With her arms full of fresh-cut flowers nicked from the castle greenhouse, Meg Church burst into her best friend’s gorgeous new office. Oh, very well, Meg was technically Miss Margaret Damaris Brouillard-Church, but who had time to waste on anything that stuffy and boring?
“Here,” she announced, as she began strategically arranging stems of yellow gorse. “If you’re going to be cooped inside this enormous, luxurious new office all day and night, you need a bit of beauty to offset all those mountains of paper.” She spun toward her friend with a mischievous shake of her finger. “Please tell me you’re no longer spending your nights hunched over a printing press. I’m sure your husband can find some other way to entertain you.”
Eve flushed scarlet and became extremely interested in inspecting her new desk’s empty drawers.
“Excellent!” Meg clapped her hands in glee. “I had no doubt the le Duc brothers would be every bit as good as they look.”
Eve sank down in her chair and covered her face with her hand.
“You can’t get missish on me now—you’re married,” Meg teased her. “It’s perfectly acceptable for you and your husband to perform as many decadent, carnal acts as can fit into a night. It’s me who must be secretive about such things.”
Eve peeked through her fingers, both eyebrows raised. “‘Secretive?’ You can’t even be subtle.”
“Who wants to be subtle?” Meg scoffed. “Subtle is a waste of everyone’s time. If we would all just say what we mean, think of how many misunderstandings could be avoided!”
“Is that so?” Eve leaned forward on her desk, an arch look in her eye. “Then why haven’t you told Lucien that you melt into a puddle at the mere glimpse of him?”
“It hasn’t come up,” Meg replied pertly, then let out a long sigh. “Mostly because he’s never spoken to me. Not that I insist upon conversation. I’d be perfectly satisfied if all he wants to do with me is—”
Eve slapped her hands over her ears. “I’m a le Duc now! We cannot talk that way about my brother-in-law.”
Meg grinned back unrepentantly. It was good to be jocular with her best friend again. No, it was great. Over the past fortnight, they’d barely seen each other, except at the wedding.
Not that Eve had cut old friends out of her life the moment she became a Proper Married Woman. The opposite; not a day went by without a note inviting Meg to join the happy duo for a supper here or a glass of wine there. But what kind of friend would Meg be if she shoehorned herself into a newlywed couple’s private time together, just because Meg was lonely?
Setting up a new office, however, was exactly the sort of thing Meg was best at. Although she liked to pretend there was nothing more in her head than the image of Lucien le Duc in tight buckskins and an abiding love for good chocolate, the truth was, Meg was a born organizer. She loved the late nights she’d spent helping set up the type for the quarterly Gazette. She loved helping her cousins manage milking schedules at the family dairy. She even loved doing the occasional odd tasks around the castle.
Granted, none of those endeavors incurred a salary of any sort, but Meg had just enough funds to get by. She liked her life, just as it was. What else did she need?
“Congratulations again,” she told Eve seriously. “You deserve this. All of this. True love and a journalism dream come true.”
“Publishing every month instead of every three months.” Eve’s expression was still awed. “And I can write whatever I want.”
“The current issue is your most popular yet.” Meg lifted a copy from one of the many stacks. “Subscribers were expecting the traditional big Christmas edition, and you gave them so much more. Everyone in the whole village must have purchased theirs by now.”
“Everyone everywhere,” Eve admitted with a smile. “We had to reprint twice to fill all the long distance requests from tourists.” She tilted her head. “What about you?”
“I have three copies,” Meg answered without hesitation. She always bought at least that many. One to read, one to save, and one for the castle library upstairs.
“I don’t mean the Gazette. You helped me set up the type.” Eve crossed her arms. “I meant, what about you getting everything you ever wanted, too?”
Meg set down the newspaper.
“I already have everything I could ever want,” she answered lightly. “A brilliant and talented bosom friend, who lets me spoil her dog rotten. I share a home with my cousin and her husband, who are the kindest people in England. And we live in a beautiful mountaintop village that celebrates Christmastide all year round. I’m the luckiest person I know.”
“You could be even luckier,” Eve insisted. “What if you took a husband?”
“Good God.” Meg groaned. “Please tell me you haven’t turned into one of those so quickly. I thought Old Married Lady syndrome wasn’t supposed to start until five or six years in.”
Eve’s mouth fell open. “I’m not—”
“You were perfectly happy without a man in your life until Sébastien came along,” Meg reminded her.
“And then I became happier.” Eve lifted her chin. “It could happen to you, too.”
“I have plenty of opportunities for happiness.” Meg pointed a finger toward the ceiling. “Do you know how many well-favored tourists pass through the castle’s guest chambers every year?”
“You deserve a lifetime of happiness.” Eve frowned. “Not just a night or two here and there.”
“To be fair…” Meg wiggled her brows. “They tend to be very good nights.”
Besides, she knew better than to risk her heart. Some people were lucky enough to find “forever,” but Meg was not one of those people. If life had taught her anything, it was that as soon as she was comfortable and content, something would happen to snatch it all away. It was much better not to pine for things one could not have in the first place. Changewas the most dangerous thing of all.
Eve sighed. “If you want to be a scandalous spinster for the rest of your life—”
“I do,” Meg assured her. She leaned a hip onto the corner of Eve’s desk. “Highly recommended over the regular sort of spinster. You get all the best bits of having a man in your life without having to actually have a man in your life.”
“Didn’t you tell me you could stare at a man like Lucien le Duc for the rest of your life?”
“I’ve been staring at his brooding deliciousness every day since I moved here eight years ago without needing a leg-shackle, thank you very much. Besides, that’s a terrible example. He despises everything English, and I’m… oh, right. English.”
“No one could despise you,” Eve said staunchly. “Although you’re right; Lucien was a bad example. He’ll be going back to France soon.”
Meg couldn’t hide her skepticism. “I don’t think ‘soon’ means what you think it means. He’s been planning to leave for as long as I can remember.”
“The war just ended.” Eve softened her voice. “He has a ticket. His ship sails the sixth of January.”
Meg’s chest tightened. Of course Eve would know. News was her job, and she was part of the le Duc family now.
“Well, figs.” Meg let out a disappointed sigh. “Glimpses of the devil-duke are one of the highlights of my day.”
“Lucien is not a devil duke,” Eve scolded her. “Didn’t you read page four? He’s a Christmas duke.”
Meg gasped dramatically. “That means… this is my last chance for an extremely wicked Christmas miracle!”