Chapter Nine

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"And this is what I got for Mom..." Hillary held up a beautiful gold beaded evening bag. The design was both exquisite and playful, in the shape of a beehive with jeweled bumblebee accents. "I debated between this one and a black and white clutch shaped like a peacock. It was gorgeous too, with Austrian crystals. But the beehive is just too perfect. I mean, every woman named Honey should carry a beehive shaped evening bag, right?"

Holly sat across the room on a sleek chaise, Irish coffee in hand, staring blindly into the fireplace and not hearing a word. Though the flames warmed the living room of her sister's posh Manhattan apartment, she felt cold...and had since she'd returned from Los Angeles.

"Holl?"

"What?" She continued to stare, lost in thought.

"Mom's gift?" She held the purse up once more. "Do you think she'll like it?"

Holly's eyes met those of her much older sibling. Sitting amid a mass of festive holiday trimmings, however, the society-minded elder Mitchell daughter appeared very child-like. Christmas was by far Hillary Mitchell-Payne's favorite time of year. Her husband's immense Wall Street success made her the most generous of gift-givers. Even though she had the means to hire a fleet of elves, she enjoyed the task of purchasing and wrapping all her own presents.

"Cute." Holly commented softly.

"Cute?" Hillary regarded the gift once more. "A six thousand dollar hand-beaded Judith Leiber? The best you can muster is cute?"

"I'm sorry. It's beautiful. Really beautiful. Mom will love it." Holly forced a smile before taking another sip of coffee.

"Are you okay?" Hillary abandoned her gift wrap duties and joined her sister on the chaise. "It's' the most wonderful time of the year..." Hillary sang, trying to lift her sister's spirits.

"Hill, don't." Holly protested. "I don't feel like singing."

"What is wrong with you? Ever since you came back from that big charity event you've been a million miles away."

"I'm just not into it this year."

"You're not into what? Christmas?" She gave her sister a hard look. "Are you kidding me? You love Christmas."

"Maybe I'm just tired."

"You know what I think?" She folded her arms across her chest with a sly grin. "You miss him, don't you?"

Holly didn't respond but turned her face back toward the fireplace. She couldn't give an honest answer. Not when they'd be talking about two different men. She did miss him. More than she could ever verbalize. From the moment he'd slipped his arm around her waist and led her to the dance floor at Westbury, he'd captured her. And now, every part of her longed to be touched by every part of him. They'd shared just the one kiss inside the privacy of hotel suite yet she wanted more. But the ring on the third finger of her left hand kept her desires in check...and created a guilt that turned her snow white holiday to slush.

"Un huh, that's what I thought." Hillary continued in a teasing tone. "Of course you miss him, don't you Darling? Who wouldn't? I mean, how could anyone resist your husband? That man can charm the pants of any animal, vegetable or mineral."

"Hill..." Holly shook her head.

"And even a few men, I suspect." She winked. "Not that he'd ever be inclined, of course."

"Just stop it! Okay? Please?" Holly snapped.

"Holly, Darling, what is it?" Hillary asked with genuine concern.

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