Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters since the Eloise movies and the characters are the property of Disney and Kay Thompson, and the new character is loosely based on someone in a certain movie (since I never saw the screenplay nor read the book) produced by Jack L. Warner. A number of the ideas are Kathy's and tay's, not to mention any others I see lying around and just grab for my own uses! I make no money from this work of fiction! And many thanks to Dorthe for the beta work!

As Nanny's lips touched his cheek, Wilkes felt his jaw sag in shock. Then he pulled himself together and hung his head. Realizing she was embarrassed by his reaction, however, he smiled sheepishly at her even as the colour rose dully in his cheeks. Then attention thankfully was drawn away from him and Nanny when Eloise shrieked, "Maman!"

After the flurry of introductions, during which Bill continued to play Christmas carols on the piano for others to sing, Wilkes put his hand under Nanny's elbow and gently drew her around to the other side of the tree. She looked at his hand on her arm, then up at him. "Sir Wilkes?"

"Nanny, I..." He swallowed, not quite sure how to say what was on his mind: how he so appreciated her open, friendly nature, her vivaciousness, her love and care for Eloise, her shy adoration of himself... how he was beginning to want more from her than mere friendly acquaintanceship... how he thought he might be falling in love with her more and more every day, no matter how ridiculous that sounded at their age.

He had searched long and hard for the perfect Christmas gift for her, and had finally found something worthy of her that very afternoon. He wondered if she would agree to come to his suite later this evening or sometime tomorrow so he could present it to her, and perhaps share a glass of wine or eggnog. The spirits would surely loosen his tongue and bolster his courage! There was even more chance of it happening now that Eloise's mother was home, so his dreams were buoyed considerably. "Nanny, I was hoping..."

Just then, another commotion was heard by the doors, and a loud voice was heard demanding entrance and information, "in that order, my good bloke!" Both Nanny and Wilkes turned to see who was coming in. The man lifted his hat in appreciation to Charlie for holding the door open and pointing to the desk, sweeping him an elaborate bow and staggering only slightly.

Wilkes heard Nanny catch her breath, and looked at her quickly to see her staring in astonishment at the stranger. Then the man by the doors straightened up and looked in their direction. He broke into a wide grin, stretched out his arms and strode towards them. "NAN!" he cried aloud. "My NAN! I come to look for you, and 'ere you are, waiting in the bloody lobby!"

"A... Alfie?" Nanny's disbelieving whisper drew Wilkes' eyes to her face. She knew this man, that was very evident. "Aoww, ALFIE!" Nanny tugged her arm out of Wilkes' grasp but only needed to take a couple of steps before being caught in the other man's embrace.

Wilkes frowned slightly, then stepped back as Nanny and the stranger hugged each other tightly, he planting a loud, smacking kiss on her lips. Gritting his teeth, Wilkes wondered if she returned the kiss, but hadn't the nerve to watch that closely.

"Alfie, I cawn't believe you're HERE!" Nanny held the other man's face between her hands and her eyes ran over it hungrily. "Aoww, you 'aven't changed a bit!"

Alfie stuck out his chest and laughed boisterously, "I 'ave at that, Nan, love! I 'AVE changed! I'm a rich bloke now, more's the pity! YOU'VE changed, tho'! You used to be scrawny, bowlegged, cross-eyed... and look at you now! Just LOOK at those delectable curves!" He winked at her wickedly. "And your botto... you still can't stay away from the chocolate fudge, same as always!" His hand slapped her rear end.

Wilkes felt his eyes widen in shock at the man's familiarity... in public!

"Aowww, Alfie..." she scoffed, her eyes dancing, then she hugged him again. "Whatever brought you this far, and at CHRISTMAS, for Lord's sake?"

Feeling an unpleasant sensation overtaking his usual mild temper, Wilkes realized that he was JEALOUS! Whoever this Alfie was, he obviously meant something to Nanny. For the first time, Wilkes realized that Nanny meant far more to him than he had ever suspected in the last few months as their relationship had grown beyond merely speaking to each other in the hallway or elevator. He wasn't going to give her up without a fight!

"Liza told me she and 'enry and the kids were going to their friend's place... a bloomin' castle! Naturally she worried about me bein' alone over the 'olidays until I said I was thinkin' of visiting my Nan for Christmas! I tried to get a flight, but the ruddy snow... well, in the end, Liza's friend, Colonel Pickering, found a connection from Paris..."

"Aoww yes, we 'eard about the problems with the snow. Kay almost didn't make it 'ome either! I'm looking after her daughter, Eloise, you know. Kay came from Paris tonight, too... Why, you must 'ave been on the same plane!"

"Spect we was, 'spect we was. Not that I noticed 'er, you know! I'm supposed to be a married man, I am... tied up right and proper." He looked mournful for a few seconds, then fixed Nanny with a bit of a glare. "Now see 'ere, Nan, I wanna find out all about your bloke... in your letters to Liza, she said you was seein' a KNIGHT! Sir Somebody? Just a little above our station, don't you think? I ask you, Nan... a KNIGHT?"

Nanny flushed and Wilkes, startled to hear that she had obviously WRITTEN to someone about him, moved a little closer to the pair still clinging to each other.

Alfie continued, "Nan, love, 'ow can you even THINK about someone else like, well, like that other bloke what broke your 'eart... I won't permit it, you know! I won't!"

"Aoww, Alfie, it's not like that...."

Alfie kissed her again enthusiastically, and Wilkes winced. "It makes me very, VERY 'appy to 'ear that, love!" Alfie declared. "Don't you think we deserve to MEET this supposed paragon? I mean, if 'e's even 'alf what you make 'im out to be..."

Wilkes was surprised at the surge of hatred for this man who had waltzed in and seemed set on convincing Nanny that he, Wilkes, was not the man for her! And then dared to kiss her ... and what was worse, she LET him! He cleared his throat now, loudly and deliberately.

"Aoww, Sir Wilkes!" Nanny gasped, and tore herself out of Alfie's arms. "I'm so, so, so sorry! I MUST apologize... but I 'aven't seen my cousin for almost ten years..."

Cousin? Alfie was her COUSIN? Wilkes felt a cautious relief sweep through him. Then he winced as the phrase 'kissing cousins' crossed his mind.

"THIS is your bloke? Your knight in shinin' armour, so to speak?" Alfie's eyebrows raised in surprise.

Nanny, faintly pink with embarrassment, performed the introductions quickly. The two men eyed each other challengingly. Then Alfred said, "Seems as though you're not in 'er good books yet as she's still callin' you SIR Wilkes! Nan only shortens names when she's took sort of a fancy to you, if you know what I mean!" and he huffed out a breathy laugh, sending alcoholic fumes straight at Wilkes which almost knocked him over.

"Er, quite, quite..." Wilkes politely tried to stop breathing and stepped back just a bit... and Alfred's words sunk in. Nanny shortened names only when she... fancied the person? So, when she had called him 'Willy' tonight, could that mean...? He began to smile.

"Nan," Alfred had by now turned back to Nanny, "You wouldn't 'ave the 'eart to send me packing without a drop o' liquid protection and a place to lay me 'ead now, would you? Just for a few nights, like? You could say this is a flying visit!" Again he turned and breathed an alcoholic laugh at Wilkes who heroically contained his shudder of distaste.

"Aoww, my stars, stars, stars, Alfie! I'm sure the Plaza is absolutely full, full, FULL... and with Kay home... although, perhaps...." Nanny bit her thumbnail, deep in thought. Although she didn't want to actually come right out and SAY it, and much as she felt the family love for her cousin she SHOULD feel, she really did not want him around, especially if he was going to keep harping on how she should forget about Sir Wilkes! Then what he said sank in. "Just for few nights? For Lord's sake, Alfie, you can't have flown all the way for such a short time!"

Wilkes cleared his throat again. What better way to ensure seeing Nanny often the next few days than by offering to let her cousin stay in HIS suite? "I, er, happen to have an extra bedroom in my suite that, er, Alfred could occupy during his stay in New York. That, that is, if you wish..."

"Sir Wilkes, I cannot begin to thank you, but..." Nanny began. The last thing in the WORLD she wanted was to have Sir Wilkes exposed to her cousin Alfie for any length of time! She simply could not imagine Sir Wilkes and Alfie in the same suite since two more different men she had never met!

"Tosh, tosh, tosh," he interrupted her. "Actually, I'd be doing very little ..."

"Leave this to me, my boy!" Alfie grinned at Wilkes, then turned to Nanny, "You see, Nan, we men 'ave to stick together... for protection-like... and this way, we'll be able to find out all about each other. Is that unreasonable? I put it to you... and I leave it to you." Nanny gulped, and looked from one to the other. Alfie winked at Wilkes and confided, "She's got to listen to me now, 'cause I'm the 'ead of the family now. And the richest, I might add. An old bloke took a fancy to me philosophy as 'e called it, then when 'e died, 'e left me forty thousand pounds a year in his bloomin' will. 'Oo asked him to make a gentleman out of me? I was 'appy. I was free. I touched pretty nigh everyone for money when I wanted it, same as I touched him. Now, I'm tied neck and heels and everybody touches me. Fifteen years ago, I 'adn't a relation in the world 'cept Nan 'ere, and me daughter, Liza, and one or two others 'oo wouldn't speak to me. Then this 'appened upon me, and now, I've fifty relations with not a decent week's wages amongst the lot of 'em. Oh, I 'ave to live for others now, not for myself. I ask you! You must know something about that, gov'ner."

"Something," Wilkes agreed rather faintly, hiding his astonishment at the story, but never doubting its veracity.

"Money," Alfie said, gloomily, "makes a man feel... prudent-like, and then it's goodbye to 'appiness."

"Aowww, it's not as bad as all that, for Lord's sake!" Nanny said briskly. "Now, where are Eloise and Kay? I want you to meet them, Alfie..."

Alfie shook his head, and wheedled, "Come on, Nan, slip your ole cousin 'alf a pound to whet 'is whistle first, there's a noble cousin!"

"You're in America now, Alfred, you need AMERICAN money!" Nanny was exasperated. Couldn't the man leave off drinking for just a few hours? "And I don't think..."

"Allow me," Wilkes spoke up. "It would be my pleasure to treat you both to a Christmas drink. We could adjourn to the Oak Room. Nanny?"

"Aowww, I... well, I suppose I could... just a quick one..." Nanny looked around vaguely for Kay and Eloise, then spotted them talking with Mr. Peabody. "Excuse me for a moment..."

"We'll meet you there, Nan!" and Alfie seized Wilkes' arm before he could change his mind and marched him into the Oak Room Wilkes had indicated earlier.

The two commandeered a table near the entrance where Nanny would be sure to see them, and Alfie ordered two rounds of beer right off before Wilkes could say anything. When it was brought, Alfie waved at Wilkes. "Put it on 'is tab, and thank you very much!" Then, while Wilkes watched in amazement, Alfie guzzled his beer down quickly and belched appreciatively. "Now then," Alfie said, wiping his wet lips with the back of his hand and fixing Wilkes with a bleary stare. "I've come all the way to America about a very serious matter, gov'ner. A very serious matter indeed. I want to hear all about you and my Nan! I want to know your intentions towards 'er! I always knew she 'ad a career in front of 'er, but if she wants to change it to a career with you as something other than a WIFE, I think it's reasonable for me to check it out. Don't you agree, gov'ner? Is it fairity to take advantage of a man like that? I ask you again, is it fairity?"

"Er," Wilkes' mind was whirling. He tried to grasp the meaning of Alfie's words, but couldn't quite manage it. "Who exactly are you thinking is the one taking advantage of the other?"

Alfie drained his second tankard and smacked his lips, then he leered at Wilkes, "Well, I don't quite see you as the sort o' bloke what takes advantage o' innocent women, IF you know what I mean."

"Thank you. I think." Wilkes was still confused as to whether Alfred thought that he WAS taking advantage of Nanny, or that Nanny was NOT innocent, or that Nanny was taking advantage of HIM.

Nanny arrived at that point, as Alfie belched again loudly. She winced as she sat down, her eyes meeting Wilkes' briefly before she looked away. "Now then, Alfred," she said quietly but forcefully, "I think you've 'ad quite enough of that! You'd better stick to coffee after this!"

"'ave a 'eart, Nan! I flew all the way across the sea and foam to warn you against philanderin' blokes and you deny me me mother's milk?"

"Oh, my sainted Aunt Fanny! You were probably flying on your own fuel! Sir Wilkes, I cannot apologize enough..."

"Nonsense, Nanny," Wilkes patted her hand which was clenched on the tabletop, then left his hand over hers as he leaned forward and whispered, "Actually, I'm rather enjoying myself."

Nanny eyed him suspiciously, then looked at Alfie who was miserably eying the empty glasses in front of himself and the full ones in front of Wilkes. She raised her eyes to Wilkes again and said deliberately and clearly, "I'm not sure I see HOW, for Lord's sake!"

Wilkes smiled and pushed one of the full glasses over to her, then picked up the last one for himself. "To relatives and enjoyment thereof." Ignoring Alfred completely just for the moment, they touched glasses, then sipped, keeping their eyes trained on each other's.

"Relatives and enjoyment, my eye. It's me that suffers by it! I'm a slave to that woman, gov'ner! A SLAVE!" Alfie was beginning to sound maudlin.

Nanny rolled her eyes. "Oh my Lord, Alfred! If you WERE my slave, you wouldn't BE here! You'd have stayed home with... with...." Nanny couldn't remember clearly what had happened with her London relatives as she had left England so many years ago, Alfie's letters had been non-existent and Liza hadn't yet been married and settled enough to begin a correspondence with her. "Alfie, didn't you get married some years back?"

Alfie cleared his throat, then winked broadly at the other two. "Now then, Nan, if you let me 'ave another to whet my whistle a little more, I'll tell you the sad, sad story of me marriage. Left me, she did. Just last week, it was! Left me, sayin' I drank too much. I ask you, 'ow can anyone drink TOO MUCH? I give 'er all she asked for most nights, and more besides, then I disappears and leaves 'er on 'er own to enjoy it! But does she? NO! She blooming tells me I ain't deserving a wife like 'er! Well, I admitted that I was one of the undeserving, that's what I was, but I was wanting to go ON being undeserving if it meant a pint or two with me friends. That's all any bloke wants or needs, isn't that right, gov'ner? The Lord above made liquor for temptation, to see if man could turn away from sin, but with a little bit o' luck, when temptation comes, you'll give right in!" He broke into a raucous song for his last sentence.

Horrified, Nanny jumped up and clapped her hands over Alfie's mouth, hissing, "You're not in your pub at 'ome, Alfred! This is an 'igh-class place!" Then she turned to Wilkes, her face scarlet. "I'm so, so, so sorry, Sir Wilkes... Maybe I should send 'im somewhere else... or 'e could always sleep on our couch, for Lord's sake!"

Wilkes, although somewhat startled by the man, was actually enjoying himself. Alfie was quite unusual... marvellous... fantastic... and there was a certain air about him that reminded Wilkes strongly of Nanny. "Tosh, tosh, tosh, Nanny. I am rather enjoying myself, as I told you before."

"You've a rawther strange idea of enjoyment," Nanny informed him bluntly. She looked down at Alfie who had remained surprisingly quiet in her hands. "Perhaps we should... retire from here?" she asked doubtfully, realizing that that meant getting Alfie up to Wilkes' suite.

"Yes, perhaps we should," agreed Wilkes readily, standing up.

"Might as well, if there's to be no more drinks forthcoming," muttered Alfie through Nanny's fingers.

She cuffed him lightly as she released him. "Be good, Alfred, or I'll toss you out on your ear and let you freeze, freeze, freeze on the streets of New York!"

"You're an 'ard woman, Nan, an 'ard, 'ard, 'ard woman, indeed!" Then he leered up at her. "Will you marry me?"

"And add bigamy to your list o' vices? Not 'ardly, me fine bloke! Not to mention that you're me own cousin to boot! I ask you! You're a regular blackguard, you are, for sure, sure, sure!"

With a bit of wonder, Wilkes realized that Nanny's words and inflections were sliding into a broader Cockney accent than usual. Her cousin's presence had obviously influenced her! He found that an endearing trait. It also made him realize how much she tried to suppress her accent when speaking with him.

"But you love me, don't you?" Alfie tried to get his legs to work so he could stand up, but couldn't seem to manage it. Instead he slumped down in the chair and gazed up at the other two sheepishly. Then his stare sharpened and he frowned at Wilkes. "And by the by, I 'aven't 'eard this bloke's intentions towards you yet!"

Wilkes smothered a chuckle when he could see that Nanny was too outraged to speak, and spoke mildly, "No, I don't believe you have heard them, Alfie." He had no intentions whatever of revealing his feelings to Alfie before he was sure of them himself and had already spoken to Nanny!

"Well, gov'ner?" Alfie was beginning to sound a little belligerent. "I'm willing to 'ear you, I'm wanting to 'ear you, I'm WAITING to 'ear you!"

"'Ere, come along, you!" Nanny dragged Alfie to his feet by one arm. Wilkes caught his other arm before the man toppled over again, and the two steered Alfie out of the Oak Room and over to the elevators.

O o O o O o

"You 'aven't been 'ooked yet, 'ave you, gov'ner?" Alfie mumbled, looking at Wilkes somewhat cross-eyed. "By a woman other than my Nan, I mean to say."

Max pressed one bell-tipped finger to the sixteenth floor button and stared straight ahead. Nanny smiled to see that he still was wearing the gloves Eloise had given him for Christmas. The little girl had despaired of ever getting Max to show any expression at all or to unbend enough even to talk to her, so it had been an enormous surprise to both Nanny and Eloise when he had tried to cheer her up earlier this evening by crouching down and wiggling his fingers as he spoke to the child. The other time Nanny remembered being so very grateful to this man was when Mrs. Daniels had been sharing the elevator with herself and Sir Wilkes, and the woman had ignored her and spoken rapidly to Sir Wilkes. When the elevator had stopped at Mrs. Daniels' floor and she had gotten off, Max had closed the doors instantly, despite the fact that Mrs. Daniels was still trying to talk.

"Hooked?" Wilkes asked Alfie now, looked a little lost.

"Leg-shackled. Cut down in yer prime. MARRIED, man!" Alfie broke into song again, "The gentle sex was made for man to marry! To share 'is nest and see 'is food is cooked. The gentle sex was made for man to marry, but with a little bit o' luck, you can have it all and not get 'ooked!"

"ALFRED DOO–" Nanny began, incensed, jerking on the arm she was holding.

Alfie almost fell over, but Wilkes tightened his grip on the man's other arm, and said very politely, "Er, no, no, I haven't been... er, hooked OR married...." His eyes met Nanny's for an instant across Alfie's bent head, and he added softly, "yet."

Nanny's remarkable blue eyes widened, then colour swept into her face, and she looked away quickly.

"S'good, good, gov'ner," Alfie slurred. "Cause it's a crime for man to go philanderin... an' fill 'is wife's poor 'eart with grief and doubt...." His raucous voice filled the elevator.

"Oh my Lord, 'e's off again..." Nanny said in despair. "ALFRED! BE QUIET!"

"Tha's Alfred P. Doo...!" he tried to correct her, but couldn't complete his sentence.

Nanny almost wailed, "Sir Wilkes... Max... I cannot apologize enough for my cousin's behaviour..."

Max merely turned and winked at her, his face split into a wide grin. Wilkes murmured, "Tosh, tosh, tosh, Nanny. No need for apologies..."

"Oh, but 'e's much too much trouble... much, much, much! The drunken old fool!" She continued to fuss.

"Me? Not me!" Alfie denied instantly, trying to draw himself up. "I can 'old me drink, I can!"

"Perhaps it was the aeroplane flight?" Wilkes suggested soothingly. "Not just the, er, drink."

Alfie breathed out a laugh in Wilkes' face, and Wilkes once more suppressed his shudder of distaste at the smell. "By George, that must be it, gov'ner, that must be it!" He belched again, loudly. "And now we're flying again in this 'ere lift! 's almost as good as kissin'! I put it to you, gov'ner... and I leave it to you. Almost as good as 'aving..."

Nanny shoved her elbow into Alfie's side, and he subsided in a groan. At last they were at the sixteenth floor. Nanny dragged Alfie off hurriedly, her cheeks still mottled with red, Wilkes supporting his other side. Max leaned out to say, "Do you need help?"

"Naoww, thank you, Max," Nanny said breathlessly. "We'll manage 'im. But thank you... and Merry Christmas!"

"Same to you, Nanny. Sir Wilkes. It appears your... cousin... has already HAD his merrymaking!" and with a final tinkle of the bells on his fingers, Max was gone.

As they approached Nanny's suite which she shared with Eloise and Kay, Nanny hesitated. "Sir Wilkes, perhaps Alfie should just stay 'ere with us..."

"Tosh, tosh, tosh, Nanny! I've a spare bed... and you only have your sofa by your own admission. Where's the sense in that?" Then he grinned and quoted Alfie, mimicking the other man's accent quite well. "I put it to you... and I leave it to you!"

Nanny's eyes widened again at his teasing, then they twinkled back at him over Alfie's bent head. They continued down the corridor until they reached Wilkes' suite. Wilkes fumbled for his key, then they steered Alfie in and over to the room Wilkes indicated. Nanny hesitated at the sight of the cream-coloured bedspread, looking doubtfully at Alfie, then at Wilkes.

Wilkes understood her unspoken concern immediately. "It'll be fine, Nanny. Don't worry," he reassured her, urging Alfie forward.

"Gov'ner?" Alfie mumbled.


"Where's your neCESSary...? I mean, after all I've been through today ... Is that unreasonable? I ask you!"

Wilkes steered him across the room after Alfie shook off Nanny's helping hand with a scowl. When Alfie was finished, he opened the door and sagged against the doorframe, looking almost green. "I don't feel too good."

"You can't afford to feel sick, Alfie, not for the short time you 'ave 'ere, for Lord's sake!" Nanny said comfortingly. "Just you lie down 'ere and get some rest, and you'll be back to normal in the morning, for sure, sure, sure."

"Don't think I could sleep a wink..." he grumbled, but allowed himself to be steered over to the bed where Nanny had already turned down the bedclothes. Before she could say anything, he collapsed onto the bed crosswise and promptly started snoring loudly.

Wilkes stepped back as Nanny deftly tugged off Alfie's shoes and efficiently rolled him the right way and threw the blankets over him. Then her hand lightly touched Alfred's forehead and she whispered, "My stars, stars, stars, Alfie... you came to see me! I'm rawther surprised, I must say..." She stood for a moment looking down tenderly at him and Wilkes watched her silently from the doorway until he felt he should slip out and leave the two cousins alone.

As he poked the embers in the fireplace and added another log or two, Wilkes pondered the improbability of having Nanny's somewhat eccentric cousin staying with him. It seemed as though she was quite used to dealing with Alfie sleeping off his excesses. She obviously loved him a great deal, in spite of being embarrassed by him. Or was she only embarrassed because he, Wilkes, was around? Nanny behaved very differently with everyone else than she did with him. He'd have been very foolish indeed not to have noticed THAT. He very much liked the way she was with him... but he LOVED the way she was with everyone else! That thought rocked him back on his heels in surprise. He truly DID love her, as she really was! Now all he had to do was convince her...

Once the fire was burning brightly, Wilkes loosened his tie and removed his jacket, feeling the heat more than he had expected. He wondered if it was the excitement of having Nanny visiting here in his apartment... and flushed hotter than before. When Nanny finally appeared, hesitating at the door of the spare room, Wilkes smiled shyly at her. "Would you like an eggnog, Nanny? Bill brought up a small punchbowl earlier this evening..."

"Thank you, Sir Wilkes," Nanny smiled. "I'd like that very much. Aoww, and you lit the fire, too."

"Come, sit down," he urged, beckoning to the love seat facing the fire.

Nanny perched primly on the corner of the cushion for a moment, then, when Wilkes turned away to fetch the drinks, she yawned and settled herself more comfortably, leaning against the back. Suddenly she was feeling her age, and was realizing how exhausted she really was after the frantic activity of this afternoon rescuing Eloise and running from the basement of the Plaza up to the mezzanine where the wedding was being held, then eating the big supper William had brought up, then the tension in the lobby when Mr. Peabody was questioning Eloise about her role in his daughter's now-cancelled wedding, not to mention Alfie's unexpected arrival...

Accepting the drink, and sipping on it in as ladylike a fashion as she could, Nanny felt like stretching out in the heat and closing her eyes... Giving herself a stern talking-to, she finally forced herself to wake up and say something. "I notice, Sir Wilkes, that you 'aven't done a lot of decorating." Appalled at the words that came out of her mouth, she hastily buried her face in her cup.

Wilkes smiled. "Actually, I had considered asking if you and Eloise would do my decorating while you were doing your own. I DID enjoy watching the glimpses I happened to catch of you decorating." Then he added, his face lightly flushing, "I liked watching you dance and sing."

Now Nanny's face was scarlet. A spark of awareness flared within her, and spread rapidly outward, even as her mind warned her not to read too much into his kind words or the heat she imagined she saw in his eyes. After all, she had wandered down that path many years ago and gotten nothing but heartache. No fine, upstanding gentleman would want anything respectable from the likes of HER... that is what she had been told then and that is what she perforce had had to believe in the years since. She mumbled something unintelligible.

Hearing more loud belching from the bedroom, then a resumption of loud snoring, both Nanny and Wilkes found it easier to talk about Alfred than about each other. Nanny recounted some stories of her cousin, and her laugh was warm, husky and full of love. Wilkes fought the urge to cover her smiling lips with his, and encouraged her to keep talking. He watched her animated face as she spoke and tried to decide what it was about her that had drawn him from the moment he had first caught sight of her surreptitiously watching him from behind a half-open door. Unlike other women who had blatantly chased after him because of a mere title or the money he obviously had, he had the feeling that Nanny didn't look at him and see money or titles or even looks had he had any! No, she didn't see any of those shallow things. But what DID she see when she looked at him, with those incredibly beautiful blue eyes that shone with adoration until she realized he was watching her intently?

Her words dried up and she stared back at him, her lips still slightly parted, waiting for him to say something.

"It is Christmas Eve, and, well, a time to celebrate love coming into our world ... I had intended to invite you to go with me to a Christmas Eve service somewhere tonight, but it is very late now, and with your cousin here... and all that, well, all that has happened this evening... we probably should not rush into anything rash..." Wilkes murmured, his eyes intent on hers.

The breath backed up in her lungs. Was he meaning, by 'all that has happened', the fact that she had kissed him? "Naoww, I, I suppose not..." Nanny felt as if all her dreams were collapsing around her. He thought anything between them was rash? She wished miserably that she could blame Alfie, but it wasn't HIS fault she had allowed her hopes to rise. Deep inside her, the slow beat of desire was heating up, despite her fierce resistance.

"On the other hand..." Wilkes looked down at his drink as if for courage, back up at her, then put the drink on the table beside the sofa, never taking his eyes off hers. "On the other hand," he repeated, taking her glass from her suddenly nerveless fingers and putting it beside his, not breaking their eye contact, "we are not getting any younger, and I find I want to... enjoy my life immensely for what remains of it. And to begin, I want to kiss you, Nanny."

Without waiting for a response, he leaned forward and touched his lips to her mouth which had fallen open at his last words. At that first contact, Nanny felt the room dip and tilt dangerously, and her hands reached out, clutching blindly at his shirt when her first reaction had been to push him away. Her entire body melted with pleasure. She had thought she was too, too, too old to feel such wonderful things when a man's lips touched hers! After her initial surprise and resistance, her lips softened under his. Her eyelids fluttered then dropped as her pulse rate sped up and her blood began to heat. How long had she dreamed of exactly this? How long had it been since she had begun imagining what it would be like to have Sir Wilkes kiss her, hold her, WANT her? Nanny moaned faintly. She had wanted this FOREVER, it seemed, and his kiss was all that she had dreamed of and more.

When she didn't resist further, Wilkes boldly deepened the kiss. A wave of tingling heat filled her body, leaving her both lightheaded and physically weak... and made her want more. She trembled at the sensations pouring through her. Surprised and delighted at her response, Wilkes' hands moved from her shoulders to her back to pull her closer to his body. He longed to caress her voluptuous curves, but didn't dare yet. Instead, his hands moved up and down her back and around to her sides then back to her spine as he strained closer to her.

Aching with the hope that Wilkes would not pull away soon, Nanny worked her arms out from where they had been trapped between their bodies, and threw them around his neck, and they continued kissing through all the manoeuvres, pressing closer and closer to one another. She revelled in the ticklish feeling of his moustache and the slight roughness of his skin on hers. She rubbed against him, hoping to somehow convey her desires through her actions, knowing she would never, never, NEVER have the courage to say anything aloud. She had hardly been able to say hello to him without stammering and blushing like a fool, for Lord's sake! Now they clung to each other as one passionate kiss deepened into another, lost to all but the need to be joined as one.

A loud belch and groan from the other room somehow registered, and with a startled cry, Nanny pushed back from Wilkes, struggling to regain her wits and panting as she gasped, "Oh... my Lord.. if Alfie... oh, my LORD, Willy! What... are we DOING?"

A faint amused smile crossed Wilkes' face even as his own rapid breaths sounded loud in the now-quiet room. He gazed at her face, noting that her eyes were darker blue with desire, her lips were slightly swollen from his kisses and her skin faintly reddened by whisker-burn. When he felt he could trust his voice to not sound too shaky, he said almost meditatively, "You called me Willy again."

Nanny flushed deeply. "Aoww, I mean Sir Wi..."

His fingers lightly touched her lips, stopping her from speaking further. His thumb slid over her lower lip, then stroked it again. "I like it when you call me Willy."

Nanny's eyes seemed to glaze over, and a low moan forced itself from her throat. His thumb ran one more time over her lip, then his hand curved around her neck and drew her back to him. Dizzy with delicious desire, she raised her lips to his, her eyes closing as his mouth slanted over hers again. A tingling fire danced along her flesh and through her blood, making her skin more sensitive to his touch than she could ever have imagined. She was burning up, and wanted only to strip off her clothes and have him make love to her over and over and over... Her love for him rose up so fiercely inside that it was all she could do not to say the words. She knew, however, that she must not say them. She had to hold them back. She simply could not offer that most precious piece of her heart to him and face the pain of not having her feelings returned. She made a soft, helpless sound as she leaned back against the soft cushions of the sofa and immersed herself in him.

Time became immaterial. Long minutes slid by with the sound of heavy breathing, the feel of mouth on mouth, the smoothing of hand over skin. Pleasure rippled through her, followed by the flame of desire when his hand ran up her thigh as he turned more fully towards her, pressing her into the cushions with his weight. It had been so long since she had felt the heated, urgent touch of longing desire. She was desperate for more, for him to be closer still ... until suddenly her chest felt tight with panic. She broke the kiss and started to push away, just as the constant long, loud buzz from the doorbell interrupted their tryst.

"It's... Eloise...!" Nanny gasped, gulping in huge amounts of air, feeling as if she had just surfaced from a deep dive underwater.

"Nan?" Wilkes was still trying to hold her, his breathing rapid and harsh, his face reflecting the confusion he was feeling.

"I ...I just ... I'm sorry... so, so, so sorry, Sir Wilkes..." She stumbled to her feet, trying to smooth her dishevelled hair, and touching her lips which felt swollen from his kisses.

"Nan, Nanny, please, I beg of you to excuse my behaviour, but..." Wilkes almost fell off the couch in his eagerness to stop her flight, and found himself on his knees in front of her, gripping her hands tightly in his. Such an obvious and time-honoured position for a proposal of marriage had him opening his mouth, but before he could say a word, Eloise had bounced into the room.

"Oh! You were sitting in front of the fire! Where's your cousin, Nanny? Why is your face so red? Probably the heat from the flames, right? Oh, Sir Wilkes, Maman said to tell you that we think it would be absolutely divine if you could come for Christmas supper tomorrow. Can you? You don't have anything else to do, have you? And she said to come early ... We think Nanny's cousin will come in the morning, and if you want, you can just come with him. Nobody should spend Christmas alone, you know. You know, I absolutely LOVE Christmas! Nanny and me both do. Don't you, Sir Wilkes?"

Nanny had tugged her hands out of his grasp the moment Eloise had arrived, and was blushing fiercely. Wilkes scrambled to his feet, blushing vividly himself, and stammered that he would be delighted to spend Christmas Day with them all, and that he would pass the message on to Nanny's cousin in the morning, as Alfred had already retired for the night. Somehow Nanny managed to get out of Wilkes' suite, back to her suite and finally to her own room, avoiding Eloise's sharp glances, Kay's raised eyebrows and knowing looks, and all explanations.

Later, in her bed, Nanny again touched her burning lips. Sir Wilkes had meant to kiss her, of course, even if it had been an impulsive gesture. But remembering how the kiss had been light at first then had deepened into passion made her wonder if desire had overtaken him, just as it had her. She certainly HOPED that he had found her attractive, even desirable, and that he had not simply thought her an easy target for his attentions. Then she scoffed at herself. Honestly! She would have thought that by the time she was well past sixty years of age, she would KNOW she was not the attractive, desirable type, for Lord's sake! Well, she had known that she was long past the possibility of romance, but apparently she was not past the age to feel desire and lust, and nor was Sir Wilkes. She stirred restlessly, her body once more primed for passion even as her mind rejected the possibility. Sir Wilkes simply was NOT for her! Long ago she had loved and been abandoned, and she did not think she could live through that again. No, she simply HAD to erase Sir Wilkes from her mind and more urgently her imagination....

Down the hall, in his own bed, Wilkes, too, was fighting his body's intense arousal. Nanny had been so hot and responsive in his arms, so delightfully kissable... Wilkes groaned aloud in his frustration and dragged himself up out of bed and into the bathroom for another cold shower. Being over sixty and not a randy sixteen year old, he should not be a slave to his emotions like this, but the little interlude in front of the fireplace had proved to him that age really didn't matter when it came right down to it. He clenched his fists and gritted his teeth as the cold water sluiced over his body, not even touching the hot core bubbling inside at the thought of the exuberant, voluptuous woman who had stolen his heart so stealthily and so completely.

O o O o O o