Christmas in the Boss's Castle Nov 2016


Chambermaid Grace Ellis loves Christmas, but after losing her beloved grandmother, she’ll be spending this festive season working. So when her boss, Finlay ‘Scrooge’ Armstrong offers her a magical Christmas in Scotland, it’s a welcome distraction from her grief.

Widower Finlay is haunted by the ghosts of Christmas past, but snowbound together in his Scottish castle, Grace starts to melt the ice around his heart. He never thought he’d find love again, but maybe finding Grace is his very own Christmas miracle…!

CHAPTER ONE

Grace brushed the snow from her shoulders as she ducked in the back door of the exclusive Armstrong hotel in Chelsea, London. It was just after six in the morning, the streets were still dark and she could see her footprints in the snow outside.

Frank, the senior concierge came in behind her. A wide grin lit up his face as he saw her looking at the snow outside. “Finally,” he muttered as he shook the snow from his coat, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” the words of the song floated from his lips. He gave her a nudge. “You’re too young to remember this one.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Frank, you should know, I know every version, of every Christmas song that’s ever existed.”

They walked into the changing room. “What version do you want to go for? Johnny Mathis, Frank Sinatra, or Michael Buble?” She started singing alongside him as she wound her long brown hair up into a loose bun and tied on her white chambermaid’s apron over her black shirt and skirt.

Christmas was her absolute favourite time of year. It brought back great memories of the Christmases she’d spent with her grandmother in the little flat they’d shared in one of the poorer parts of London. But what they didn’t have in wealth, they’d certainly made up for in love. This would be her first Christmas without her gran and she was determined not to be sad and gloomy – her gran would never have wanted that for her.

Frank slid his arms into his dark green and gold jacket and started fastening the buttons. “I swear this thing shrinks every night when I put it into my locker.”

Grace laughed and closed her locker, walking over to Frank and pulling his jacket a little closer across his wide girth, helping him with the buttons. He kept singing the whole time. She finished with a sigh. “I wish those words were true.”

Frank frowned as he glanced at his reflection in the nearby mirror and straightened his jacket. They started walking down the lower corridor of the hotel together. She shrugged. “I wish it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” She held out her hands. “Because it certainly isn’t in here.” She gave a shake of her head. “I don’t get it. All the other big hotels in London have huge Christmas trees in their reception area and garlands and holly wreaths everywhere.”

The Armstrong hotel was part of a luxurious chain across the world. Locations in London, Paris, Tokyo, Rome and New York were regularly used by statesmen, politicians, rock stars and Hollywood celebrities. They were the epitome of glamour, renowned for their exclusivity, personal touches and perfection to detail. It was a far cry from the small flat that Grace lived in and over the past few months she’d secretly loved seeing how the other half lived their lives. She knew one pop star that never laundered their underwear and instead just threw it away. A politician who had a secret interest in romance novels and a statesman that only ate red coloured candy.

They reached the stairway up to the main reception. Frank held the door open for her and pressed his lips together. But now Grace had started, she couldn’t stop. “I mean, I know this place is exclusive, but the minimalist Christmas decorations?” She gave another shake of her head. “They just look – well….cold.”

Frank sighed as he headed over towards his granite-topped desk. He spoke quietly as he glanced around the reception area. Everything was sleek and shades of black or grey. “I know,” his eyes took in the small black and glass sign on the main reception desk. The Armstrong wishes you a Merry Christmas. It was the only concession to Christmas on show. He checked the ledger on the desk in front of him and handed Grace an envelope. “The Armstrong used to have beautiful Christmas decorations and lights. All exclusive. All extortionate. But they added colour to the place. Vibrancy.”

Grace started to automatically open the envelope with her day’s assignments. She glanced upwards, “So, what happened?”

Frank paused for a second before finally answering. Her gaze narrowed. Although she’d only been working here a few months, Frank had been here forever. He was thoroughly professional, good at his job and for the guests who returned time after time – a most welcome sight. “They had a rebranding,” he said finally.

Grace frowned. She wanted to ask more, but like most good concierges, Frank had always been the sole of discretion. It was unlikely she’d get anymore out of him.

She waved her assignment at him. “I wish they’d let me do the rebranding around here. I could sprinkle some Christmas fairy dust.” She held out her hands and spun around, “Some silver lights up here, some red ones over there. A tree near the glass doors. How about some garlands at the reception desk? And a huge pile of beautifully wrapped presents in the little alcove, just as you go through to the bar.” She stopped spinning, closed her eyes and held her hands to her chest. For a few seconds she could actually see in her head what this place could look like. The welcome. The warmth. The festivities.

Frank let out a wry laugh. “Keep dreaming, Grace.”

Her eyelids flickered back open. Grey. Sleek. Blackness everywhere. She leaned forward across Frank’s desk. “I could even make this place smell like Christmas. Cookies. Cinnamon sticks. Cranberries. Pine trees and Christmas spices. And not from some tacky candle.”

Frank arched an eyebrow and leaned over towards her. “There’s a lot to be said for candles. And I’m sure we’ve got a whole host of those things packed up in the basement somewhere.” He shook his head. “But I doubt very much we’ll ever see them again.” He gave her a careful nod. “You should take some home with you. Make good use of them.”

She gave a half-smile. He knew. He’d heard from some of the other girls that she was on her own. Grace didn’t like people feeling sorry for her. But Frank had only the best of intentions. She knew that. So, she couldn’t be offended by his good intentions. In fact, she was quite sure that sometime, someplace he might actually dress up as Santa.

Truth was, whilst the Armstrong hotel was opulent, it’s biggest asset was actually the staff. There were no ‘bad pennies’ as her gran used to call them.

Everything here was luxurious. From the bed sheets, to the furnishings, the Michelin starred restaurant, even the heavy duty stationery that her daily work assignment was printed on.

It was a world away from what she’d been brought up in. Working with the Maids in Chelsea agency had been a blessing in disguise. When her grandmother had died almost a year ago after a long battle with cancer, Grace had realised it was time to stop putting her own life on hold. Her gran had been the biggest part of her world. For a few years she’d only managed to take temporary part-time jobs that fitted in around being fulltime carer for her gran. Working as a chambermaid might not be many women’s dream job, but the salary was good and her work colleagues had turned into the best bunch of friends a girl could have.

As one of London’s exclusive hotels, work at the Armstrong varied. There were a few guests that stayed here permanently. Some of the city’s big businesses always had rooms on hold for their overseas visitors. A few of the suites seemed to be permanently vacant. Then, there were the celebrity guests.

In the space of a few months Grace had seen enough scandal and impropriety to keep the tabloid presses in headlines for the next year. But confidentiality was part of the contract for Maids in Chelsea – and she would never have breathed a word anyway.

Today’s assignment was a little different. She headed over to the reception desk. “Anya, can I just check? I’ve to clean the Nottingdale Suite? The penthouse? No one has ever stayed there in the whole time I’ve worked here.”

Anya checked the computer system. “Yes, it’s going to be used later. We’re expecting the guest around five.”

“Who normally stays there?”

Anya smiled. “I’m not sure. I did hear a rumour it was the reclusive tycoon who owns the whole chain.”

Grace tried not to let her mouth hang open. “Really? I’ve never even seen them? Is it a man or a woman? What’s their name?”

Anya held up her hands. “You tell me. You’ve worked here longer than I have.”

Grace shook her head. “I haven’t paid that much attention. And I’ve never been in the penthouse.” She winked at Anya. “This could be fun.”

The morning flew past. And it was fun. She cleaned a few rooms. Made a few special request orders for guests. Unpacked seven giant cases for a guest who was staying for only two nights. Then spent nearly an hour with Mrs Alice Archer, her favourite long-term guest who was 89 going on 21. Mrs Archer needed special soft sheets for her bed due to a long-term skin condition that affected her back, legs and arms. Grace was happy to give her a hand applying cream to spots she couldn’t quite reach and helping her into whatever fabulous outfit she’d picked for the day. Alice’s walk in wardrobe was every girl’s fantasy. It was full of original 1940’s clothes – all completely immaculate. Gorgeous full skirts, waist cinching jackets, gingham dresses, a rainbow array of neckerchiefs, fitted sweaters and a few rarely worn satin evening gowns. There was a handbag and shoes to match every outfit.

Alice Archer had her hair styled twice a week, was fastidious with her make up, favouring bright red lipstick and drank lemon tea that Grace prepared for her most mornings, once she’d been helped into her clothes. In a way she reminded Grace of her grandmother. Oh, her grandmother had certainly never had the lifestyle that Alice had experienced. But both had the same quick wit, sharp minds and big hearts. Grace finished fastening Alice’s shoes as she sipped her lemon tea.

“What are you doing today? Lunch or afternoon tea?”

Alice patted her hand. “Thank you, Grace. It’s Thursday. So it’s afternoon tea at the Ritz. I’m meeting an old colleague.” She nudged Grace. “He proposed to me once, you know.”

Grace looked up. “He did? Now that sounds interesting. Why didn’t you marry him?”

Alice let out a laugh. “Harry? Not a chance. Harry was a cad. A man about town. He would have broken my heart. So I had to break his first.”

Grace blinked. It was the throwaway way that she said it. There was a trace of something else in behind those carefully made up eyes. Did Alice regret her choice?

She hoped not. A man about town. Definitely not the type of guy that Grace was looking for. She’d never want a relationship with a man who only wanted a fling, or something meaningless. She’d suffered rejection enough. It was pretty much the worst thing in the world to be abandoned by your mother, so she move to another continent, marry another man and create the family she’d really wanted, instead of the unexpected teenage pregnancy she’d ended up with.

Grace had always been determined that would never be her. She wasn’t prepared to hand her heart over to anyone. Least of all a man that wouldn’t value and respect her. She wanted everything, the knight on the white horse, the total commitment and someone with eyes only for her.

Hence the reason she was still on her own.

She rested back on her heels and looked up at Alice. “Well, I’m sure that you couldn’t have broken his heart too much, or all these years later he wouldn’t still be meeting you.”

Alice sighed and leaned back in her chair. “Or maybe we’re the only ones left,” she said wistfully. Grace reached up and put her hand over Alice’s frail one, giving it a gentle squeeze. “I bet he’ll be delighted to see you.”

After a second Alice seemed to snap out of her thoughts. “What do you have planned? Tell me you’ve finally decided it’s time to say yes to one of those nice young men that keep asking you out?”

Grace felt her cheeks flush. Alice’s favourite hobby seemed to be trying to pair her off with a ‘suitable’ young man. She wasn’t quite sure any of the men that asked her out recently would be Alice’s ‘suitable’ definition. Lenny the biker had been looking for somewhere cheap to stay and thought asking Grace out might solve his problems. Alan the banker had earned another nickname in her head – as soon as darkness had surrounded them he’d turned into the eight-handed octopus. Ross from college had merely been looking for someone who might do the shopping and make him dinner. And Nathan? He’d seemed perfect. Handsome, hardworking and endearingly polite. But when he’d leaned in for that first kiss they’d both realised there was absolutely no spark.

She was still searching for her knight on a white horse.

In a way it made her sad. Her friends at Maids of Chelsea seemed to be pairing off at an alarming rate. Emma had just reunited with Jack – the husband nobody knew she had. Ashleigh seemed to have fallen under the spell of her gorgeous Greek, Lukas. Even Clio the boss had just announced her engagement to her old boyfriend Enrique and was currently planning an intimate New Year wedding. Then two nights ago her fellow singleton Sophie had mysteriously disappeared. Grace was beginning to feel like the inevitable spare part.

She shook her head at Alice and stood up. “No men for me, I’m afraid. Maybe we can make a New Years Resolution together to try and find some suitable beaus.”

Alice let out a laugh. “Now, that would be fun.” She glanced at the clock. “What are you doing next?”

Grace glanced at the clock too and gave a start. Where had the time gone? “Oh, I’ll have to rush. I’m going to make up the penthouse suite – the Nottingdale. I’ve never even been in it before. I heard it belongs to the owner.”

Alice stared at her for a second with her bright blue eyes.

“What? Do you know him?”

Alice pressed her lips together. She seemed hesitant to speak. Finally she gave a little smile. “I’ve stayed here a while. I might know him a little.”

Grace grinned. She was instantly intrigued. “Go on then. Tell me about him. He’s a bit mysterious. No one seems to know much about him.”

Alice shook her head. “Oh no, Grace. Sometimes mystery is good. I’m sure you’ll meet him in good time.”

Grace narrowed her eyes good naturedly as she headed towards the door. “Alice Archer, I get the distinct impression you could tell me more.” She shook her head. “But I better get on. Have fun with your afternoon tea.”

She closed the door behind her and took out her staff key for the elevator to the penthouse.

The elevator didn’t move. It glided. Like something out of the space ages. It made her want to laugh. The rest of the hotel used the original elevators and Grace actually loved them. The little padded velvet love seat in the back, the panelled wood interior and the large brass button display inside. This private elevator was much like the front entrance. Shades of smooth black and grey. So silent that even her breathing seemed to disturb the air. When the doors slid open she almost jumped.

She stepped outside pulling her little trolley behind her. The entrance to the penthouse was different from the rest of the hotel. Usually the way to guest rooms was lined with thick carpet. The entrance way here was tiled, making the noise of trolley bumping from the elevator echo all around her.

There was huge black solid door in front of her with the pristine glass sign to its right The Nottingdale Suite.

She swallowed. Her mouth felt dry. It was ridiculous. She was nervous. About what?

She slid her staff card into the coder at the door. An electronic voice broke the silence. Grace Ellis, Housekeeping. She let out a shriek and looked around. In the last few months that had never happened anywhere in the hotel. It took a few seconds for her heart to stop clambering against her chest. Her card had actually identified her?

She pulled it out and stared at it for a second. Her confuddled brain started swirling. Of course her staff card probably identified everywhere she went in the hotel. That’s why she had it. But it had never actually said her name out loud before. There was something quite unnerving about that. Something a little space age.

She took a deep breath and pushed open the door. It swung back easily and she drew in a breath. Straight in front of her were the biggest windows she’d ever seen, displaying the whole of Chelsea – and lots of London around them. Her feet moved automatically until her breath misted the glass. The view was spectacular.

Kings Road with its array of exquisite shops, Sloane Square, Chelsea Embankment by the Thames, Albert Bridge. If she looked in the other direction she could see the Chelsea embankment with Battersea park on the other side and Albert Bridge. The view at night when everything was lit up must be spectacular.

Beneath her were rows of beautiful white Georgian townhouses, mews cottages, streets lined with cherry trees. Houses filled with celebrities, Russian oligarchs and international businessmen. Security at all these houses probably cost more than she earned in a year.

She spun around and walked around the penthouse. The still air was disturbing. Almost as if no one had been here for a long time. But the bedroom held a large dark travel case. Someone had been here. If only to drop off the luggage.

She looked around. The bed was bare – waiting to be made up. It took her a few minutes to find the bedding – concealed inside a black gloss cupboard that sprung open as she pressed her fingertips against it. It only took a few minutes to make up the bed with the monochrome bedding. Underneath her fingertips she could feel the quality but the effect still left her cold.

She opened the case and methodically unpacked the clothing. It all belonged to a man. Polished handmade shoes. Italian cut suits. Made to measure shirts. She was almost finished when she felt a little lump inside the case. It only took a second to realise the lump was from something hidden in a inside pocket.

She pulled it out the wad of tissue paper and unwrapped carefully as she sat on the bed. The tissue paper felt old – as if it had wrapped this item for a number of years. By the time she finally peeled back the last layer she sucked in her breath.

It was gorgeous. A sparkling Christmas angel, delicately make from ceramic. Easily breakable – no wonder it was wrapped so carefully. She held it up by the string, letting it dangle in the afternoon light. Even though it was mainly white, the gold and silver glitter gave it warmth. It was a beautiful Christmas tree ornament. One which should be decorating a tree in someone’s house, not being hidden in the pocket in a case.

Her heart gave a little start as she looked around the room. Maybe this business man was having to spend his Christmas apart from his family? Maybe this was the one thing that gave him a little hint of home?

She looked around the cold, sleek room as ideas started to spark in her brain. Frank had told there were decorations in the basement. Maybe she could make this room a little more welcoming? A little bit more like Christmas?

Her smile spread from ear to ear as her spirits lifted a little. She didn’t want to be lonely this Christmas. She certainly didn’t want anyone else to feel that way either.

She hurried down to the basement. One thing about the Armstrong, it was super organised. She checked the ledger book and quickly found where to look. Granted – the room she entered was a little cluttered and dusty. But it wasn’t impossible to find all the cardboard boxes. The tree that once stood in the main entrance was twenty-five feet tall. How impressive it must have looked.

She found some more appropriate sized decorations and put them into a box to carry upstairs.

Two hours later, just as the sky had darkened to shades of navy blue and purple she’d finally achieved the affect she wanted.

Tiny white sparkly lights lit up a tree in the corner of the main room. A gold star adorned the top. She’d found other multi-coloured twinkling lights that she wrapped around the curtain pole in the bedroom. She’d even strung a garland with red Christmas baubles and hung it above the bathroom mirror.

Each room had a little hint of Christmas. It wasn’t overwhelming. But it was cute. It was welcoming. It gave the room the personal touch. The thoughtfulness that could occasionally be missing from even an exclusive hotel like this.

She walked around each room once again, taking in the mood she’d created. The Christmas style potpourri she’d found added to the room, filling it with the aroma of Christmas spices and adding even more atmosphere. She closed her eyes for a second and breathed in. She just loved it. She just loved everything about it.

With the sky darkening with every second and snow dusting the streets outside she gave a little smile.

Just one more touch.

She lifted the Christmas angel from the tissue paper and gently placed it on the pillow in the bedroom. She’d hadn’t felt this good in a long time.

“Perfect,” she whispered.

“Just what do you think you’re doing?” The voice poured ice all over her.

Finlay Armstrong was tired. He was beyond tired. He hadn’t slept in three days. He’d ping-ponged between Japan, the USA and now the UK, all while fending off concerned phone calls from his parents. It was always the same at this time of year.

When would they realise that he deliberately made things busy at this time of year because it was the only way he could get through the season of good will?

He’d already ordered room service in his chauffeur driven car on the journey from the airport. Hopefully it would arrive in the next few minutes then he could sleep for the next few hours and forget about everything.

He hadn’t expected anyone to be in his penthouse. Least of all touching something that was so personal to him – so precious to him.

And the sight of it filled him with instant anger.

He hated Christmas. Hated it. Christmas cards with happy families. Mothers, fathers and their children with stockings hanging from the fireplace. The carols. The presents. The celebratory meals. All yearly reminders of what he had lost.

All reminders of another year without Anna.

The tiny angel was the one thing he had left. Her favourite Christmas decoration that she’d made as a child and used to hang from their tree every year with sentimental pride.

It was the one – and only – thing that had escaped the purge of Christmas for him.

And he couldn’t even bear to look at it. He kept it tucked away and hidden. Just knowing it was there – hidden in the folds of his bag – gave him a tiny crumb of comfort that others clearly wouldn’t understand.

But someone else touching it? Someone else unwrapping it? The only colour he could see right now was red.

Her head shot around and her eyes widened. She stepped backwards, stumbling and making a grab for the wall. “Oh, I’m sorry. I was just trying to get the room ready for you.”

He frowned. He didn’t recognise her. Didn’t recognise her at all. Her shiny brown hair seemed to have escaped from the bun it was supposed to be in with loose strands all around her face. There was an odd smear across one cheek. Was she dirty?

His eyes darted up and down the length of her body. An intruder in his room? No. She was definitely in uniform, but not quite his uniform. She had a black fitted shirt and skirt on, a white apron and black heeled shoes. There was a security key clipped to her waist.

“Who are you?” He stepped forward and pulled at her security badge, yanking it from the clip that held it in place. She let out a gasp and flattened against the wall both hands up in front of her chest.

What? Did she think he might attack her in some way?

He waved the card. “Who on earth are the Maids in Chelsea? Where are my regular housekeeping staff?”

She gave a shudder. A shudder. His lack of patience was building rapidly. The confused look on her face didn’t help. Then things seemed to fall into place.

It was easy to forget how strong his Scottish accent could become when he was angry. It often took people a few seconds to adjust their ears to what he was saying.

“Maids of Chelsea is Clio Caldwell’s company. I’ve worked for her for the last few months.” The words came out in a rush. She glanced around the room. “I’ve been here for the last eight weeks. Before that – I was in Knightsbridge. But I wasn’t here.” She pointed to the floor. “I’ve never been in here before.” She was babbling. He’d obviously made her nervous and that hadn’t been his intention.

He pointed to the angel on the pillow. He could hardly even look at it right now. “And is this what your work normally involves? Touching things you have no business touching? Prying into people’s lives?” He looked around the room and shook his head. He couldn’t help himself. He walked over to the curtains and gave the annoying flickering lights a yank, pulling them so sharply that they flickered once more then went out completely. “Putting cheap, tacky Christmas decorations up in the rooms of the Armstrong?” The anger started to flare again. “The Armstrong doesn’t do this. We don’t spread Christmas tat around as if this were some cheap shop. Where on earth did these come from?”

She looked momentarily stunned. “Well?” he pressed.

She seemed to find her tongue again. “They’re not cheap. The box they were in said they cost £500.” She looked at single strand of lights he’d just broken and her face paled. “I hope that doesn’t come out of my wages.”

The thought seemed to straighten out her current confusion. She took a deep breath, narrowed her gaze at him and straightened her shoulders. She held up one hand. “Who are you?”

Finlay was ready to go up like a firework. Now, he was being questioned in his own hotel, about who he was?

“I’m Finlay Armstrong. I’m the owner of the Armstrong and a whole host of other hotels across the world.” He was trying hard to keep his anger under control. He was tired. He knew he was tired. And he hadn’t meant to frighten her. But whoever this woman was, she was annoying him. “And I take it I’m the person that’s paying your wages – though I’m not sure for how much longer.”

She tilted her chin towards him and stared him in the eye. “I’d say it’s a pleasure to meet you Mr Armstrong, but we both know that wouldn’t be true.”

He almost smiled. Almost. Her dark brown eyes were deeper than any he’d seen before. He hadn’t noticed them at first – probably because he hadn’t been paying attention. But now he was getting the full effect.

He still wanted to have something to eat, crawl into bed, close the curtains and forget about the world outside. But this woman had just gained his full attention.

The tilt of her chin had a defiant edge to it. He liked that. And whilst her hair was a little unkempt and he still hadn’t worked out what the mark was on her cheek, now those things were fading.

She was quite beautiful. Her hair must be long when it was down. Her fitted shirt showed off her curves and although every part of her body was hidden, the white apron accentuated her slim waist and long legs.

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 the 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 in 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 say 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 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 was 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 so much as 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 as soon as she found him, he could expect a rollicking.


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