thank you. I am sure it is for you and your family, as well.” “Thank you.

Have I told you how much my mother—well, all of us—appreciated your letter of condolence?” Holly swallowed the lump in her throat. She barely remembered writing the letter when Adam’s father had died as she had been so deep in grief at the time, but she was pleased to know it had been well received. And then she realized she had not spoken for a minute or two, and the silence dragged on. Ivy ran a hand through his hair and crossed to the window, where she still stood. Holly moved aside so he could see the storm outside. “When you arrived, I didn’t expect you to be alone,” he said, his eyes on the swirling snow. “I have my maid,” Holly said. He smiled and then looked at her. “I meant, I thought you would have married again by now.” Holly was struck speechless both by the words and by the handsomeness of his features.

“Why?” she finally managed, though if she had not been so awed, she would never have been so forward. “A pretty girl like you,” Ivy said. “What man wouldn’t want you?” Holly did not know what she would have said next, and she never had the chance to say it because just then the door opened, and Eva entered. “Holly, I have been looking everywhere for you. I—” She stopped when she spotted Ivy. “My lord. I do apologize. I did not mean to interrupt.” Ivy bowed. “You are never an interruption, my lady.

If you’ll excuse me, I believe the men are gathering in the billiards room.” “Of course.” Holly and Eva curtsied and did not speak until Ivy had closed the door and his footsteps faded. Eva grasped Holly’s hand and squealed. “Tell me everything.” Eva was a petite woman, barely five feet when she stood straight, shoulders back. She had dark hair and green eyes, and the most adorable dimples when she smiled. It was difficult for Holly to deny Eva anything when she smiled and pressed her soft, warm hand into Holly’s. “There’s nothing to tell.” Holly’s voice sounded breathless, as though she had run a great distance.

She put a hand on her chest to still her heart. “Lord Ivy asked after my brother.” “That’s it?” Holly felt her face heating again. Eva smiled. “Tell me.” “He said I was pretty. He said any man would want me for a wife.” “I just knew this snow would redeem the party! What will you do now?” Eva squeezed her hand tightly. Holly shook her head. “I don’t know.

What should I do?” Eva bent and looked into Holly’s eyes. “Make him love you.” “I can’t!” “You can. Anything is possible. It’s Christmastime.” Oh, but that was easy for Eva to say. She was pretty and vivacious and at ease even among strangers. Holly was so painfully shy that even when a man did ask her to dance, she could hardly carry on a conversation. Dinner parties were interminable as she never knew what to say and often became so nervous she could hardly eat. She preferred to stay home and observe.

She could sit at her window in the drawing room and see the people passing on the street below as she sewed or read or simply propped her chin on her hand and watched the world pass her by. Eva squeezed her hands again. “You will try, won’t you, Holly?” The hope in Eva’s eyes had the effect of sparking a flicker of hope in Holly’s heart. She knew better than to nurture that hope, but she couldn’t help but smile. “I will try,” Holly said. ADAM MADE HIS WAY TO the billiards room, but he was drawn to a nearby window before entering. The snow fell so thickly the world outside was completely obscured. Even the window was frosted over, his breath having warmed but a small oval. He stared out at the falling snow, but in his mind, he saw Holly Farthing. She had always been a pretty girl, and as a boy he had appreciated her and Edward.

Edward enjoyed the outdoors as much as he did, and when they were forced inside to take meals with his family, Holly did not flutter her lashes and follow him about as the sisters of his other friends were wont to do. Edward and Holly’s eldest sibling, Anne, was five years Edward’s senior and had no interest in little boys or horses. Or so she reminded them often. That suited Adam perfectly. His interest had always been horses and though he admired a pretty face as much as the next fellow, he didn’t understand why so many of his friends spent all of their waking moments fixated on this girl or that. His mother had liked to remind him that it would be his duty to marry and produce a son. He had three younger brothers, but he was the heir. To that end, he had courted a few ladies and found the experience enjoyable, but he hadn’t met anyone he wanted to look at across the breakfast table for the rest of his life. And then his father had died, and he’d not had time to think of finding a wife. He had not mourned for show, but in truth.

His father had been a kind, wise, and caring man. The entire family had been devastated at his untimely death from what seemed to be a weak heart. But at the end of the year of mourning, his mother had gently pushed him back into Society. This time, she had introduced him to several young ladies she thought he might take for a wife. To his surprise, Adam had found his attention drawn to Holly Farthing. The Season was a whirl of activity, scents, and sounds, but even in the middle of a crowded ballroom, Holly looked calm and serene—and yes, a little terrified. She was still shy and quiet, but there was something lovely about her that he must have seen when she was a child, but which he could appreciate now that they were both adults. He’d begun to think of her as a port in the storm and often went to speak to her when his ears were ringing from too much noise and activity. She didn’t always have much to say, but she was a very good listener. One reason he’d agreed to come to Lord and Lady Dorsey’s house party—other than his mother’s cajoling—was that he knew Lady Dorsey and Holly were good friends.

He’d wanted to see Holly again, and perhaps deepen their acquaintance. It hadn’t been until his carriage was halfway to Dorsey House that he realized Holly would probably bring her intended. He did not know who the man would be, but Adam assumed there would be such a man. After all, Holly was the kind of wife any intelligent man would want for his own. James Farthing had certainly wasted no time marrying her, as they announced their engagement only weeks after she was presented at Court. But she had come to the holiday gathering unaccompanied, and that fact had given Adam much to think upon. He’d almost approached her a dozen times the past few days, but it seemed every time he went to speak to her, the thought that she might only see him as a brother crossed his mind. But now that the party had been extended, he’d decided to take his chances. To that end, when she’d gone into the morning room alone, he’d followed. Their conversation had not been terribly encouraging, but it was a start.

And if Adam was not mistaken, Holly had blushed when he’d looked at her. Was he wrong to take some encouragement from that? The billiards room door opened and Lord Haggerston emerged. His hand was in his coat, but he withdrew it when he saw Adam. “Ivy,” he said, his voice deep and gravelly. He gestured to the window. “Fine kettle of fish this is. Stuck until that storm abates.” “There are worse fates,” Adam said, looking about the fine antechamber with its comfortable furnishings and tasteful embellishments. “Yes, I suppose you’re right.” Haggerston reached for his coat again then lowered his hand.

Adam could only assume the man had his flask inside the coat and had stepped out to take a drink. His bulbous red nose and the scattering of broken blood vessels on his cheeks attested to his love of overimbibing. He was about twenty years Adam’s senior, and Adam didn’t particularly like the man. He couldn’t see that Lord Dorsey liked him either, but his estate was only five miles away, and Dorsey could hardly exclude his neighbors from the party. “Well, if you’ll excuse me,” Adam said, moving toward the billiards room. Haggerston stepped out of his way, and Adam entered the dark-paneled room, where a ring of smoke hovered above the billiards table. “Ah, there you are,” Dorsey said, his gaze flicking up from the table only briefly before studying it again. He held a cue in one hand and tapped the end thoughtfully against his leg. Mr. Swinton, a friend of Dorsey’s from school, stood on the other side of the room, arms crossed over his chest, smug smile on his face.

“We’ve just begun a new game,” Dorsey said, looking up from the table. “Did you want to play?” Adam saw Swinton’s eyes widen—obviously he liked the direction of the game and did not want to begin anew. Adam waved a hand. “I’m content to watch.” He watched for a good quarter hour, chatting amiably with the two men before Dorsey admitted defeat and he and Swinton shook hands. Dorsey turned to Adam. “I feel I should warn you, my wife told me she feels the need to salvage this party.” “Why does it need salvaging?” Adam asked, though he was aware some of the guests had been disappointed at the bad weather and the cancellation of many outdoor events. “I don’t ask,” Dorsey said. “I just agree.

” “And what have you agreed to now?” Swinton inquired, rolling one of the balls on the table toward the edge and then catching it as it rolled back again. “I’m not entirely certain,” Dorsey said. “But I would not be surprised if there was dancing.” Swinton made a sound of disgust, but Adam only raised his brows. He was no great dancer and didn’t seek out the activity, but dancing did have one great advantage: it allowed a man to be close to a woman. It might be just the opportunity he was looking for to truly gauge Holly’s feelings for him.

.

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