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Indeed…love made it different.
RAFE HELD HER FOR A LONG TIME AFTERWARD, HIS HAND STROK-ing gently over her back and hip. He couldn’t seem to stop touching her. Hannah snuggled in the crook of his arm, her body feeling heavy and sated. “Is this real?” she whispered. “It feels like a dream.”
Amusement rumbled in his chest. “It will seem real enough tomorrow morning when I take you back to the manor a fallen woman. If I hadn’t already told Westcliff of my intentions to marry you, I daresay he’d greet me with a horsewhip.”
“You aren’t taking me back tonight?” she asked in pleased surprise.
“No. For one thing, I’ve ruined your coiffure. Second, I don’t have the energy to leave this bed. Third…there’s a distinct possibility that I’m not finished with you yet.”
“Those are all very good reasons.” She sat up and pulled the remaining pearl pins from her hair, and leaned over Rafe to deposit them on the bedside table. Catching her ribs in his hands, he held her over him and kissed her br**sts as they were displayed before him. “Rafe,” she protested.
Pausing, he looked up into her blushing face, and he grinned. “Modest?” he asked softly, and tucked her into the crook of his arm again. His lips pressed against her forehead. “Well. Being married to me will cure you of that soon enough.”
Hannah leaned her face against his chest, and he felt the curve of her smile.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Our first night together. And our first morning will be Christmas.”
Rafe patted her naked hip. “And I’ve already unwrapped my present.”
“You’re rather easy to shop for,” she said, making him laugh.
“Always. Because Hannah, my love, the only gift I’ll ever want”he paused to kiss her smiling lips”is you.”
On Christmas morning Matthew Swift walked over to the bachelor’s house, his shoes and the hem of his coat dusted with new snow. He knocked at the door and waited patiently until Rafe came to answer it. And with a wry smile, Swift told his brother-in-law, “All I can say is, everyone’s talking. So you’d better marry her quickly.”
There was, of course, no argument on Rafe’s part.
Swift also told him that having been moved by the spirit of the holiday (and the combined pressuring of the entire family), Thomas Bowman had reconsidered his decision to disinherit Rafe, and wished to make peace. Later, over mugs of smoking bishop, a hot drink made with fruit, red wine, and port, the men came to an accord of sorts.
But Rafe did not consent to enter into the joint proprietorship with his father, realizing that the arrangement would undoubtedly be a source of future conflict between them. Instead, he entered into a highly lucrative partnership with Simon Hunt and Westcliff, and turned his abilities to the manufacturing of locomotive engines. This removed much of the burden from Hunt’s shoulders, which made Annabelle happy, and allowed Rafe and Hannah to stay in England, to the pleasure of all.
In future years, Thomas Bowman would forget that Hannah was not the daughter-in-law he had originally wanted for Rafe, and a solid affection developed between them.
Natalie married Lord Travers and they were very happy together. She confided to Hannah that when she had gone to Travers for consolation that Christmas Eve, he had finally kissed her, and it had been a kiss worth waiting for.
Daisy eventually finished her novel, which was published with great popular success, if not critical acclaim.
Evie gave birth later that year to a high-spirited girl with flame-colored curls, leading St. Vincent to the conclusion that it was his destiny to be loved by many red-haired women. He was very pleased.
Hannah and Rafe were married by the end of January, but they always considered their true anniversary to be Christmas, and celebrated accordingly. And every Christmas Eve, Rafe wrote a love letter and left it on her pillow.
Samuel Clark hired a new secretarial assistant, a competent and pleasant young woman. Upon discovering her auspiciously shaped cranium, he married her without delay.
In 1848, a woodcut of the Queen and Prince Albert standing beside their Christmas tree was published in The Illustrated London News, popularizing the custom until soon every parlor was graced with a decorated tree. After viewing the illustration, Lillian rather smugly observed that her tree was much taller.
Thomas Bowman’s toupee, alas, was never found. He was somewhat mollified by the gift of a very fine hat from Westcliff on Christmas Day.