The glow from the Christmas party filled her heart as Lydia entered her bedroom and twirled around, still hearing the music in her mind. What a wonderful evening, she thought, stopping and clasping her hands to her chest where she could feel her heart beating like a wild thing. Never had she enjoyed such company! [good opening paragraph for this genre]
The past year had been long and dreary as she’d mourned her father. Thankfully her aunt and uncle had taken her in, bringing some joy back to her life. While not destitute, she hadn’t been left with enough dowry to attract anyone of title – her father had left debts that made selling the estate imperative. Her hopes, therefore, had not been high as guests came to call on her aunt and uncle. They were popular and wealthy, so their guests were much the same, and wondrous to behold. [don't tell us they're popular and wealthy; show it to us by describing them in some way.]
But tonight! Oh, it had been glorious! She had met so many who were kind and fulsome [assuming this word is appropriate for your setting, but it's not clear what your setting is] in their compliments. She knew that she had looked her best in the new gown her aunt had given her. Royal blue in color, it brought out the sparkle in her eyes, and offset the fairness of her skin. Her long dark hair had stood out [awkward] against the many blondes in the room, and she had found herself the object of such attention that she’d been nervous.
Her aunt had waved most of them away, except for one gentleman whom she’d introduced with a small bow.
“This is the Earl of Whithersby,” she’d said in warm tones. “He is a dear family friend and neighbor, as his property is just over the hill. This is my niece, Lydia.”
“I’m pleased to meet you, my lord,” Lydia had curtsied gracefully, after which he bid her rise. [would she really need his permission to rise? There's not that much difference in their social class.]
“Please, call me Lawrence,” he’d insisted, his eyes warm and friendly in his face carved in handsome lines. [I'm imagining Pride and Prejudice here—and it would be inappropriate for him to ask her to call him by his first name so soon.]
They had danced several times, which seemed to set tongues wagging, [good] she could hear them as they passed. He ignored all of it, keeping her supplied with punch, and then insisted on taking her in to dinner. It had been an evening of dreams and she felt her heart beat quickly, thinking him very attractive. She felt as if she knew him already, as her aunt spoke of him any moment he was absent. Aunt Margaret held him in the greatest esteem, espousing nothing but praise for his management and appointment.
With a dreamy sigh, Lydia settled on the window seat, gazing out into the cold, crisp night. She watched the clouds drift past the moon which cast soft light on the snow covered ground. It was the Christmas she had always wished for. This evening...[don't use ellipses] this was the type to make memories from. Caroling with friends, sipping hot wassail, shopping in the stores along London’s busy streets. [she did all this, plus dinner and a dance in one evening?] The trip to London had taken quite a while to describe in the little notebook mother had given her upon her 12th birthday.
“Oh Mother,” she said, pulling a soft blanket around her shoulders and leaning back against the window frame. “I wish you could have been here, you and father.” [drop the journal; give us this info in some other way.] The ache she felt for her mother had been tempered by time – she’d died five years ago. The ache for her father, however, was fresh and seemed always with her. They had grown close the years before his death, spending many hours in front of the fire, reading to each other and conversing about what they read. If only she could find a someone to be with, like her father had found with her mother.
There was a light tap at her door, and she turned to see her maid, Gertrude, enter.
“Oh miss!” the girl exclaimed, seeing where she sat. “Tis late to be sitting in that cold drafty window, you’ll be catching your death, you will!”
Lydia sighed and submitted to Gertrude’s administrations. Soon she was under warm sheets and blankets, reviewing the evening once more. My only wish for Christmas, she thought drowsily, is to see the Earl – Lawrence, again.
Morning dawned snowy and cloudy, and Lydia gradually became aware of the lovely smell of hot chocolate and the sound of a fire crackling. She sniffed the air appreciatively before throwing back the bedding to grab her wrap, hoping Gertrude was lingering nearby. Sure enough, the minute she picked up her cup and saucer, there was a tap on the door.
Downstairs, the atmosphere was still festive, the decorations gleaming from last nights party. She hurried to the parlor, as Gertrude had informed her that’s where her aunt and uncle waited. [Did she get dressed first?]
“You have a guest, miss,” the butler said before she got to there. “He’s waiting in the Parlor.”
Lydia’s heart quickened its beat, nerves slowing her steps. She licked suddenly dry lips, and stopped at the doorway to the parlor, the lovely scene with the decorated tree and roaring fire losing any appeal once she realized who the visitor was. [awkward]
“My Lord!” she gasped, putting a hand to her throat. “What a surprise!”
The object of her cherished dreams stood, coming to her side where he bent over her hand, his warmth and distinguished good looks unchanged. “Good morning, Miss Lydia,” he said, his voice setting her stomach to butterflies. “Happy Christmas.”
“Happy Christmas to you,” she replied, missing the warmth of his fingers when he released her hand. [good] “To what do I owe this pleasure?”
He smiled, waving her to a chair. “Please, sit down,” he entreated. “Would you like some hot cocoa or wassail?” [It's her home; he would not invite her to sit or drink, she would ask him.]
Lydia felt sure that her hands would tremble too much to hold anything without spilling. “Oh, no, I am fine, thank you.”
The Earl seemed ill at ease and paced a few steps as Lydia stared at him with wide bemused eyes, scarcely believing he was here to see her. Finally, he turned and knelt down before her chair.
[Up to this point, your story has the makings of a fine romance—great descriptions, the requisite attraction, a few stumbling block, lots of dreamy sighing and racing pulses. But this is where you lose my willingness to believe the story.]
“My dear Lydia,” he said, his voice low and tremulous, causing her pulse to quicken even further as he took one of her hands in his. “I know this must sound mad – I have deliberated all night, but have been unable to see any other solution. I realize I am a stranger to you, but could you...um, might you...consider marriage to me?”
She stared at him in confusion, her heart telling her that he’d felt the same as she had, yet her head refused to acknowledge it. He must have seen the signs of faintness because he was up and reaching for the bell pull, but she stopped him with a gasp; not wanting the whole house in an uproar.
“I am not certain I heard you correctly,” she managed to whisper, her eyes searching his face.
He knelt again, taking both hands in his and lightly rubbing them with his warm, strong ones. “My dearest, I fear that I’ve frightened you,” he admitted, his voice husky. “But I cannot think of life without you. Please tell me that you don’t despise me – that I have some worth in your eyes!”
Lydia shook her head, feeling as if she was still sleeping -- this had to be a wonderful dream from which she didn’t want to awake.
“I regard you with nothing but the highest respect,” she finally managed to say, looking into his handsome face which was flushed with emotion. “I could never despise you.”
“Then you might be persuaded to consider my offer?” His grip, while tightening, was still gentle as he held her hands, and Lydia felt it was a anchor for her heart.
“I would be pleased to accept,” she heard herself say, a song beginning in her heart. “I am stunned that you think so highly of me.” [No! It's too soon.]
He smiled and leaned closer to her, touching her face with feather lightness. “It would not surprise you, I think, to know your aunt has continually brought your virtues to light before your visit. I feel as if I’ve known you for ages, and have anticipated your arrival with much eagerness.” [huh? Need more set-up for this.]
Lydia gazed at his fine boned face, seeing the warmth and sincerity in his eyes. “You do me much honor,” she said softly. “You have already spoke with my Uncle, I presume. Does my aunt know?”
The Earl smiled. “I’m sure they are waiting to toast the occasion.”
“Then we should not keep them waiting,” Lydia said, letting him assist her up.
He paused before they reached the door, however, and pulled her into his arms as if unable to stop himself. “I never dreamed you would accept,” he murmured in her ear. [then why did he ask?] “You have made me incredibly happy, my darling. Happy Christmas,” he said in a soft whisper, pulling back to slip a delicate gold ring on her finger. [No ring.]
Lydia gazed at it in wonder before raising her face to meet his lips in their first kiss. She only wished her parents could have seen this day...the day her Christmas wish had come true.
You've got some run-on sentences and a few other technical mistakes. Don't use ellipses. Don't use *** to change scenes. Find the right words to do it for you.
The romance moves much too quickly. Even in the time period you've chosen, I do not believe he would ask her to marry him so soon. There needs to be some struggle, some possibility of it not working out to create the needed tension. Take it slowly, give us more depth. Perhaps have him ask if he may call on her.
What I liked best: your descriptions of Lydia, her surroundings, her thoughts and feelings, dialog that I assume is appropriate for the time period. You create a good sense of time and place. Good first paragraph for the genre.
Magazine ready? No. This is really not a short story. You have too much happening in too short a time period. Consider developing this into a novel, where you can take the time to develop the characters and their relationship.