A Christmas Ball to Remember
“Pfffft,” Gloria heard as she hung up the final piece of tinsel in the dining room. Their meal had just concluded, and the next day would be a flurry of activity, so she wanted everything to be just perfect. When she was finished, she heard the sound again, and she giggled.
She turned to see her husband of three wonderful years, holding their six-month-old daughter, Rhiannon. The infant was the source of the sound, having used her lips and tongue to attempt to get her mother’s attention.
As soon as Gloria looked at the child, she reached with her short, chubby arms toward her, trying to squirm out of her father’s tight grasp.
“I think someone wishes to help you, darling,” Richard said, bringing the little girl closer so that he could put her in her mother’s arms and kiss his wife gently on the lips.
Gloria giggled as Rhiannon grabbed her mother’s cheek with a damp hand, which had clearly just been withdrawn from her teething mouth.
“Hello, Beautiful,” she said, kissing the red and green bow atop the little girl’s head.
The infant began to reach for the tinsel that Gloria had just hung, but she turned the child away quickly, moving toward the door of the Arven House dining hall.
“Let us go and play in the drawing room instead, little angel,” Gloria said, gently stroking the girl’s cheek.
“Yes, Mummy,” Richard said in a high-pitched voice as he tugged on the sleeve of Gloria’s silver dress.
Gloria laughed, earning a giggle from the little girl in her arms.
“Baa,” said the child, smiling widely enough so that all four of her teeth were visible. Gloria chuckled as she led her family out of the dining room.
Sarah sat on the floor of the drawing room, holding a second child in her lap as she flipped through a children’s book. The two of them looked up when Gloria and the rest of the family entered, and the little boy, almost two years old now, scrambled to his hands and knees and made a beeline for his parents and little sister.
“Papa,” he said, pulling himself up on Richard’s pant leg as soon as he reached his father.
“There’s my big man,” he said, scooping up the boy in his arms and giving him a gentle toss in the air.
The toddler wrapped his arms around his father’s neck tightly. Then, he let go to turn and blow his mother a rather wet kiss.
“Kissmas, Mama,” he said.
Gloria and Richard both laughed.
“Yes, it is Christmas, my darling William,” she said, blowing him a kiss back.
William blew another kiss to his little sister, melting Gloria’s heart.
“Kissmas, Nannon,” he said, grinning.
Rhiannon furrowed her brow, trying to understand what her brother was saying. When she could not, she simply reached out and took his extended hand in her own little one.
“Woo,” she said, shaking her brother’s hand and making his smile widen.
“Lady Morningside, you look beautiful,” Sarah said, approaching the young couple.
Gloria embraced her maid, admiring the pretty blue dress she was wearing.
“As do you, Sarah,” she said. “Is everything ready for everyone’s arrival tomorrow?”
Sarah nodded enthusiastically.
“The lunch feast shall be ready just about the time your guests are due to arrive,” she said.
Gloria nodded, squeezing Sarah’s hand.
“Very good,” she said. “You are dismissed from your duties for the evening. Now, fetch some wassail and join us.”
Sarah’s face lit up, which was something Gloria always loved to see. It was the Christmas holidays, after all, and Sarah was just as much her friend as she was now her lady’s maid.
They had given all their other servants the day off, to spend Christmas with their families, since they would not be seeing their own until the following day, but Sarah had begged to stay.
She herself had no family, and so she wished to help Gloria and the cook, who had also asked to remain, with preparing their small Christmas dinner. Gloria now wished for her dearest friend to join them, as a member of their family, and she knew Richard would approve.
“Oh, thank you,” she said, hugging them both. “I shall return straightaway.”
Richard put his arm around Gloria’s shoulder as the maid skipped away.
“That was a very Gloria thing to do, my sweet darling,” he murmured with awe.
She looked up at her husband and smiled.
“It is very kind of you to allow me to do such a thing,” she said. “I know it is not exactly orthodox for a nobility to mingle so with their servants.”
“Sarah is our friend,” he said, kissing her on top of her head as he echoed her own thoughts. “And no friend of ours shall spend Christmas serving us, or all alone.”
Gloria beamed at her husband.
“I adore you,” she said.
Richard grinned, thumbing the lapel of his coat.
“I know,” he said.
“Well, Lord Arrogant,” she teased. “Did you hear word from Colin about whether he and Laura will be coming with your mother tomorrow?”
Richard nodded, his smile looking more like a young child’s by the minute.
“Yes,” he said. “And I am so looking forward to seeing Bunny and Georgianna again. It has been ages.”
Gloria looked at Richard, appalled.
“Clearly,” she said, biting her lip to keep a laugh from escaping. “You have already forgotten how upset Bruce got with you for calling him that the last time we saw him.”
Richard shook his head firmly.
“I recall,” he said. “But he will always be little Bunny to me.”
“Bunny,” William said, clapping himself for perfectly repeating the word his father had just said.
“That’s right, William,” she said, clapping with her son. “Very good, sweetheart.”
“Ay,” Rhiannon said, also clapping.
Just then, Sarah returned with not just one cup of wassail, but three. She put them on a nearby table and then took a seat on the outside of Gloria and Richard.
“I know you did not ask,” she said sheepishly. “But I was already there, and I thought the two of you might like some, as well.”
Richard smiled fondly at the maid and nodded.
“That was very thoughtful, Sarah,” he said. “But when it comes time for cakes before bed, please, allow me to fetch them.”
Gloria looked at Richard with wide eyes, genuinely, though pleasantly, surprised.
“That truly would get the ton gossiping, my lord,” she said. “An earl, collecting the food, from his own kitchen?”
Richard gave her the impish grin Gloria had always considered so delicious, especially given his once rakish reputation.
“So much the better, my love,” he said.
Gloria giggled, her heart fluttering. Three years after their marriage, and Richard still made her heart skip with one look at his handsome face.
“What a wonderful husband you cleaned up to be,” she said, touching his nose to show her playfulness.
Richard’s grin widened.
“Speaking of husbands, darling,” he said. “Will your mother and her new husband be coming tomorrow?”
“Oh, yes,” she said, clapping. “His lordship . . . and the new Lady Borrowdale, shall be in attendance tomorrow.”
Richard smiled fondly at her, seeming to feel her excitement for her mother and new stepfather.
“Lord Borrowdale seems to treat your mother like a queen,” Richard remarked. “Almost as well as I treat you.”
Gloria nuzzled her husband’s cheek before kissing it.
“No one could be as good to anyone as you are to me, darling,” she said. “But it is true. Since becoming the Duchess of Borrowdale, she has been so much happier.”
“She also seems to feel a deep affection for him,” he said. “That does not bother you, does it?”
Gloria looked up into her husband’s concerned eyes.
“No,” she said. “Father would want her to be happy. As do I. I just hope she is as happy as I am.”
Richard smiled sweetly at her.
“Well, we shall find out tomorrow, darling,” he said. “Although I will need to steal him for a time, so that we can discuss his partnership with the company.”
Gloria gasped. She had forgotten about Lord Borrowdale taking up a partnership with the Munday Argent Mining Company.
“Oh,” she said. “I do hope he does not think we have left him out of any of his share.”
Richard shook his head.
“Not at all,” he said. “He and I had some correspondence, just after he and your mother married. Since they planned to take a very long wedding trip, he said he would write to me when they returned, and he was ready to get more involved. He had just done so when we asked everyone to join us for Christmas. Do not fret, Gloria.”
Gloria sighed. Even after so much time had passed, she still forgot how good it felt to have someone helping her with her father’s business. She knew he would be happy and proud with the company’s continued success, and that his soul was resting easy.
“The company is stronger than ever,” Gloria said, raising her glass to toast both her husband and her friend.
“That is in no small part because of you, Lady Morningside,” Sarah said.
Richard toasted the maid, and then his wife.
“She is right, dear,” he said. “You kept it going long enough for us to make it the company it has become. And you did that before I ever came along. You are an incredible woman.”
Gloria looked around at her husband, her best friend, and her children.
“I am certainly an incredibly lucky woman,” she said. “Not everyone is fortunate enough to experience such love and so many blessings. And I will never take any of it for granted.”
Sarah squeezed her hand, and Richard kissed her softly.
“Could we possibly be any happier?” he asked, his grin stretching all the way to his ears.
Gloria blushed and cleared her throat.
“I am glad you asked that my darling,” she said. “Because I am expecting again.”
This is the end of my Christmas novel “A Christmas Ball to Remember”. I hope that you enjoy it! Your effort to read it means a lot to me and I have to thank you for your love and support on these difficult days!
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