I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season. I cobbled together a little short story for you all that takes up a few weeks after the epilogue of DEFIANT, book 3 in the MacKinnon’s Rangers ends — just before Christmas of 1760. The setting is upstate New York on the MacKinnon farm. Enjoy! And Happy Holidays! -Pamela
Midnight Beneath the Mistletoe
A MacKinnon's Rangers Christmas Special
by Pamela Clare
by Pamela Clare
Connor MacKinnon strode toward the barn, deep snows squeaking beneath his moccasins, the morning air biting cold against his face, sunrise a glimmer of gold in the east.
“Madainn mhath,” he called to his brother Morgan, who was busy chopping firewood. Good morning.
Ax in hand, Morgan glowered at him, kicked a piece of firewood into the pile. “What’s so bloody good about it?”
So that was the way of things.
Connor let his brother’s words go and entered the dark warmth of the barn. Cows lowed, eager to be milked, the air pungent with the scents of hay, leather, and manure. He passed the well-ordered and oiled horse tackling and farm gear and walked to the back to the stalls where Iain was already measuring out the morning’s portion of oats for the horses.
Iain looked up. “Madainn mhath.”
“Dia dhuit.” God be with you.
Connor patted Fríthe, his favorite mare, on her velvety muzzle. “Morgan’s in a rage again.”
“Aye. So I noticed.” Iain handed Connor a filled nosebag. “Annie says Amalie has forsaken his bed.”
Och, that would be enough to sour any man’s temper.
Connor slipped the nosebag onto Fríthe’s head, and the mare began to feed. “Yule E’en is upon us. ’Tis no’ fittin’ that he and Amalie find themselves still at odds. Talk wi’ him, Iain. You are the eldest. He’ll heed your counsel.”
Iain handed Connor another nosebag of oats. “I’ve tried talkin’ wi’ him, but he willna listen. ’Tis fear that drives him. I’ve no words to assuage such fears.”
Nor did Connor. These were not baseless fears, but fears born from harsh reality. Women perished in childbed every day, dying as they struggled to bring new life into the world. Only three weeks had passed since Sarah had given birth to little William, and Connor had not yet forgotten her long hours of suffering, the sound of her cries, or the fear that had gnawed at him as he’d wondered whether she and the child would both survive.
And yet to hear Iain and Morgan speak of it, Sarah’s travail had been nothing compared to that which Amalie had endured. Last March, Amalie had borne Morgan twin sons and would certainly have perished had Rebecca, sister to their Mahican blood brother Joseph and a skilled midwife, not been here to help with the birth.
Aye, Connor could understand why Morgan had refused to spend his seed in his wife. Morgan did not wish to see her suffer again, nor did he wish to risk losing her. But nine months had passed now, and Amalie’s patience seemed to be at an end.
If, as Iain’s wife Annie had said, Amalie had forsaken Morgan’s bed altogether, there would be no living with either of them.
Connor carried the nosebag to Fiona’s stall, hung it gently on the mare’s head. “Somethin’ must be done. I dinnae wish to see Amalie weepin’ at Christmas.”
Iain handed him another filled nosebag. “Nor do I.”
And then it came to Connor.
He thrust the nosebag back into Iain’s hands. “I’ve got a plan.”
“Connor, what… ?”
But Connor didn’t stop, nor did he explain himself to Iain, but hurried back to the house to fetch his snowshoes.
# # #
The sun was good and up before Connor reached the old oak. It grew near the burnie that marked the eastern edge of their lands, the water now turned to hard ice. There, on a thick, gnarled branch, he spotted what he’d come for—mistletoe. It’s green leaves and waxy white berries stood out against the rough, gray bark.
The priests and old women of Skye, where Connor and his brothers had been born, held mistletoe to be sacred. Green when other plants had died, it was said to be twice as powerful if it grew upon an oak. When hung above doorways, it kept evil at bay, blessing all who passed beneath it. And lads and lasses who kissed beneath it could be assured they would marry in the new year.
Connor didn’t know if the stories were true, but if mistletoe could help unmarried lads and lasses to wed, perhaps it could mend hurts between a husband and wife.
He kicked off his snowshoes and began to climb.
# # #
Morgan poured warm water into a copper bowl, his anger long since spent. Feeling wooden inside, he washed for dinner, shaved, and put on a clean shirt of white linen. It would not do to join the others at Iain and Annie’s board for Christmas E’en dinner in a shirt stained by sweat from a day’s worth of chores.
He reached into his pack for the gift he’d hidden there and drew out a velvet bag of deep crimson. He opened it, spilled its contents into his hands—a pair of polished brass filigree combs he’d chosen as a Christmas gift for Amalie. He’d bought them last summer on a trip to Albany, certain they would please her. But now…
He’d never meant to hurt her. He was only trying to protect her, but that’s not how she saw it.
“Do you not want me, Morgan?” she’d asked him last night, a stricken look on her face. “Do you feel no desire for me?”
He’d tried again to explain. “I love you, Amalie, and wish only to spare you. We’ve two strong sons, and I’ll ask no more from you. I willna risk you in childbirth again, nor would I see our sons grow up motherless.”
“You cannot make that choice for me. You are selfish and wish only to free yourself from fear. Where is your faith, Morgan?”
He’d lost his temper then. “Your years in the convent have blinded you to the harshness of this life.”
Tears had filled her eyes. “If I cannot lie with you as your wife, I will not lie with you at all.”
She’d taken a blanket from the bed and curled up on the floor before the fire.
And nothing he’d said had coaxed her beneath the bearskin again.
Why could she not understand?
If he got her with child only to lose her, he would never forgive himself. Besides, it wasn’t that she lacked for pleasure. He would not join his body to hers, but there were many ways for a man to love a woman. He did not leave her unsatisfied. Many a woman would consider such an arrangement a blessing—carnal gratification without childbirth. Why could Amalie not be content?
Are you content, laddie?
Aye, he was. Or he tried to be.
Amalie had become a skillful lover, her mouth and hands driving him to the brink of madness. And if there were times he ached to be inside her, to feel their bodies become one, to lie face to face with her, buried within her?
It was a sacrifice he was willing to make for her sake.
You cannot make that choice for me.
Och, Satan’s arse!
He slipped the combs into the velvet bag, tucked it back into its hiding place, and walked down the stairs and out his front door. Iain and the others would be waiting.
# # #
“Adeste fideles laeti triumphantes/Venite, venite in Bethlehem.”
Amalie did her best to sing along, willing herself to seem as cheerful as the others as they sang chants des Noëls—what the others called Christmas carols—in Scottish Gaelic, French, English, and Latin to the accompaniment of Sarah’s beautiful harpsichord, children playing at their feet or sleeping on the thick bearskin rug stretched out near Iain and Annie’s hearth.
They’d eaten a dinner of roasted goose, buttery corn, boiled parsnips, potatoes, and biscuits, with spiced cider, Annie’s gingerbread, and something Sarah called Christmas pudding for dessert. But, although the food had been delicious, Amalie had had little appetite, her thoughts never straying far from the argument she’d had with Morgan last night.
He claimed she did not understand, but she did. He was afraid she would die in childbed, and so he gave her only part of himself. She could not deny that she found pleasure with him, but that pleasure was incomplete. She missed the feel of his weight upon her, his deep thrusts inside her, the joy of being possessed wholly by him—and possessing him in return.
In truth, it was he who did not understand. But how could she convince him that what he was doing to protect her was in truth hurtful to her?
“Venite adoremus/Venite adoremus/Venite adoremus/Dominum.”
The song came to an end, and Amalie like the others clapped. The sound roused little Connor Joseph from his sleep. He whimpered, fussed. Amalie went to him, lifted her son into her arms, his twin Lachlan still asleep, thumb in his mouth.
“Sleepy lad!” Morgan ran his hand over little Connor’s dark hair, his warm smile and the gentleness in his eyes when he met Amalie’s gaze a peace offering. He looked so handsome in his crisp linen shirt, his dark hair drawn back in a queue, his face clean shaven.
She willed a smile onto her face and sat in the chair that he offered her, fighting not to cry when he kissed her hair, her emotions at an edge. “Merci.”
They sang a few more carols, then Iain walked to the fireplace and drew from the mantel the heavy leather-bound family Bible. Apart from Connor’s whimpers, the room fell quiet as Iain opened the thick book to a page marked with a red ribbon and began to read, his deep voice seeming to fill the room.
“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. This taxin’ was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be taxed wi’ Mary his espoused wife, bein’ great wi’ child.
“And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.”
As Iain read about the angels and shepherds, Amalie thought of a young virgin, unmarried and most unexpectedly with child, her betrothed shocked to find her thus, but compelled by a dream and his own compassion to remain true to her. She thought of blameless Mary, great with child, traveling to Bethlehem on a donkey, the pangs of childbirth coming upon her. She thought of a young mother giving birth to her first child in the chill of a stable with only straw for birthing linens.
If Joseph could be a husband to Mary through such hardship and uncertainty, why could Morgan not be a true husband to Amalie?
She felt something wet on her face—tears—and wiped them away.
# # #
Beneath his own roof once more, Morgan built up the fires while Amalie settled little Lachlan and Connor in their cradles. He was determined to make peace with his wife tonight one way or another. He’d seen her tears, had wondered whether it had been the tale of the first Christmas that had moved her—or whether her tears were borne of sorrow.
The nagging feeling in his heart told him it was the latter.
She stepped out of the boys’ room, a brass candle holder in one hand, the flame’s light dancing on her beautiful face, her long dark hair spilling down her back.
Say somethin’, you lout!
But before he could find his tongue, she had disappeared into their room.
What could he say? He wouldn’t apologize for wanting to protect her life. That was his duty as a husband. Why was he expected to watch over her and keep her safe from harm when it came to wild animals and ruthless men, but blamed and condemned when he tried to protect her from the harm that his own seed might cause?
You are selfish and wish only to free yourself from fear. Where is your faith, Morgan?
Her words came back to him, but he brushed them aside. He trusted no one in Heaven or on earth with Amalie’s life.
And then she stood before him, wearing only her nightgown, a woolen shawl around her shoulders, candle holder in her hand. “Goodnight, Morgan. Joyeux Noël.”
She turned to go.
“Amalie—wait.” He crossed the room. “I would speak wi’ you.”
He’d been so angry all day, a strange sense of guilt eating at him, and his words came out as a command.
She stood still as he’d bidden her, but her gaze was averted.
“You’ll be sleepin’ in the bed wi’ me tonight. I’ll no’ see you catch your death by sleepin’ on the floor.”
“As you wish.”
Och, Satan’s hairy arse! He hadn’t meant to speak the words as though they were an order. He didn’t want her obedience.
He reached out, cupped her shoulders, gentled his voice. “I dinnae wish to see you fall ill.”
She said nothing.
“Amalie, for God’s sake! How can you blame me when all I want in this world is to keep you and our sons safe?”
Her gaze collided with his. “I do not wish to be merely safe. I want to live, Morgan! I want to feel your love, to be your wife in every way!”
“But you are my wife in every way.”
She shook her head. “You refuse to give me all of yourself, as if I were your mistress or your… your whore.”
“That’s no’ the way of it. I cherish you! You bloody well ken that!” He drew a breath, worked to rein in his temper. This was not turning out as he’d hoped. He did not wish to fight with her. “At least tell me why you were weepin’. I saw tears on your face.”
Her gaze dropped to the floor. “I was thinking of Mary. An angel came to her and told her she was with child even though she was a virgin, and she never once faltered. Not when Joseph doubted her. Not only the long journey to Bethlehem. Not when she had no choice but to give birth in a stable, with only Joseph at her side. It is a story of faith, Morgan. Can you not see? If Joseph found the faith to stand by Mary, why can you not find the faith to stand by me?”
“But I do stand by you! I would never forsake you!”
She looked up at him. “In your fear, you already have. By denying me your body, you deny us, our marriage, our love. You seek to spare me suffering, but in doing so you deprive me of the joys of being a wife and mother.”
And Morgan understood. “You truly want this. You would risk your life for this.”
“Oui. I want you Morgan—all of you.”
He took the candleholder from her hand and set it on the mantel, then drew her to him, taking her mouth in a slow, deep kiss. She melted against him, returned the kiss with a woman’s full passion, her fingers sliding into his hair.
Desire long denied flared to life inside him, and he found himself lifting the soft linen of her nightgown in impatient handfuls, his hands hungry for the feel of her, his cock already hard and straining against the leather of his breeches.
But she was impatient, too, her hands sliding beneath his shirt to caress his chest, then dropping lower, boldly rubbing the bulge of his erection.
There was no time for tenderness or gentle kisses, raw need driving them both.
With a groan, Morgan drew her nightgown over her head, then lifted her off her feet and laid her back on the table, firelight dancing over her bare breasts, the gentle curve of her belly, the sweet slit of her sex.
She reached down to fight with the fall of his breeches. “Now, Morgan!”
Hunger pounding in his veins, he pushed her hands aside and drew his cock free, moaning aloud when he pressed the engorged tip against her cleft and found she was already wet and ready for him.
Her legs wrapped possessively around his waist, drawing him closer as he slid inch by slick inch inside her.
Amalie felt her body arch as Morgan stretched her, filled her, became one with her at last. She bit her lip to keep from crying out, the pleasure astonishing as he began to move, slow strokes quickly building into hard, rapid thrusts that almost rocked the table. She closed her hands over his forearms, his fingers digging into her hips as he moved faster, thrust harder. Then his thumb found her most sensitive spot, teased it, moving in slick circles over the swollen nub.
She found herself on the crest, bliss drawing tight in her belly, then exploding in a warm rush, a flood of liquid delight. Morgan’s groans mingled with her cries as he followed her into oblivion and spilled himself inside her.
She didn’t realize she was crying until Morgan wiped her tears away. But this time they were tears of happiness.
# # #
He made sweet, slow love to her twice more, once on the bearskin rug before their hearth and then again in their bed. It was only as she lay in his arms, about to drift into dreams, that she noticed it.
“Le gui.” She did not know what the plant was called in English.
Morgan opened his eyes, a lazy grin spreading on his face when he saw it. “Mistletoe. Where did you find it?”
“I did not put it there.” She sat up on one elbow. “I thought you’d hung it.”
His brow furrowed. “Nay.”
Amalie met Morgan’s gaze and knew he was as perplexed as she.
“Hmmm.” His eyes narrowed. “My brothers.”
Did he believe his brothers had done this?
Amalie blushed to think so.
But then Morgan settled her head against his shoulder, one strong arm holding her close, his other hand stroking her hair. “You know I’d gladly cut out my own heart and throw it in the dirt afore I’d hurt you. Can you forgi’e me, lass?”
“Of course.” She slid her hand over his chest, her palm coming to rest over his heartbeat. “But leave your heart where it is, oui?”
# # #
Christmas Day dawned bright and beautiful, sunshine making the snow glitter. It was clear to Connor, Sarah, Iain and Annie that something had changed overnight between Morgan and Amalie. If their smiling faces hadn’t given that away, then their tender touches and stolen glances would have.
But it was Iain who noticed the smug look on his youngest brother’s face. “What did you do, for I ken you were up to somethin’.”
“Do you remember the old oak by the burn?”
“Aye, for certain.”
“I cut some mistletoe from its branches and hung it above their bed.”
Iain’s gaze narrowed. “So that was you?”
Connor’s grin broadened. “Aye. I had plenty, so I nailed some up above your bed, too.”
Iain had thought Annie was responsible for the sprig above their bed and had rewarded her for the sweet gesture with a night of loving. She probably thought he’d hung it hoping to seduce her.
Och, well, either way it had worked its magic.
Iain threw back his head and laughed. “Merry Christmas, brother.”
“Merry Christmas.” Connor gave him a nudge. “And you’re welcome.”
© 2012 Pamela Clare
Used with permission
* Don't forget to stop by Ramblings From This Chick for Tiffany Clare's scene*
Available Now:Charged with a crime they didn't commit, the MacKinnon brothers faced a death sentence until they agreed to serve the British Crown in the colonies and take up arms against the French. Allied with the Indian tribes who lived beside them in the wilderness, the Scottish Highland warriors forged a new breed of soldier...
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