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Sugar Plum Isabella Starling, Jenika Snow 2022/8/5 16:59:11

“Yeah, she does give the house holiday cheer. Ever since Barbara passed away, I just haven’t really cared enough to do anything. That was always Barbara’s domain—decorating, sprucing everything up.” He exhaled roughly. “But I’m glad Holly decided to take over. She reminds me of Barbara so much—her personality, her drive for life. She’s a light in my darkness, that’s for sure.”

And it was statements like that which had me regretting so much, not just who I was in love with, but knowing that once he found out my feelings for his daughter, that I’d never be able to give her up, to walk away, would be a betrayal in his eyes.

And I couldn’t blame him.

I hoped he didn’t, hoped he saw my love for her was something pure and real, that I would never do anything to hurt her, that I would always protect her.

“I have a stack of papers at the office that need looked at.” Although the accounting for my advertising business ran on my time, and I had plenty of people to do that kind of grunt work for me, I needed something to occupy myself, to take my mind off Holly and all the things I wanted.

I’d waited two years, kept my emotions in check, not gone after her to give her time to grow, to let her live her life. But I couldn’t wait anymore. Every day was getting harder, and every time I saw her, I wanted to reach out, cup her face, and kiss her until she was breathless and clung to me.

Sunday lunches with Bastian were becoming the highlight of my week.

The rest of the week passed painfully slow, and the anticipation of seeing the man who’d been like an uncle to me my whole life grew with each passing day.

My days were spent at lectures. In the afternoons, I prepared dinner and put the house in order. Daddy had been working twice as hard since Mom passed away. I knew it was because he wanted to distract himself, but it made me feel lonely. And when I was lonely, the thoughts that went through my head were anything but innocent.

Daddy could never find out how I really felt about Uncle Bastian. That he’d been the reason for my flushed cheeks, for all the time I spent getting the house ready. I’d stopped calling him Uncle years ago, but he was still Daddy’s best friend—and off-limits when it came to potential crushes as they came.

But I couldn’t help myself. Couldn’t help the warm, tingly sensation that sent shivers down my spine every time Bastian so much as looked at me. He didn’t suspect a thing, and how could he? To him, I was nothing but the innocent daughter of his best friend.

I kept glancing toward my father’s study where he and Bastian had sat down for a glass of whiskey after our lunch. I was in the living room with my friend Rosie. She was the only one who knew about my unrequited crush.

“I wonder what they’re talking about,” I muttered under my breath as Rosie passed me a Christmas ornament to put on the tree.

“Oh, not this again.” She gave me a meaningful look. “Don’t tell me you’re still hung up on Uncle Lancaster?”

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“Don’t call him that.” I put the ornament on the tree, shooting her a look of warning. “And be quiet. We can’t risk him overhearing.”

“Of course not,” she mumbled. “He might actually do something about it if he does. Can you imagine? Finally having his lips on yours… his hands all over you….”

I only noticed my hands were trembling when the next bauble slipped between my fingers, shattering on our hardwood floor. I cried out, bending down to pick up the pieces, when one of the shards dug into my palm. Hissing with pain, I whirled around to face Rosie when a figure appeared in front of me, tall, dark, and handsome.

“You cut yourself, Holly.” His deep voice was soothing, and without a care in the world, he lifted me into his arms and carried me over to the sofa in the living room, gently setting me down on the plush pillows. “It’s not too bad. It won’t need stitches. But I need to clean it. Rosie, get the first aid kit.”

My friend wordlessly made her way to the bathroom, leaving me alone with Bastian for a few precious moments. Goose bumps erupted on my skin, the touch of his fingertips against mine making my heart race. All too soon, Rosie was back with the first aid kit, and Daddy came out too, concerned when he saw the cut on my hand.

“Not to worry,” Bastian reassured him, calm as ever. “We’ll get it cleaned up in no time.”

He pulled some gauze and an antiseptic cream out of the kit, closely inspecting the cut as he patched it up. It barely even hurt. I was just grateful Bastian had come to my rescue. I never wanted him to stop touching me.