Celia watched while he quietly shut the door. “You’re so wonderful with Theo.”
They stood facing each other in the darkened hall. Only the flickering light from the sconces on the wall shone upon them. It cast Celia in an ethereal glow. She was otherworldly, angelic.
“He’s a good boy.” Damien took a deep breath. “He shall make a fine earl someday.”
“Indeed he will, and especially with your influence.”
Her words shredded him. How could he tell her he was leaving? And so soon after the holiday?
“The present earl is much more of a strong influence, and a finer one at that. I’m but a mere friend of the family.” He was desperate to downplay any role he might have in the formation of Theo’s character.
“You’re not just a friend, Damien.” Celia took a step closer. Too close. He could reach out and touch her easily. Encircle her elbow with his fingers and pull her to him. Feel her breasts crush against his chest when he wrapped his arms around her and kissed her senseless.
“You are a part of our family. And an important part, too.”
He struggled to find an answer, but his tongue grew thick. She moved toward him, the whisper of her skirts sounding loud in the quiet of the hall. Resting her hands on his chest, she gazed up at him, her eyes luminous in the dim light, reminding him of the way she touched him earlier beneath the mistletoe.
“Damien.” The breathy whisper made him release a shuddering breath. “When you kissed me earlier…did you mean it?”
Confusion swamped him. “Did I mean what?”
She smiled. Her simple touch nearly unhinged him. “I must confess I felt…something during our kiss beneath the mistletoe. Something I didn’t expect. Did you?”
“Celia, perhaps we shouldn’t discuss this now.” He protested only because he didn’t know what else to say. His dream was coming true. She was touching him. She’d felt something when he kissed her. The next logical step would be for him to agree and kiss her again. Kiss her until she melted in his arms and begged him to never let her go.
But he couldn’t make that next step. He wasn’t the man for her or her son. She needed to find someone better. Wealthier. Titled.
He could offer her nothing.