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The Final Gift by Sia Huff

The Final Gift

by Sia Huff 

Could a mysterious package bring true love?

“Is anyone home?” Marco Santibel, new Duke of St. Albans, rapped his knuckles against the front door of the seaside cottage for the seventh time. He wanted this mission over with. Fulfill his late grandfather’s last wish, and then Marco could get on with his life and duties.

After the last round of knocking, he heard a faint “come in”. Yet the door was locked. He couldn’t afford to waste any more time coming back to this backwater town in the United States. He couldn’t imagine that his grandfather had ever visited here anytime during his eighty-eight years. So why did the old codger insist that his heir deliver this mysterious package? Marco would have done anything for the old Duke, even if he hadn’t been dying, including traipsing halfway around the world to hand over a wooden crate of unknown contents.

About ready to give up for the day, Marco turned when he heard a slight commotion and a female voice scolding. He spun back in time to see the door flung open, revealing a sprite of a woman. From neck to calves she was wrapped in a silky pink robe. The blue towel wrapped turban style around her head enhanced the amazing blue in her eyes. The perfect oval of her face was scrubbed clean. She tightened the tie of her robe, emphasizing her tiny waist. “Yes?” Her tone was crisp, but he couldn’t blame her as he’d been staring.

What could his grandfather want with such a beautiful young lady?

“Sarah Jacobs?” He held out the package as an offering.

Her eyebrows furrowed in question. She didn’t trust him.

A gasp followed by a crash erupted from within the small house. The pink sprite turned her back and rushed away. His gaze followed the natural grace of her movement until she disappeared. He listened intently. A faint voice drifted through the screen. “My Eddie.”

Eddie? Could she be talking about his grandfather, Edwardo? Unable to follow polite rules, Marco entered the house.

An elderly lady was wedged between a recliner chair and the wall. Marco set the box down on an antique table and hurried to her side. The sprite bent forward trying to leverage a tiny, older woman up. “Gran, place your arms around my neck. You have to help me.”

“Please, allow me.”

The younger woman whipped her head around, dislodging the turban. Long, sable hair fell past her shoulders and down her back.

“Let me get her.” Gentle as possible, he scooped the frail woman away from the wall and set her in the large chair. Kneeling next to her, he asked, “Are you hurt?”

Her eyes had latched on to his as soon as he came through the door. Now they lit with happiness. A gnarled hand hovered near his face seeking permission to touch him. “Eddie?”

His left eyebrow shot up in question. A quirk he’d never been able to control regardless of how many times he’d been scolded.

Her fingertips skimmed along his jaw. Despite the slight tremble, her touch was gentle. Loving. How could he feel such an outpouring of love from someone he’d never met? Someone he’d never known existed until today?

She shook her head. “You’re too young to be my Eddie.” She caressed him again. “But you look just like him.” Touching was not encouraged in his circles. Yet he couldn’t tell the old girl no, and he couldn’t bring himself to move away until he knew she was fine.

“My Eddie sent you.” Her thumb traced along his straight brow, a smile gracing her lips.

Surely the lady wouldn’t smile if she were in pain. He needed clarification. “Are you talking about Edwardo Santibel?”

“Edwardo Thomas Santibel, Duke of St. Albans.” A twinkle lit her eyes, pouring out love and acceptance. “How is my Eddie?”

Pain lanced his heart and he bowed his head. She didn’t know. How could this woman who obviously loved his grandfather not be a part of their lives? How had he not known of her existence? How could he tell her that her Eddie was gone forever?
Oh grandfather, why didn’t you warn me? Prepare me?

Unsteady fingers patted his head. “He’s gone,” she spoke around the tears in her voice.

Marco’s head jerked up, and he nodded fighting his own tears. The light in her eyes faded until it extinguished completely. The frail woman seemed to grow smaller before his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he muttered.

“Gran, what can I get you?” The brunette crowded in close and bent over the elderly woman. Her head turned toward him, causing the flowery scent of her shampoo to reach him. “Maybe you should go.”

He agreed as he stood. He’d messed things up royally. But how was he to know?

“Stay.” A gnarled hand reached out towards him.

“Gran you need to eat, so you can take your meds.”

“I need to hear about Eddie.”

If there was one thing he knew, taking care of someone in failing health required the balance of a tight rope walker. “I’ll stay only if you take proper care of yourself.”

###

Olivia’s heart pounded with shame, worry, and fear. Shame that she’d been caught right after her shower looking like this. Worry at her grandmother’s reaction. Fear of what other news he might impart. This stranger that Gran revered generated all those emotions plus one more.

Awareness.

She’d never had such a handsome man stare at her with such intensity. And what eyes he had. Dark, straight eyebrows emphasized their deep-set hazel color. At first with the sunlight behind him at the door, she’d thought they were mossy green. But when she leaned over Gran while he squatted next to her, and had gotten close asking him to leave, so close, Olivia noticed the caramel brown starburst around his pupil. It had been fascinating.

“If it’s alright with you.” His voice sounded princely. An Italianish accent mixed with the Queen’s proper English. He turned, seeking her approval. A little late.

“We were about to have supper.” Her voice was clipped. But she wanted him to leave so she could regroup. Talk to Gran in private. And get dressed. She certainly didn’t want to leave Gran alone right now.

He glanced at the clock on the wall. “I’ll go.”

“No.” Gran cried out. “Please stay. Have supper with us.”

Olivia had been taught the proper rules of etiquette. She knew what was expected.

Yet she hadn’t shared the dire state of their finances with her grandmother. Olivia smiled. She didn’t want Gran to worry. Yet Gran couldn’t take her eyes off this young, handsome man who resembled someone she obviously had known. “Tonight’s menu is grilled cheese and tomato soup.”

“Since I’ve traveled from a different time zone, I’m not really hungry. A little soup would be perfect, if it’s not too much trouble.”

Wow, what a diplomat. His manners matched his looks. He understood she didn’t want him here, yet he didn’t offend Gran. Well, if he could entertain Gran while she put on some clothes and pulled supper together, that worked fine. First she needed to set some rules.

She held out her hand. “I’m Olivia, Sarah’s granddaughter.”

His lips tilted in a very charming half smile as he grasped her hand. “Marco, Eddie’s grandson.” A zing of electricity pulsed up her arm.

She snatched her hand back. “Can I get you something to drink?” She walked toward the small galley kitchen, hoping he’d follow.

“No, thank you.”

He didn’t take her hint. “Would you mind taking Gran some juice?”

He stood and walked toward her. “No, of course not.”

Olivia glanced back noting Gran’s head against the headrest, her eyes closed. She was emotionally wrung out. Olivia had a short time to figure out how to best protect the woman she loved more than anything.

Once they reached the seclusion of the tiny kitchen, Olivia whispered, “What’s in that crate you brought?”

He leaned toward her and whispered back. “Your grandmother still has good hearing?”

“Her hearing aid’s turned up pretty loud.”

He nodded in understanding.

The urge to stare into those gorgeous eyes overwhelmed her, so she watched his lips instead.

“I have no idea what’s in the crate. I was entrusted to bring Sarah Jacobs the box. That’s all I know.”

His lips were enticing. What was the matter with her? The only thing she should be thinking about was her grandmother’s welfare. “Gran’s fragile right now. You gave her quite a shock. Two in one day isn’t good for her.”

“I understand you want to protect her, but this was the Duke’s final request. I must follow his wishes.”

She nodded her head. “The Duke… interesting.” She opened the refrigerator door. Peering inside gave her a moment to think. “Are you sure you don’t want anything to drink?” She projected her voice for the sake of the woman resting in the next room, while she made a split decision. “We have cranberry juice, apple juice, milk and water.” Pieces of the puzzle were beginning to fit. It wasn’t easy for her to trust anyone after her parents left. But this man could have the answers she’d been seeking. She stretched as close as she could keeping the refrigerator door between them. She lowered her voice even further. “Six months ago money stopped coming to Gran.”

He bent close, his eyes narrowing. “Money?”

“I’m not certain, but I think your grandfather might have been taking care of Gran financially. The money automatically deposited into her account from a WAVES retirement fund stopped. I always assumed it was an extra fund she opened when she was in the Navy. When I called the Department of Defense, they told me the only retirement they were aware of came from the Treasury. Things just didn’t add up until now.”

His spine stiffened. “As executor of his estate, I would’ve been told.” His tone turned cool. “There was nothing to indicate my grandfather was supporting your grandmother.”

Redness crept up her neck. How degrading. He thought she wanted money from him.

“You’re right. It’s just a wild coincidence. I’m sorry I said anything.”

With her quick agreement, he lost his defensive stance and leaned in again. “Are you alright financially with the loss of funds?”

“We’re making it.” Olivia grabbed the cranberry juice and shut the refrigerator door.

It wasn’t a state secret the house needed maintenance. All he had to do was look around. Finances were tight, but she was willing to share only so much. Olivia had actually thought of selling a few antiques, but didn’t want to upset Gran. Quite frankly, she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She hoped to continue taking care of her grandmother without the sacrifice. It was the least she could do for the woman who’d rescued her from the neglectful home where she’d been born.

“Is it all right that I’m staying for dinner?”

“You’re asking me now? You’d better, after promising Gran.”

“I should have asked you first. I just couldn’t tell the old girl no. Besides, I thought it would give her a little time to recover from the news about Grandfather. You’re right in what you said. She is frail due to the shock.”

“Can you sit with Gran while I get dressed?” Since Gran insisted he stay, he might as well be useful.

“Of course.”

“I don’t think she noticed the package you brought.” She couldn’t keep her eyes off you. “Do you agree you won’t give it to her until after she eats?”

“Yes. I had much the same trouble with Grandfather. Sometimes I needed to cajole him into eating. The box can wait until after dinner.”

Olivia relaxed now that they had come to an understanding. She walked back into the living room and noticed Gran was awake and alert. She smiled. “Gran, Marco is going to keep you company for a few minutes. Do you want me to put on a game show for you? I can set up the VCR.”

“No, Marco and I are fine.”

Gran seemed more at peace with Marco there, so Olivia headed to the hall.

The distinct, princely voice echoed off the walls as she continued to her bedroom. “Mrs. Jacobs, have you ever visited the palace?”

“Please, call me Sarah. And no, I haven’t visited Dominagual, but Eddie described every detail to me.”

At the normal tone of their conversation, Olivia took a cleansing breath. No matter how charming Marco was, she wanted him out of here as soon as possible. Her’s and Gran’s lives were very different from those of dukes and palaces.

###

“The tomato soup is delicious.” Marco set his spoon down on the side of the bowl. “You should taste it, Sarah.”

“Tell me more about Eddie?” She picked up her spoon. “Obviously, he married.”

“Yes, he married. Had one son, my father, Stephen. Who had me.”

“Was he happy?”

Marco smiled. “He always laughed. Said life was too short not to enjoy it.”

“Yes, that would be Eddie. We saw quite a few friends die during the war.”

His grandfather barely spoke about his part in World War II. Marco wanted to question Sarah about that time in his grandfather’s life, but that would have to wait for another day. Sarah needed time to get over the shock of losing him.

While Marco spoke, she ate, so he continued to talk. “He taught me everything. How to ride a horse, swim, target shoot, and drive a straight shift. You name it, Grandfather personally instructed me.”

“Did Eddie teach you to dive?”

In secret and Marco promised never to tell anyone. “You are the only person I’ve ever heard call him Eddie.”

Sarah smiled. “I met him as Edward Jones. He kept hidden that he was actually a duke from Dominagual.”

“Dominagual?” Olivia questioned.

“My country,” Marco replied. He was surprised Olivia offered anything to the conversation. Her eyes kept flickering to the now working television.

“It’s similar to Monaco.” Sarah explained to Olivia. Sarah turned and smiled when she realized where her granddaughter’s gaze focused. “Isn’t it wonderful? Marco fixed the TV.”

“Wonderful.” Olivia’s face reddened as she scooted back her chair and stood. He fixed another problem for her to have to deal with. “Thank you so much.” She had not looked at him during the entire meal. Now her eyes fixed on him. If tiny poisonous darts blew his way, she couldn’t have conveyed her anger any more.

“You’re finished?” She asked it like a question, but he understood she was telling him to complete what he came here for and leave.

“Let me help you.” He rose but she’d already grabbed his soup bowl and placed it on her plate. She’d only eaten half of her cheese sandwich, and he’d eaten her portion of the soup. Their lack of food showed what dire straits Olivia and Sarah were living in.

“You’ve done enough already.” She stacked Sarah’s dishes. “Can you help Gran back to her chair?”

“Of course.” He’d been brought up to lead. To help make decisions for other people without question. The only person he answered to was his cousin, the king. So when he saw Sarah had a need, he filled it. Without thought to gain Olivia’s permission.
Things were very different here in the United States. Olivia had been taking care of her grandmother long before he’d ever known of their existence. Yet his grandfather had turned this duty over to him. Marco never explained himself to anyone before, and certainly never to a sprite of a woman who so fiercely guarded her grandmother. It would be a new experience justifying his behavior. One of those exceptions his grandfather had warned him about.

Sarah was happily settled and watching a game show where a huge wheel spun around. Her eyelids drifted closed on one of those catnaps he witnessed several times this afternoon. While Olivia clanked dishes in the kitchen, he took this opportunity to call his barrister.

Marco slipped out the sliding glass door for privacy and inhaled. The briny air off the Chesapeake Bay soothed him. His grandfather had loved the water.
It was the middle of the night in Europe. William answered on the fourth ring. “I need information quickly and discreetly.”

“Of course, your Grace. What other way is there?”

Marco ignored William’s dry wit. “Get anything you can find on an American woman, Sarah Jacobs. She may have worked in the US Navy. Regular inquiries but internal also.”

“Inside the palace?”

“Yes. This woman was involved with my grandfather.” He turned toward the Chesapeake and stared at the choppy water. “Sarah may be the she grandfather spoke of. Check her financials and trace a WAVES retirement fund. It stopped about six months ago.”

William gasped through the line. “I’ll talk to my grandfather. How far back do you want to go?”

“Where it all started. When our grandfathers snuck off and pretended to be Americans.”

“World War II. On it,” William said. “Anything else?”

“Yes, gather information on Olivia Jacobs, Sarah’s granddaughter.”

Marco fought the urge to go to the dock as he hung up the phone. Right now he wanted to bask in the calm that being near the water brought. Both grandmother and granddaughter moved him. Sarah for her incredible ability to show her love. Her frailness worried him. Olivia for her innate goodness. He didn’t know any other beautiful, young women who’d stay to tend to their grandparent. She stirred him in other ways too. Ways he had no business thinking of under the circumstances.
Instead of allowing himself the freedom to wander at the water’s edge, he snuck inside and settled back in the chair next to Sarah. Just in time, too, as Olivia came out of the kitchen. Red rode high on her cheeks, enhancing her delicate beauty. Instead of working out her anger as he’d hoped, it appeared she’d worked herself into a fine fury.

She motioned for him to follow her out the sliding glass door. “Just what do you mean coming into our home and taking over?” She leaned back against the rail, positioning herself so she could see Sarah. Her devotion to her grandmother was touching. “You may be used to people following orders in your country, but you have no right here.”

“I didn’t mean to take over.” He tried to placate her. “I was just trying to help.”

She crossed her arms under her breasts. “Could’ve fooled me. You ordered cable television.” Exasperation laced her voice.

“Your grandmother asked me to fix your television set while you were changing. She wants to see a few shows. No harm–”

“No harm? How dare you decide–” Her torso leaned forward, her hands clenched at her sides.

He lifted his hand in entreaty. “I’m footing the cost.”

“No, you’re not. And now I have to tell Gran, and upset her all over again. Don’t do me any favors!”

“I don’t understand why you’re so upset.”

“I never asked you for money. I asked if your grandfather had been sending money.” She made the distinction loud and clear.

“I never said you did. But it’s obvious if you’re looking for money, you must miss it.”

“Of course we miss the money. Not everyone is born into a life of privilege. Her gaze went back to the glass door and she waved. “Gran’s awake.” She moved toward the house. “Just don’t make any more decisions concerning us.”

###

Olivia needed to get a hold of her emotions. Within two hours, Marco had come and turned Gran’s world upside-down. And Olivia’s right along with it.

She never should’ve shared personal information about Gran’s WAVES retirement account. The pieces of the puzzle had seemed to fit, and she’d thought maybe she’d found the answer. Now Marco thought she was looking for a hand out.

Fat chance. She’d learned long ago, there were few givers in the world like Gran who gave freely of their time, support and love. The rest were takers, like her parents. Olivia certainly didn’t like Marco grouping her in with them.

Now, she needed to help Gran over this second hurdle. The reason for Marco being here. Time to give Gran the mysterious package. Why would Eddie send something after he died? Gran would’ve much rather had time with Marco’s grandfather.

If what was in that box hurt Gran, Olivia would personally take it and shove it out the door. The bearer of bad news with it.

Marco spoke softly to Gran as he stood up to retrieve the package. Olivia made herself sit on the fainting couch instead of hovering like a mother hen. He placed the ten by ten inch wooden crate on Gran’s lap. She frowned as her trembling hands tried, unsuccessfully to remove one slat.

Marco grasped Gran’s hand and she looked up. The haunted look in her eyes brought tears to Olivia’s own. In that moment, she hated everything to do with the country of Dominagual. Everything to do with the royal house. Olivia had never seen Gran so animated until her reaction to Marco’s presence. Olivia could tell Gran had loved Eddie unconditionally and he threw it away. And now after it was too late, his ghost came to hurt Gran again. He should have just left her alone.

Marco moved the box to the arm of Gran’s recliner. Grabbing an antique letter opener off the side table, he wedged between the slats, then wiggled until one gave way. He pried the next board off. Protective filling escaped, falling to the floor. He swept more to the side and lifted an eight by six inch glass box from inside and handed it to Gran.

Olivia leaned forward to see what was inside. What this final gift from Eddie was.

“Oh, my,” Gran’s voice warbled. “Spiny oysters.”

Two shells with long spines were attached. Each almost the size of Olivia’s hand was encased in the glass on a bed of pristine white sand. Purple hues shimmered from the inside. With trembling hands, Gran unhinged the clasp and opened the lid.

“These are rare shells. Eddie brought them up from a dive. He was a pioneer under the water.” Gran stared at the shells. Lovingly stroked the sharp spines.

Marco’s gaze focused on Gran, as if waiting for any new information she might reveal. At dinner, she asked if Eddie had taught Marco to dive. He hadn’t answered.

“Something’s inside of them,” Olivia directed Gran’s attention back to the shells.

Marco reached over. Hooking a finger into the mouth of a shell, he pulled on a string. Pearls. He wrapped the strand around Gran’s gnarled finger. She sat still, not finishing removing the pearls. Her eyes closed, tears rolling down her cheeks. “I told Eddie to give them to his future wife when I set him free.”

So he had tried to give her these pearls before.

“I’ve never seen them.” Marco continued to tug the long strand free. When Gran didn’t take them, he doubled the strand and placed them over her head and around her neck. “Obviously he wanted you to have them.”

Gran took the pea-sized, white orbs and rubbed them against her cheek. She looked as if her heart was breaking.

“Time to go to bed, Gran,” Olivia told her.

Marco took the glass box and set it on the table.

Olivia tucked Gran’s pill bottle in a pocket. “I think you need something to help you sleep tonight.”

Gran didn’t argue which worried Olivia. Nor did she move.

Marco’s eyes met hers. His gaze was just as troubled. “Sarah, put your arms around my neck,” he instructed.

Gran’s efforts were feeble at best, but he managed to lift her.

“We loved each other,” Gran whispered.

Yet for some reason they hadn’t spent their lives together.

Marco’s chin came to rest on Gran’s white head as he tucked her closer to his large chest, trying to protect her from any other hurt.

At that small gesture Olivia’s heart thumped.

He could’ve left. Instead, he chose to stay and help her.

###

“Thank you for carrying Gran into bed.” Darkness descended, the crickets chirped a soothing serenade. A lone light cast a yellow glow across the deck.

“It’s the least I could do, after I upset her so.” His hand scrubbed across his face leaving remorse behind. Even though she didn’t know him that well, he looked bone weary tired. “I didn’t anticipate that I’d be delivering devastating news.”

The tenderness in his voice made the remaining anger toward him evaporate. “What did you anticipate?”

“That I’d drop off the box and be on my way.”

His silhouette was outlined in the near darkness. “Why not just send it through the mail?” That way she wouldn’t know. Wouldn’t know that staring into his eyes, or watching his lips move or seeing the outline of his buff body would bring her own body alive.

“According to the Duke’s last will & testament, I couldn’t. I was instructed to personally deliver the package. Now I know why.” His tone was troubled. “So she’s settled now.”

Olivia nodded her head, the sea breeze blowing her hair.

He turned toward the water and braced his hands on the deck railing. “Does she require those pills often?”

“No. Only if she’s extremely agitated. I thought she could use the help tonight.”
His fingers gripped the wooden board. “Yes, it’s probably best for her to forget for a while.”

The grief in his voice reached in and fisted around her heart. She swallowed hard, trying to push down the bitter truth. Her time with Gran was short. “Six months ago, is that when your grandfather passed?” The words came out thick.

He nodded into the darkness.

“Do you miss him terribly?”

“Every day.” His back flinched as if she’d whipped him. “Some days the weight is so crushing I can barely breathe.”

She gasped, fighting the tears that threatened to spill over. There was no place to hide except the shadows.

His large body straightened and turned toward her.

So much sorrow today. Gran’s grief mixed with his brought out Olivia’s.

“Now, now, what’s this?” His thumb and finger grasped her chin and lifted her face toward the deck light.

She couldn’t close her eyes to his searching gaze without causing tears to fall. “Every day is a blessing with her.” It brought home a reality she wasn’t ready to deal with.

He pulled her into his embrace. “Don’t think about tomorrow. It will come soon enough.”

Her insides felt eroded, like the smooth stones she and Gran picked up along the Chesapeake. Her arms slipped around his waist, her cheek rested lightly against the solid wall of his chest. With the thump, thump, thump of his heartbeat steady in her ear, for the first time in a long time she felt safe. “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

His hold tightened. He needed her comfort as well.

For a few minutes, they stood wrapped in each other’s embrace. Her heart began to pound and shift in an unfamiliar way. Almost as if the life-sustaining organ were blooming. She tilted her head back, wanting to see if he could be feeling these same bewildering phenomena.

His eyes shone as bright as the moon over his shoulder. They searched hers, causing her stomach to dip and twist. His thumb rubbed along the curve of her bottom lip and she gasped.

His head descended, his mouth touching hers. How could lips so soft create such a riot of feeling? He sent her senses singing. She melted closer, her fingers inching across his wide shoulders before tangling in the dark hair at the nape of his neck. His tongue traced the seam of her lips, back and forth, until she opened for him, tasting heaven. Charged pings bounced around her core, settling low. His hands skimmed from her shoulders to her wrists and back again, leaving every nerve ending tingling. She wanted…more.

But he pulled back. “We should stop.”

“Why?” Her palms rested against his chest. The rapid beating of his heart told her he was as affected as she. Was it wrong to want to hold onto this feeling for a little longer?

He stepped back into the shadows, putting two feet of space between them. “It’s not good to get carried away by emotions.”

His words stung. “Did you kiss me because you feel sorry for me?”

“Sorry is the last thing I feel right now.” The deep timbre of his voice vibrated along her spine, making her shiver.

She felt small and alone without his arms around her. She wanted the secure harbor of his embrace. But how could she feel this way about a man she’d only known for a few hours?

“Those checks will start again. The last six months will come in a lump payment.”

“No, I wouldn’t feel right.”

“Something happened between our grandparents. That much is certain. What exactly, I don’t know.”

“Maybe your grandfather wanted the money to stop when he died. Maybe that’s why you didn’t know about all of this.”

“The old Duke’s last instructions were for me to take care of her. He trusted no one else to do it. I finally understand who. Please allow me to do my duty and comply with my grandfather’s final wish.”

“But you said…”

“I know what I said and I don’t have proof yet. But somehow in my gut I know it’s what Grandfather wanted.”

“Well, when put like that.” It was for her grandmother after all. Not as if she was accepting money from this handsome stranger.

“I have an appointment tomorrow that I cannot miss. If I’d realized what an emotional upheaval my visit would’ve caused, I’d have planned more time to stay and help you deal with the fallout. Not that you can’t handle this on your own, but I hate to leave you.”

Shock settled like lead in pit of her stomach. She’d just kissed a virtual stranger who might never return. “Don’t let us keep you from your business.”

“I’ll check in on you both in a day or so.”

###

“Do you want me to cut your chicken, Gran?”

“I can do it. Here.” Gran handed the new remote to Olivia over the TV tray. The glossy, double strand of pearls still hung around her neck, completely at odds with her lavender housecoat. “Please find an entertainment show for me. We have more channels than we ever had before.”

Olivia smiled, relieved to see her grandmother acting more like herself. “Over five-hundred channels do seem a bit excessive.”

Gran chuckled. “Marco’s so like Eddie. Generous to a fault.”

“I can’t argue with that.” This morning, sacks of groceries arrived on their doorstep. Just after noon, the check Marco promised arrived via courier.

Olivia scrolled through the guide of shows and found one of Gran’s favorites. The television personality highlighted a movie premier as Olivia returned to the kitchen to grab her own plate of food.

Gran squealed with glee. “Olivia, look it’s Marco. He’s on TV and dressed to the nines.”

Olivia rushed back into the living area, eager to see if his face was really as handsome as she’d dreamed last night. Her heart sped up at the sight of his angular features and wavy black hair. He epitomized sophistication in his tux.

“Turn it up, dear,” Gran asked.

Olivia upped the volume while focusing on the added accessory on his arm. A woman. Equally as sophisticated, the blonde’s fairness contrasted his darkness.

“Aren’t they beautiful?” Gran cooed. “They make a wonderful pair.”

Marco smiled at the TV hostess, but didn’t stop to chat. After the couple left the field of vision, the hostess leaned toward the camera. “It’s rumored the new Duke of St. Albans will announce his engagement at tonight’s gala. Stay tuned.”

“Marco didn’t mention he’d become the duke. I thought his father…” Gran turned from the TV to Olivia’s direction. “Watch your food,” Gran warned.

Olivia dropped the remote, using both hands to balance her plate. A few peas rolled onto the floor, but most got stuck in her mashed potatoes. Hands shaking, she set her plate on the coffee table, before her knees gave way.

“Are you all right, dear?”

“Fine.” Her heart dropped like the blunt end of a hammer. Too bad it didn’t smash her newfound feelings.

“Everything smells delicious, Olivia.” Gran took a bite.

“Thank you,” Olivia choked. The food she’d prepared, no longer held any appeal.

Half a day in Marco’s company and one single kiss, had her suddenly believing in fairy tales? She knew better. Hadn’t Gran and Eddie’s sad story shown her anything?
Why had Marco kissed her? One thing was certain, he couldn’t have had the same response that she’d had. His announcement about his “appointment” proved that.
She’d been moved by their shared grief, the moonlight, the seductive slap of the water. And the whole time he belonged to someone else.

She pressed her fingers against her betraying lips. Oh, no. She’d kissed an engaged man.

 

Does Marco come back? What will Olivia do? To find out go to

http://www.siahuff.com/blog/

###

Sia Huff is an award winning writer of Short Contemporary Series. She writes powerful, passionate stories of love about alpha males and the woman they can’t live without. To find out more about Sia, please visit her website, www.siahuff.com.

###

Join us tomorrow and find out if there’s love after death in The Fifth Season by Marilyn Baron.

Don’t forget to comment for a chance to win one of our prizes:

Mary Preston - December 19, 2012 - 3:11 am

Thank you!! I did enjoy this. Now I’m off to find out more.

Pam Asberry - December 19, 2012 - 3:50 am

Well done, Sia! I am enjoying everyone’s short stories. Your website is beautiful! :-)

Sia Huff - December 19, 2012 - 7:37 am

You’re very welcome, Mary. I’m glad you enjoyed Olivia’s and Marco’s story and want to find out more. Happy Holidays.

Sandy Elzie - December 19, 2012 - 7:42 am

Great job, Sia. I enjoyed the Free Read about Olivia and Marco and the opportunity to see the writing styles of the other members of Petit Fours & Hot Tamales.

Sia Huff - December 19, 2012 - 7:45 am

Thanks, Pam. :) It fun to see what everyone comes up with including seashells, isn’t it. Yet, everyone’s voice and stories are unique. It’s fun.
I’m looking forward to reading yours next week. Glad you my website. Hope you have a wonderful holiday season.

Sia Huff - December 19, 2012 - 7:47 am

Thanks, Sandy. Glad you enjoyed The Final Gift. It is fun to see each authors style. Funny how we each come up with stories so different.

Marilyn Baron - December 19, 2012 - 7:49 am

Sia,

Great story. And I love your new website. It is interesting how everyone’s stories are so different, yet the seasons and seashells theme plays a part in each.

Sia Huff - December 19, 2012 - 8:19 am

Thanks, Marilyn. Kim Killion did a fabulous job designing my website – glad you like it.
It is interesting and fun to see how each writer took the theme seasons and seashells and made it their own.
Happy Holidays.

Tamara LeBlanc - December 19, 2012 - 8:57 am

Love it Sia!!
I’m so enjoying PFHT short story days!!
Have a great week,
Tamara
:-))

Tamara LeBlanc - December 19, 2012 - 9:04 am

Forgot to tell you, I LOVE your website!
It’s gorgeous and informative!
<3

Maxine - December 19, 2012 - 9:57 am

Sia, thanks for the story. I thoroughly enjoyed it. This is turning out to be fun!

Sia Huff - December 19, 2012 - 10:21 am

Thanks Tamara, glad you love it. Yes, short stories are so much fun. When we get to see all the hard work roll out to share.
And thank you for the compliment on my website. Kim Killion was very intuitive with what I wanted. Happy you find it informative too. That’s what it’s all about.
Hugs and have a wonderful & healthy holiday season and 2013. :)

Sia Huff - December 19, 2012 - 10:23 am

Your very welcome, Maxine. It is fun! So happy you liked The Final Gift. Can’t wait to read yours after Christmas.
Happy Holidays, my friend.

Carol Burnside - December 19, 2012 - 3:27 pm

Great job, Sia. I liked the HQN Desire feel to this story.

Sia Huff - December 19, 2012 - 4:42 pm

Thanks for the compliment, Carol. I love a good HQN Desire and Presents.

Linsey Lanier - December 19, 2012 - 5:09 pm

I love this story and I love Marco! He is hot. And the story does have a definite HQN Desire/Presents feel.

I agree that Sia’s new website is beautiful. :)

Sia Huff - December 19, 2012 - 7:16 pm

Thanks, Linsey. I fell in love with Marco too. I don’t know too many women who’d want to resist him. :)So happy you think my website is beautiful. I love it.
Happy holidays!

Tami Brothers - December 19, 2012 - 10:25 pm

LOVE this, Sia. Great story. I can’t wait to read more about Olivia and Marco.

Awesome website, too!!!

Very cool.

Tami :rotfl:

Sia Huff - December 19, 2012 - 10:29 pm

Thanks, Tami. It’s nice to hear you love Olivia & Marco’s story. And my website. You always make me smile. I hope I did the same for you today.
Thanks for commenting.

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