Hot tears were rolling down her cheeks. She hadn’t even realized that she was on the verge of tears. As she gasped for air, it was like her lungs were being squeezed. Stubbornly, she started to brush her tears aside and then she felt a pair of strong arms wrap around her.
Dane was holding her. Kissing the top of her head as she cried openly. So many conflicting emotions bombarded her. Guilt at keeping the truth from her husband. Despair at missing her appointment. At missing their first Christmas with their families. After all her hard work and her weeks of planning, everything was ruined.
Her shoulders heaved as she let out a shuddering sob. “I just wanted us to spend Christmas together. As a family. Why don’t you understand?”
His hold on her tightened, and he started to murmur into her ear. “I might not understand everything, but I’m here, Allyson. I’m here.”
“Everything comes so easily to you,” she choked out. “You don’t see how hard I try to fit in. I’m not some blue-blood heiress. Everyone in high society expects me to fail. That’s why this Christmas is so important.”
All she wanted was to make Dane and their families proud. Show them that even though she hadn’t started off wealthy, she really did belong.
“But I don’t expect you to fit in with all those heiresses,” he said gently. “Nothing has to change. I love you just as you are.”
“Do you?” she asked. “You said it yourself: you’re the one who wanted me to change my job, after all. So, on some level, you know that things have changed. Especially for me. Out of the two of us, it’s my life that has changed the most.”
He pulled away from her to cup her face. “I do love you the way you are. But when I brought up feeling guilty about asking you to take on a more senior position, you brushed that aside. You don’t have to tell me what I want to hear, Allyson. It’s okay if you regret taking the job—”
“I don’t,” she interrupted. “That’s just it. I like some of the changes in my life. It’s just that things have changed so much so fast.”
“That must be overwhelming for you,” he said.
“It has been,” she said. “Last year, right before I went to my parents’ house for Christmas, I was sitting in front of the TV eating bad pizza with an old college roommate. Talking about how boring my love life was. And my hopeless crush on my boss...” Warmth crept up her cheeks and she gave him a shaky smile.
“What a difference a year makes.” Slowly, Dane brushed her tears away with his thumb.
There was something calming about her husband being so tender with her. Even when they didn’t see eye to eye, Dane’s love for her was so obvious. So overwhelming. “All I wanted was to prove myself this Christmas,” she said. “Prove that I was worthy. That the Prescott family name was in good hands with me.”
She knew it was probably a frivolous thing to want, but she wanted to be the perfect society hostess. Show the world that Dane hadn’t married down. Show her parents that she worked hard, and wasn’t just depending on her husband’s money. She had always been caught between not caring what high society thought of her, and wanting to live up to the Prescott name. It was such a contradictory position to be in.
Dane leaned forward and pressed his lips to hers. The warm kiss awakened her senses. Reminded her that she was tired of kissing her husband and feeling guilty every time. This had to end. Maybe not in the way she had planned, but she needed to tackle her secret head-on. Even if, right now, she had to do one last dishonest thing.
His wife was having an affair. She had to be. That was the only explanation that made sense.
Dane was helping Mrs. McKenzie, carrying the last of the heavy cardboard boxes into the living room. Mrs. McKenzie had already opened some of the boxes, and was now taking out the Christmas ornaments.
He jerked towards the sound of Mrs. McKenzie’s voice. “Yes, Mrs. McKenzie?”
She smiled. “I’ve been calling you for ages. But you look like you’re a million miles away. Thinking about spending Christmas with your new wife?”