It’s an actual sleigh.
Juliet hadn’t really known what to expect until Hamish took her hand and they walked up from the parking lot at West’s Christmas Tree and Maple Farm. Just past what a sign declared to be the sugar house, a long, forest green and gold sleigh, with benches like a hay ride wagon, was hitched to a pair of massive draft horses.
“There are bells.” She heard her own breathless wonder in her voice. “Like in the song.”
“Aye.” Hamish was grinning like a fool at the sleigh.
“Evening, folks.” A tall, handsome man in a red and black houndstooth wool jacket met them in the clearing. “I’m Sterling West. Welcome to the farm.” He gestured to a table spread with insulated travel mugs and a pile of thick tartan blankets. “I’ll check you in, then you can help yourself to hot cocoa and a blanket before you find a seat.”
Juliet looked around in wonder. The cold was so deep she felt she could reach out and touch it; the snow reflected the moonlight just the way Clement Moore described it, “a luster of midday.” The horses stamped and blew, shaking the bells on their harnesses.
A gentle-faced woman with a halo of curls peeking out of her winter hat pointed out two sets of mugs. “The ones on the left are for grown-ups only. I’ll need to see some ID if you’re so inclined.”
Juliet glanced at Hamish, whose gaze flicked happily at the adult hot chocolate. In silent accord, they produced their identification.
The woman grinned at Hamish’s passport. “Scotland!”
“Excellent!” Sterling replied.
“We’re keeping an informal tally of countries we see represented here this winter,” the woman explained. “I’m Ivy. What’s your favorite Christmas song?”
“Star of Wonder—”
“It Came Upon A Midnight Clear—”
Their answers tumbled over one another. Ivy laughed, noting the titles on a clipboard near the blankets. “Go get comfy. We’re off in a few.”
They were two of eight, plus Ivy, who rode with the guests while Sterling rode with the driver. The horses drew the sleigh into the woods, and a hush settled over the group. The endless sky dotted with stars hung over the black canopy of forest, letting the darkness close around them. Only a pair of lanterns lit the cart path they followed. When they plunged out of the thick trees and into a broad meadow, the moonlight was blinding.
Juliet snuggled against Hamish, tucking their blankets in around their shoulders and laps. She cradled her mug, listening to the crisp fall of horseshoes and the shushing of the runners on the icy snow—the sleigh ride had music of its own.
Ivy began to speak, telling a story about a woodcutter in a stormswept forest, a lost traveler, and miraculous lights in the fir trees. Juliet could picture it all, and when Ivy’s story segued into Silent Night, she sang along without worrying about her singing voice.
Hamish had a warm baritone and sang without reserve, his accent adding extra charm to the carol. The whole group sang as the sleigh sailed along, Ivy leading them seamlessly through the list of songs on her clipboard.
Juliet’s cheeks stung with the cold, but the peppermint schnapps in her cocoa warmed her—though maybe not as much as Hamish’s solid presence at her side.
When they disembarked, Hamish held her waist as she jumped down, and she landed in the circle of his arms. He pressed a kiss to her lips. “That was magic, lass. I’ll never forget it.”