Winter Wedding for the Prince(59)

By: Barbara Wallace

She blinked and then spoke again. ‘Clio doesn’t take kindly to her staff being yelled at.’

‘I didn’t yell,’ he replied instantly.

‘Yes, you did,’ she said firmly.

She bent down and picked up the broken strand of lights. ‘I’m sorry you don’t appreciate the Christmas decorations. They are all your own—of course. I got them from the basement.’ She licked her lips for a second and then spoke again. ‘I often think hotels can be a little impersonal. It can be lonely this time of year—particularly for those who are apart from their family. I was trying to give the room—’ she held up her hands ‘—a little personality. That’s all. A feeling of Christmas.’ It was the wistful way she said it. She wasn’t trying to be argumentative. He could tell from the expression on her face that she meant every word.

His stomach curled. The one thing he was absolutely trying to avoid. He didn’t want to feel Christmas in any shape or form. He didn’t want a room with ‘feelings’. That was the whole point of being here.

He wanted The Armstrong to look sleek and exclusive. He’d purposely removed any sign of Christmas from this hotel. He didn’t need reminders of the time of year.

For the first time in a long time he felt a tiny pang of regret. Not for himself, but for the person who was standing in front of him who clearly had demons of her own.

She pressed her lips together and started picking up the other decorations. She could move quickly when she wanted to. The red baubles were swept from above the bathroom mirror—he hadn’t even noticed them yet. She stuffed the small tree awkwardly into the linen bag on her trolley. The bowl with—whatever it was—was tipped into the bin.

Her face was tight as she moved quickly around the penthouse removing every trace of Christmas from the room. As she picked up the last item—a tiny sprig of holly—she turned to face him.

‘What is it you have against Christmas anyway?’ She was annoyed. Upset even.

He didn’t even think. ‘My wife is dead and Christmas without her is unbearable.’

No one asked him that question. Ever. Not in the last five years.

Everyone tiptoed around about him. Speaking in whispers and never to his face. His friends had stopped inviting him to their weddings and christening celebrations. It wasn’t a slight. It was their way of being thoughtful. He would never dream of attending on his own. And he just couldn’t bear to see his friends living the life he should have with Anna.

The words just came spilling out unguarded. They’d been caught up inside him for the last five years. Simmering under the surface when people offered their condolences or gave that fleeting glance of pity.

‘I hate Christmas. I hate everything about it. I hate seeing trees. I hate seeing presents. I hate seeing families all happy, smiling at each other. I don’t need any reminders of the person missing from my life. I don’t need any at all. I particularly don’t need some stranger digging through my belongings and taking out the last thing I have of my wife’s—the only thing that I’ve kept from our Christmases together—and laying it on my pillow like some holy talisman. Will it bring Anna back? Will it make Christmas any better?’ He was pacing now. He couldn’t help the pitch of his voice. He couldn’t help the fact that the more he said, the louder he became, or the broader his Scottish accent sounded. ‘No. No, it won’t. So I don’t do Christmas. I don’t want to do it. And I don’t want to discuss it.’

He turned back around to face her.

She looked shell-shocked. Her eyes wide and her bottom lip actually trembling. Her hand partially covering her mouth.

He froze. Catching himself before he continued any further.

There were a few seconds of silence. Tears pooled in her eyes. ‘I’m s...sorry,’ she stammered as she turned on her heel and bolted to the door.

Finlay didn’t move. Not a muscle. He hadn’t even taken his thick winter coat off since he’d arrived.

What on earth had he just done?

He had no idea who the Maids in Chelsea were. He had no idea who Clio Caldwell was.

But he didn’t doubt that as soon as she found him, he could expect a rollicking.

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