I hope you had wonderful Christmas, and that some of your Christmas Dreams have come true. That's what Christmas is to many of us, a time of hope, of dreams coming true, and hopefully a little romance.
Meet Chloe Ramirez. If you 've read my series, Reluctant Heroes, you may know her. She is Elizabeth Beaumont's companion and her closest friend and confidante. Chloe is in love with Gareth O'Donovan. He is her employer's poor relation, a penniless man who lives at the manor house as a dependent relative of the ower. Chloe and Gareth have been having a little secret romance going one, whilst he's teaching her to read. He's a clever man, well read and educated, but seems reluctant to come forward and declare his love for Chloe publically. She's hoping to fix that with a little magic this Christmas.
Below is an excerpt from this short romance story. It takes place in the Caribbean, in 1798. Chloe Ramirez is the heroine, a woman of mixed heritage, both Spanish and African. Her father was the steward of the sugar cane plantation, her mother was a slave. She is meeting Gareth in the garden, having a private reading lesson that leads to a kiss, and a little disagreement between them. Ah, Romeo and Juliet; he uses this play for his lesson plan, but behind the reading lesson may be another message from the tutor, a mixed message that has Chloe conflicted. ......
Excerpt from A Christmas Kiss, by Lily Silver, copyright, Lily Silver 2013:
Chloe was sitting in the gazebo, the small enclosure at the far end of the gardens, thinking about the exhaustive preparations for this English holiday. There seemed to be no end to the list of things that must be attended to in order to make the holiday success. It was peaceful here, secluded. The gazebo was covered by a wall of lattice draped with thick grape vines and large grape leaves. It was the perfect place to meet someone in secret.
She was confused by the excessive labors of the staff and their communal excitement over the holiday. Even the countess was busy and distracted as she went over menus with the cook and struggled to find the right ingredient for her family’s favored dishes. Christmas was a mystery to Chloe. Redecorating the home, hiding gifts and spending long hours creating mountains of intricately decorated food that would only be devoured in moments? It seemed an exhausting effort and expense went into the preparation for the holiday.
Did she miss the true significance of it somehow?
“Why so glum, my darling girl?” Gareth stood at the entrance to the enclosure, a book in one hand, and a single rose of deep red in the other. The rich tone of his voice, combined with his endearment, made Chloe’s spirit’s rise.
“I was trying to understand all of this Christmas fuss.” She explained.
He chuckled. “Don’t try to make sense of it, my dear. It’s a European holiday of great importance to those of European descent. Just enjoy it.” Gareth stepped into their secret meeting place. He sat down on the bench next to her.
All it took was one glimpse of that smile and those compelling dimples of his to make Chloe’s heart sing. Gareth handed her the rose. “A Rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” He said. “That is from Romeo and Juliet. We’ll read that for today’s lesson.”
Nearly three months of daily lessons took Chloe from a review of simple letters and words learned as a girl of eight to more complex lessons that broadened her vocabulary and challenged her reading abilities. Gareth’s favorite was Shakespeare so he tended to use sonnets for his lessons. And now, he was diving into a play to challenge her further.
“There we are.” His well manicured hand found the page he wanted in the large tome. He set it across their laps, and began reading the intro aloud. “Two houses, both alike in dignity, in Fair Verona, where we lay our scene . . .”
Gareth read act one. He paused, tapping a line with his forefinger, telling her to read it.
She studied the line silently before attempting to read it aloud. “The kwa—kuarr—elle-“
“Quarrel, Qwar-ll. It means fight or disagreement. Try again.” Gareth's head leaned close to Chloe’s as they sat in the privacy of the grapevine draped gazebo.
“The quarrel is between our masters and us their men.”
“Very good.” Gareth continued to read for a while. He read about the feud of the Montgues and Capulets, and the young man, Romeo, who was heartsick. Romeo’s friends tried to cheer him by taking him to a party. Gareth paused again. He took her hand, raised it and pressed his palm tight against hers. And then he quoted the lines aloud without looking the book, as he kept gazing intently into her eyes;
“If I profane with my unworthiest hand,
This holy shrine, the gentle fine in this—
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand,
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.”
Chloe stared into his smoky gray eyes, mesmerized by the rough edge to his voice as much as by the words he spoke. She waited, wondering if he would kiss her.
“Now, it is your turn. Read Juliet’s part.” He instructed, holding the book on his lap as their palms remained raised and pressed together.
“Gareth, I—I cannot.”
“You can, trust me. Please, dearest?”
She glanced down at the page and tried to focus on her lines. It was difficult, being aware of his nearness, his warm palm butted against her hand and the sound of his steady breathing.
“Good pill-pill-grim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which man-ner-ly de-vo . . . devo-tion shows in this,
For saints have hands that pill-grims hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmer’s . . . kiss?”
Gareth’s hand enveloped hers, hugging it as his fingers curled and laced with her own. Still, their palms remained pressed together in a sensual, very intimate caress. His expression was serious as his dark eyes remained fixed upon her face.
Chloe’s heart expanded in her chest. Her belly did a silly little twist and kick. She waited, hoping for him to take action, hoping their lips would meet. And yet, by the quoted verse, they were kissing already, in a very different manner, palm to palm, a holy palmers kiss.
“Have not Saints lips, and holy palmers’ too?” He whispered.
She blinked, uncertain of the meaning of his words.
“Read.” Gareth prompted.
Chloe turned to the book in his hand again. She searched for the next line. “Ay, pill-grim, lips that they must use in prayer.”
“Oh, then, dear Saint, let lips do what hands do; They pray, grant thou, lest faith turns to despair.” He nodded, and she read the next part as Juliet.
“Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.”
“Then move not.” Gareth quoted Romeo’s part, “While my prayers’ effect I take. Thus from my lips, by yours, my sin is purged.”
With that, he moved in and kissed her on the lips, softly and sweetly.
Chloe kissed him back, her mind lost as her heart surrendered to his gentle caress. This was what she wanted from him. And yet, she wanted so much more. She wanted a promise, a future together, not just a few stolen kisses behind the grapevines.
Gareth drew away. He released her hand and turned, giving her his profile as he sat beside her. Chloe’s lips tingled with swollen delight. His kisses were rare, rewards for a lesson well done and the most treasured part of her days.
“Now, shall we continue?” He gestured to the book and began reading further. He stopped now and again, letting her read a few lines aloud. He took the rose from her hand and sniffed it, pausing deliberately. “Listen now, my fair one. Here is one of the most famous lines. ‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet; So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,”
Gareth’s easy smile was her reward. His lips, those soft, gentle lips that had just caressed her a moment ago, drew close to plant a kiss on her knuckles as she held the rose to her cheek. “Yes, my sweet. Romeo’s name is hateful to Juliet because his father is her sworn enemy. So it is with us. My name, dear Saint, is hateful to me because it is the enemy of thee.”
This was getting much more complicated than a mere lesson in reading. Chloe’s earlier joy wilted as she struggled to untangle what he was trying to tell her. “You are not my enemy.”
He set the book aside, closing it to signal the end of their lesson. “Not myself, perhaps. Yet my father’s name is my name, too. And that name has sinned against you, dear saint.”
“Don’t talk to me with big words as you do with the count and countess. I have not the benefit a long education, Gareth. Speak plainly, that I may understand you.”
Gareth looked away. He seemed sad.
Chloe wished she hadn’t been so cross with him. She placed her hand on his as it rested on the book. His fingers curled slowly and gently around her wrist as if he feared offending her if he showed too much possessiveness.
“I am Richard O’Donovan’s son. I cannot ask you to take my name. It is the name of your enemy. My father sent you to the slave quarters when your father died. He could have taken you in as his ward or he could have contacted your father’s family in Spain. Instead, he tossed you into captivity like a heartless knave and for that, I cannot forgive him. Nor, can I ask you to take my name—his name--as your own.”
A hundred thoughts came at Chloe at once. Angry thoughts, frightened thoughts.
He was telling her he could not marry her?
Or that he would not marry her?
He was dragging honor into it, and Shakespeare, of all things, complicating the issue when there was no need. Chloe wanted to get up and toss the rose in his face and storm back to the house. She did neither. She sat like a silly, lovesick girl, waiting for him to say something, anything, that would make the hole he had just gouged in her heart close up.
“Chloe, my sweet, I care for you. I want for us to be together. But I cannot, in good conscience, give you my name. It is a name I loathe. The reputation of that name reaches far and wide with great animosity. I would not burden you with carrying it as well.”
“So, we are never to be properly married?” She asked, frightened by his words, yet she knew the truth of them. His father was a very wretched fellow. “And what is in a name?” She tapped the book impatiently as she tried to reason with him on his terms. “Would not Gareth O’Donovan be as sweet if he were called by something else?”
“We can be together in secret. That way, I am not shaming you by association.”
“Is that not your father’s way, to have affairs in secret?”
End of Excerpt.
Chloe Ramirez is not sitting back waiting for Gareth to take action. Chloe is the grand-daughter of a voodoo priestess and so she is using a little magic to bring Gareth around this Christmas. She has created a kissing bough imbued with magic, and she also makes some special cookies for Gareth, (called biscuits in this time period) that will bring him under her sway, or so she hopes. Find out what happens with Chloe and Gareth in A Christmas Kiss, a short story Christmas Romance published on Dec. 22nd, 2013.
And more good news: Chloe's story will continue in a full length novel "Gallant Rogue" the third book in the Reluctant Heroes series, to be released in Spring of 2014.