White Christmas

Tree Tops Glisten

Nate turned, and mimicked Chuck's shock, "Professor Waverly!"

"Charles, Nathaniel. How are you?" Professor Waverly said with his arms full of firewood.

"We're fine, professor," Nate murmured.

"We try to keep the professor part quiet," he replied, trying to gloss over his past existence.

Chuck furrowed his brow, "Why?"

"To put it in one sentence, people don't except a professor of academic renown to carry firewood."

"But... Dr. Waverly, a janitor?" Nate's voice was filled with shock and horror.

"As a matter of fact, it's worse than that. I own this hotel." Professor Waverly set down the pile of wood.

"A landlord?" Nate was stunned.

"Now, if I start the introductions, might I get to meet these young ladies?" The professor smiled at the girls as he stepped towards the desk, "This is my daughter-in-law, Mrs. Emma Waverly, and my granddaughter Susan."

Blair smiled, "I'm Blair Waldorf."

Serena smiled even brighter as she threw her arm around the little brunette, "My adoptive sister- and I'm Serena van der Woodsen. We're here for a little vacation, and as research for a pretty venue outside of the city. My brother Eric suggested this place."

"How is Eric?" Professor Waverly inquired, not missing a beat.

Nate and Chuck looked at one another curiously.

"He's as wonderful as always. Sadly away on business right now. But snow or no snow, I'm sure we'll have a glowing report for him when he asks how we enjoyed visiting your inn."

"I'm sure. Besides, we'll have six inches of snow tonight. We'll be full up tomorrow with skiers," the professor said with a smile.

"Is that the weather report for tomorrow?" Blair asked, happy that she would not have to alter her check list.

"No, but if there was one thing I learned from teaching, is to be positive, especially when you don't know what you are talking about." The professor's reply made everyone chuckle.

Emma took this break in the conversation to hand the professor a few bags of groceries, "Here."

Professor Waverly grinned sheepishly, "Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen," he said before walking back towards the kitchen, taking a moment to glance back at his former students with a smile and a twinkle of happiness in his eyes.

The girls were unpacking in their cabin. Serena casually glanced up at her sister, "So..."

"I was thinking we should ask Emma to show us around first?" Blair neatly refolded a sweater.

"That's not what I was asking." Serena chuckled, "You can't tell me he isn't gorgeous."

At this, Blair looked up from her task and narrowed her eyes, "Well, you're more than welcome to him, if you like."

"But you don't deny he's gorgeous?" she grinned as Blair grumbled at this.

"Anyways," Serena continued, "I don't think he's looking at me."

Rather than try to rebuff her, Blair chose to go with misdirection, "How would you know? Could you and Nate flirt anymore?"

"He's fun! You remember what that is, right? It's that thing you're supposed to do after work?"

"I enjoy working!" Blair rebutted, "And you can't expect me to be a successful powerful woman if I'm running around dating every night."

"Not everynight." Serena smiled, "And this is part work, and part vacation. So if you want to try and snag a Bass, I certainly won't judge you for it. Just think how beautiful your children would be."

"Trying to marry me off and have me pregnant all in one breath?" Blair just shook her head, "I thought the plan was to have you happily married, and I'll go work for one of the big corporate firms while you make all the pretty babies."

Now, it was Serena who shook her head, "Oh B, as if love and happiness are things you can plan for."

"Doesn't seem to keep you from trying, does it?" Blair replied, watching as Serena playfully stuck out her tongue, "Uh huh. Come on, work first, then you can play."

Chuck quietly sat out on the front patio scanning the article open on his phone. He was curious to understand what Serena had meant by being Blair's sister, and what had happened to Blair's 'perfect' life that had caused her severe reaction when he mentioned it. Her parents' death had been in the papers, and there were a few tasteless photos of a young Blair at the funeral, clinging to a willowy stoic Serena. He had not been much younger when his mother had passed away, and his heart ached as he looked at the photo. He knew intimately what she felt- yet, he had only lost his mother. In some ways, it was better and worse. He had to witness what her death did to his father.

"Whatcha doing?" Nate hovered over Chuck's shoulder.

Chuck quickly shut off the phone's screen, "Nothing, just... enjoying the fresh air."

Nate saw enough to make out the name Waldorf on the screen and grinned, "Sure..."

The boys sat together on the porch simply relaxing. After awhile, they saw Blair and Serena with Emma walking the grounds. Nate finally broke the silence, wondering aloud, "Did Eric ever say he had an adopted sister?"

"I'm not sure. The times we spent with him outside of the library weren't exactly social calls."

Nate laughed softly, remembering the parties, and the times they would all go drinking together, "You have a point there."

He watched as the girls walked along. For a moment, Blair clearly turned to steal a glance at Chuck. Nate looked at Chuck, watching a strange expression pass over his friend's face.

For his part, Chuck stared into those brown eyes again. It was only a moment, but the riot of feelings it stirred in him; she twisted together so beautifully before him. The girl in the photo, the fiery woman he sat next to at dinner, the sadness, the drive in her- he saw it in her because it lived inside of him, too.

The girls had walked out of sight once more, and Chuck reached up to pinch the bridge of his nose. All this quiet and country air must be getting to him. The cacophony of the city would have shut out such sympathy, this connection he was imagining- for he had hardly even had a proper conversation with Blair. But inside... inside his heart, he wanted to hold her, to kiss her, to create from their shared loss...

"Chuck..." Nate disrupted his thoughts. "What are you..."

But he cut off his friend, "Don't, Nate. Not right now."

With that, Chuck stood and left the patio to walk off some of his frustration and annoyance. He was going to go mad if this was how his time in Vermont was to continue.

After seeing the grounds, Blair managed to sneak off to a small garden without Serena. She found a bench under a pretty little arbor and pulled open her book, enjoying the sun, the quiet, and the written word.

Chuck had at last relaxed once more when he happened upon Blair in the garden. She looked... content, reading under the late afternoon sun. In a desire to not disturb her, he of course became horribly noticeable. She looked up from her book with wide eyes.

"Please... I didn't mean to disturb your solitude." Chuck tried to leave.

"No, please, not at all. I think we can agree we will hardly be able to avoid each other for the entire length of this trip?" Blair gave him a small smile.

"This is true." Chuck forfeited, walking towards her, as Blair moved aside on the bench so he could sit next to her. To distract from the sensation of being so near to her, he glanced down at the book in her hands, "May I?"

She handed the book to him and he studied the page for a moment before reading some to her.

A sunset with a sun is no sunset at all.

A life without love is no life at all.

He paused here before reading another poignant line of the poem.

Life without our love, is an emptiness I'm not sure I wish to face.

Chuck's ire with himself was rising again as he thought of his childhood, his parents, once more. He had seen the love his parents had for one another and when his mother died- his fathers life was no life at all without her. And after Nate's lecture in the car, Chuck had to ask himself if a life without love was an emptiness he wanted to face?

Blair loved the sound of the words when he read them, his voice warm and deep, and the way his mouth formed the words. But then she saw the tension on his face, felt it in the air, unsure of what he could be reading into the poem. So she attempted to pull him from these thoughts, "I'm afraid you have discovered I am a romantic at heart, Mr. Bass."

This made him grin, "My friends call me 'Chuck' - and I think we must be friends for me to know such an intimate fact about you. Though, if that is the case, I should probably know how badly you are afflicted with this romantic inclination?"

"Oh," Blair had a very serious look on her face, though her eyes twinkled, "Very badly I'm afraid. Perhaps one of the worst cases in history? Flowers and cupids and sappy declarations of love. Princess meets her perfect prince, ruling their perfect little world together. But, I am smart about it in one sense."

"Is that so?" Chuck replied, quirking one eyebrow in curiosity.

"I know better than to dare dream of it for myself. I think it possible for everyone but me. I can at least make sure Serena has her fairytale."

"What about me, do you suppose? Do cynical rich boys get fairytale endings?"

Blair blushed at the words she had spoken this morning, they were far from polite- even if she had been cornered. "Of course, you will! You will find your perfect girl, who will be the perfect wife and socialite, hosting fabulous dinners and exquisite parties, all while raising your incredible children. There's nothing to keep you from having it all."

Chuck laughed a little at the flawless image she painted for him, "And you believe that's what I want?"

"How can it not be?"

"You paint a pretty picture, but it's full of duty and expectation. All ice, no fire- no passion. I want someone who will make life worth living- light and fire- a woman with spirit and drive." He studied Blair's face as he said all of this, part of his mind trying to work out when he had decided all these things he was saying. Her expression was open, intrigued by his words. He leaned into her more, one hand reaching up to tuck an errant curl behind her ear.

Blair breathed in deeply as he moved towards her; the scent of his cologne was heady, her heart raced when he touched her hair. She gazed up into his eyes, her lips parting instinctively as she titled her head. Anything was possible in that moment and she wanted to be suspended in the deliciousness of it forever.

The supreme intimacy of such a small gesture was something new for Chuck. And the look on her face- she was perfectly kissable, her mouth almost pouting at him, expecting him to discover its softness. But... he could not- he was no fairytale. "I..."

He paused a moment, briefly wishing to be what she was looking for, but settling on his desire to comfort the girl in the photo he never knew. "I'm sorry... for what I said about your parents."

Blair instantly stiffened at Chuck's sudden change of topic, her blood cooling at the memories and emotions tied to her parents, to her loss. She turned her head away from him, trying to gather her countenance from the rapid shift in her feelings.

But Chuck was adamant she heard his apology. Turning her face back to his, saying to her what no one had ever truly said to him when his mother passed away. "I didn't know what I was saying. I'm sorry you had to go through that, all alone."

She refused to meet his eyes as his strong hand, firm yet gentle, held her still. He was reaching for a part of her she allowed almost no one to touch and her stubbornness rose to the occasion. Blair's eyes lifted to meet his, fire shining through once more, "I wasn't alone! I always had Serena; we've always had each other. She has always been my real family."

Blair saw a deep sadness fill Chuck's dark brown eyes, a weak smile on his lips, his hand at last dropping away from her face. "My mother may have died first, but she took our whole family with her."

Feeling instantly remorseful at her defensive response, she hastily replied, "I'm sorry, I... no one ever read anything like that in the papers."

To return his kindness, to show she understood, she reached out and taking his hand, gave it the smallest squeeze. Warmth instantly spread through her at their joined hands. Blair suspected he felt it too, for he stared at their hands for a moment before looking up at her again, his eyes wide, questioning. Questioning her, this, these moments they had shared, the palpable tension in the air that seemed to keep pulling them closer together. So she rebelled, too afraid to ask the same questions or wonder at their answers, she hid in politeness. Withdrawing her hand, she quietly excused herself to get ready for dinner.

Chuck watched her go, completely uncertain of anything that had passed between them. In the space of five minutes, they had been two lost, broken children, two playful friends, and... a man and a woman. There was something there, and that she ran before they could learn more of it meant she had felt it, too. But all this just made him more restless than before. Standing, he realized he still held her book. He sighed, raking a hand through his hair. Nate was certainly going to ask him about where he had been now.

Nate had been mending his appearance in the bathroom when Chuck returned, quickly setting the book on his nightstand as though it were meant to be there. They dressed for dinner and walked up to the main house. Professor Waverly was serving as the maitre d, happily greeting his old students when they arrived. The back of the house was a large open space, a beautiful bar along one side, numerous tables for dining, a floor space to dance, a stage off to one side for a live band, and a raised lounge area in the front, with a great fire place, an elegant piano, and walls covered with books. There were a few other couples scattered through the space, and not long after being seated, the girls joined Chuck and Nate at their table.

Chuck momentarily realized he was having dinner with the same woman twice, and in a row. That briefly disturbed him as he watched Blair take the seat next to him, until he looked at the fabric of her dress move with her hips, the way it clung to her torso and emphasized the fullness of her breasts. He mentally groaned because of his wandering eye, and at Nate. If he had known he was going to be trapped in the country for days, with a beautiful girl, he could have arranged to take care of his physical needs beforehand. His mind took it to the next step, imagining Blair taking care of his need; what her cries of pleasure might sound like, how her fiery brown eyes would grow hazy, the feel of her naked body against his. He had to force his mind to stop, and pay attention. He was going to kill Nate.

For her part, Blair was still feeling a bit uncertain after their last encounter. Chuck looked gorgeous and he gazed at her with a pleasant, lazy little smile. She felt her heart beating, pounding against her ribcage, all of it combining to make her feel a little bit giddy. Being close to him once more, she was trying not to think about the kiss that nearly was, berating her curiosity. He was an infamous playboy and she was a serious woman. Thankfully, Nate asked how their afternoon of exploring turned out.

"I think you can see for yourselves what a great location this is. I'm so glad Eric suggested it to us as something far away from the city to offer as a potential venue. New York will always be New York, but you'd be surprised how many people want something different on occasion. It's just so sad to see it so terribly empty..." Serena replied.

Emma was making rounds to check on the guests, and had come to stop at their table.

"Emma, what's the story? How did your father-in-law end up running an inn?" Nate asked, his friendly blue eyes shining.

"It was his son, actually. It was our dream. Paul was in the army, and when the professor retired, I had little Susan... it made sense, though Paul was still serving. It made all of us happy, gave us a sense of purpose, imagining and rebuilding this place. But... Paul was killed in action last year, and suddenly it meant that much more to him. He's poured everything into this place, his pension, his life savings, all of it." Emma was solemn as she concluded her story.

"Oh, Emma... I'm sorry!" Serena reached up and squeezed the woman's hand, "If we knew, we would not have asked."

"No, it is good to talk about Paul. And, it's made the professor so happy to have all of you here. I hope you know how much it means to him to see you boys again." She smiled at them a moment, before continuing her rounds.

Nate sighed, "If only there were something we could do..."

"There is," Chuck replied, "I'm going to New York in the morning."

"But you just got here!" Serena cried.

"We have some connections, we should be able to do something for him," Chuck explained.

"But that would take too long, the problem is here, now," Nate replied, tapping his finger on the table for emphasis, "We have to stay here and dream up some way of getting people into this place."

"Well, what do you suggest?" Chuck asked.

"Oh, I don't know," Nate floundered, "It should be something unusual, some sort of novelty."

"Tell me, what do you think would be a novelty up here in Vermont?" Chuck countered.

"Who knows?" grumbled Nate.

"If you ask me," Serena chimed in, "what this place needs is traffic- lots of people. A big event!"

"Now, you're talking!" Nate slammed his fist on the table in excitement, "Something really big, like..."

"Like a Bass Industries event?" Serena offered.

"No, no, that's too big..." Nate furrowed his brow, deep in thought, "Wait. Bass Industries! How about that? We could have some sort of holiday party here next week?"

"That could be something. It's a great idea, well, half a great idea anyhow." Chuck started to rise from his seat, "Will you excuse me?"

The trio watched him walk outside with his phone in hand. The girls then turned their attention to Nate, curious to understand more of what had just happened. Nate shook his head, "I don't know what he's up to, but he has that look in his eyes."

Blair looked concerned, "Is that bad?"

"Not bad," Nate sighed, "But always expensive."

After pausing a moment, Nate also excused himself to join Chuck outside.

Chuck was walking along the back porch, "I know it sounds crazy, Lesa, but you need to cancel the Plaza and push everything up. Everyone needs to be here, the board, all the major guests. Fly them in, with their entire families if you have to. Nate and I will be here working with the girls, so make sure to push everything through accounting."

Nate tapped insistently on Chuck's shoulder, "What's this going to cost?"

"How much is this going to set us back, Lesa?" Chuck and Nate waited expectantly, "Wow..."

Nate gripped Chuck's arm, "How much is wow?"

"Well, okay, Lesa, you just do the best you can." Chuck hung up his phone.

"How much is wow?" Nate repeated anxiously, turning to face Chuck.

"We've got a big job ahead of us, Nate!" Chuck was excited.

Nate curled his hands around Chuck's jacket lapels, pleading, "How much is wow?"

"Right in between 'ouch' and 'boing'." Nate's hands slipped away, his eyes going wide, and Chuck turned to return to dinner.

"Wow..." Nate uttered, before following Chuck.

Walking through the door, Emma assaulted the boys, "I won't tell the professor; you can do it your own way, but you boys just..." Her eyes were watering.

"How did you know?" Chuck furrowed his brow in confusion.

"Like any good housekeeper, I listened through the window. I just don't know what to say!" Emma grabbed Nate and planted a huge kiss on him.

Nate's eyes went huge, and when she let go, all he could say was, "He thought of it!" and pointed to Chuck.

"Well, it was a lovely thought!" And Emma planted a huge kiss on Chuck, too.

Chuck was equally shocked, but enjoyed it nonetheless, quite pleased with himself, and the passion Emma exuded. He was quite ready for more when she stepped back, "Wow..."

Nate just chuckled and grabbed his friend, "Come on, get a hold of yourself."

Emma just stood there with a watery smile and tried to dry her eyes.

More of Georgia's beautiful editing at work. Not much else to say with this update- did you REALLY think they were going to kiss this fast? I'm crueler than that :D Blame it on Sabrina Fairchild, I want to work on writing more sexual tension in my stories- like hers! lol. Let me know if you enjoyed it by leaving a review?