The Present Page 19

"Famous," Reggie said, rolling her eyes. "Though I should be relieved. At least my Nicholas will be spared, now that you have your target for the day."

"Don't count on it, m'dear." James grinned wickedly. "Wouldn't want him to feel neglected just because it's Christmas."

Molly appeared in the doorway just then. Jason hadn't spoken to her since she had started reading the journal. She had finished it late last night, long after he'd gone to bed. He came to her now with a hopeful look, and she knew exactly why he wore it.

But reaching her, he glanced up at the doorframe they stood under. She followed his gaze to see the mistletoe hung there as it was every year. Before it even occurred to her that he might do something outlandish like kiss her with his entire family in the room and possibly watching, he kissed her, and quite thoroughly, too.

A few breathless moments later, he said, "Do I need to ask my question—again?"

She smiled, knowing exactly which question he meant.

"No, you don't," she whispered, so they wouldn't be overheard. "And my answer is yes, though with one condition."

"Which is?"

"I'll marry you, Jason, if you'll agree that we won't tell anyone about it, aside from your family, of course."

"Molly—" he began with a sigh.

"No, hear me out. I know that's not what you were hoping I'd say, after reading about your grandparents. But things were different for them. She was a stranger to the area. The people here and in Havers didn't know her most of their lives. It was easy for them to ignore inquiries, or put them off, so that no one ever did really know the truth. But you can't deny that they didn't own up to the truth, that only a select few ever knew—and besides, her father was a Russian noble, even if her mother wasn't."

He rolled his eyes. "And your point?"

"You know I can't say the same, Jason. And still won't bring more scandal on your family, when it's already borne so many scandals in the past. If you can't agree to keep a marriage between us secret, then we'll just have to go on as we have been."

"Then I suppose I'll have to agree to those term of course."

She gave him a suspicious look, considering she had been anticipating much more of an argument from him "You wouldn't agree now, only to change your mind after we're married, would you?"

He feigned a hurt look before asking her, "You don't trust me?"

She scowled. "I know you, Jason Malory. You'll do or say just about anything to get your way."

He grinned. "Then you should know that I'd never do anything to get you seriously annoyed with me."

"No, not unless you thought you could talk me around it. Need I remind you that I'd consider this a serious breach of promise?"

"Need I remind you just how happy you've made me, agreeing to be my wife—finally?"

"You're changing the subject, Jason."

"You noticed?"

She sighed. "As long as we understand each other."

"Oh, we do, sweetheart." His smile was so very tender. "We always have."

Behind them, they heard a cough, which reminded them both that they weren't alone. They turned as one to face the room, and found every member of his family staring at them. Molly started blushing. Jason was grinning from ear to ear, and he didn't waste time explaining why.

"Allow me to announce," he said, taking Molly's hand in his, "Molly has given me the greatest Christmas gift I could have asked for in agreeing to be my wife." Which, of course, started everyone talking at once.

"About bloody time," James commented first.

"You can say that again," Derek said, and with a whoop of delight, came forward to hug his parents.

"It's too bad this wasn't settled sooner," Reggie remarked, smiling. "We could have had a Christmas wedding today."

"Who says we can't?" James replied. "I happen to know the elder has had a special license ready and waiting for quite a few years now. And if I know my brother, he isn't going to give Molly a chance to change her mind."

"Goodness! So this didn't just develop?"

Nicholas chuckled at his wife. "Take a good look at Derek and Molly, standing there together, sweetheart. That ought to give you your answer."

Reggie did, then said, "Oh, my. I think Uncle James said it aptly."

And Amy giggled. "He did, didn't he? Of course, I've known for the longest time, having caught them kissing once. I just didn't know it would one day lead to this."

"And to think I had no hand in matchmaking them," Reggie sighed.

James chuckled at his niece. "How could you, when they were in love before you were even born?"

"I realize that, but you said it yourself, Uncle James They've been a bit tardy in getting around to marrying, and I consider it my department to push these things along."

Anthony laughed at that. "Don't think you could've helped this time, puss. Actually, come to think of it, I'd say it took The Present to do it."

And James said dryly, "You only just figure that out, dear boy?"

Anthony's brow rose, but before he came back with a rejoinder, Charlotte was heard from. "A Christmas wedding, how utterly wonderful. I think I'm going to cry."

"You always cry at weddings, m'dear," Edward said, patting her hand.

That being the first remark from Edward, and hardly what Jason was expecting from his closest brother, particularly since he'd been the one most vocal against his divorce, Jason asked, "No comment about an impending scandal, Edward?"

Edward looked a bit embarrassed as he admitted, "We've muddled through all the other scandals this family has created. I imagine we'll muddle through this one just fine." And then he grinned. "Besides, now that you're finally marrying for the right reasons, I couldn't be happier for you."

"There doesn't have to be a scandal," Reggie said. "Or have you all forgotten The Present so soon? I don't see why we can't take a leaf from those old friends of Sir William Thompson's. Gossip is an amazing thing, after all. If so many conflicting things are heard about the latest major on-dit, then no one can really point to the truth and hold it up as fact. No one knows for sure what is the truth, thus what will be believed is what one chooses to believe."

But Molly was shaking her head. "My case isn't the same as your great-grandmother's. People around here knew my father."

"Yes, but did they know his father, or his father before him? For all you know, Molly, you could have a lord or two up your ancestral tree. It's a rare family that doesn't have a few ancestors conceived on the wrong side of the blanket in one century or another."

Derek chuckled at that point and told his mother, "You know once Reggie latches on to an idea, she rarely lets go of it. Might as well let her have her fun with the gossips. After her success in Kelsey's case, she will anyway."

Molly sighed, having had her one stipulation to the wedding, that no one else should know about it, taken out of her hands. Jason, understanding, pulled her closer to his side to say for her ears only, "Remember what my grandfather Christopher had to say on the subject?"

She glanced up at him in surprise, but then she smiled. "Yes, point taken."

"Good. And I hope you've noticed, not one objection from my family."

That reminder got him a poke in the ribs. "Rubbing it in is not allowed. And besides, they aren't objecting because they all love you and want you to be happy."

"No, it's because you've always been part of this family, Molly. We're just going to make it official now—and about bloody time."

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