Hamish woke on Christmas morning sore in places he’d not realized he had muscles. Shoveling a Vermont storm wasn’t for the weak. He found Kate already in the kitchen, brewing coffee.
“We’ll keep bakers’ hours ’til we’re dead, won’t we?”
Kate chuckled and poured a dollop of heavy cream into her mug. “I imagine. Ewan says he was up late wrapping something, but I think he might have been working on a story. It’s kind of a miracle our schedules ever align.”
“He’s brilliant. Your place is brilliant. This whole month was exactly what I needed, even if I thought I was only staying a few days. Thank ye, Kate.” The Scot slipped out with a broad smile. “Happy Christmas.”
Kate came around the island and hugged him. “Merry Christmas, Hamish.” She gave his shoulders a squeeze, giving him a wry look when he winced. “I’m going to bake that lovely cinnamon ring you left proofing, then after breakfast we’ll head over to the Damselfly for the rest of the day.”
“Sounds perfect.” As perfect as it could be without Juliet.
Kate sipped her coffee, regarding him over the rim of the cup. “Did you hear from Juliet? How’s Montreal?”
Hamish paused his pour. “Not a peep, but I didn’t have high hopes. Thing is, she’s been on her own since her parents died. This is her first family holiday. I canna expect her to be texting me when she’s reunited with her family at Christmas.”
A small smile played on Kate’s lips. “That was quick.”
“What?” Hamish inhaled the strong steam off his coffee.
“You’re in love with her.” Kate’s voice softened. “The way you talk about her. It’s the same as it was when we were in Paris. With Fiona.”
“God, I miss her.” He put his face in his hands and scrubbed at his stubble. “I miss Fee, and I think about Juliet all the time. I’m going to miss her something fearsome.”
Kate wound an arm around his waist and laid her head on his shoulder. “Love sucks.”
Juliet woke to the smell of breakfast. Bacon, coffee, biscuits… her nose lead her down from the second floor room she’d been given for the night. In the kitchen, she found Nan and an older woman holding a snoozing baby in candy cane stripe pajamas.
“Merry Christmas.” Nan was balancing a bread basket and a platter of bacon on her way from the stove to the large farmhouse table that dominated one half of the room. “Juliet, this is my mother-in-law, Molly Fuller. Molly, this is Juliet Chen, Kate’s journalist friend.”
Juliet smiled and took the platter, following Nan to the table. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. Thank you for letting me invade your family holiday.”
“Family’s a broad term around here,” Molly said. “The more the merrier.”
“Speaking of more,” Nan said, “Joss and his dad are out in the barn with our daughter. We’ll have breakfast once they come in. Can I get you coffee? Anything else?”
“I need to call my grandparents, and—” And talk to Hamish. That thought Juliet left to herself.
Nan gave her a knowing look. “Of course. You can take a mug, and feel free to use the parlor or your room.”
Her grandparents fussed over her on the phone, extracting firm promises to come for Twelfth Night, and her grandmother whispered, “Stephen Zhang is here. I couldn’t very well turn him away.”
“I’m sorry, Mémère. He sprang the whole thing on me, too. I should be there.”
Her grandmother’s voice dropped to a whisper. “No, duck. You shouldn’t. That young man is looking for a boring little wife, and I’m not letting him within a mile of you until his stops assuming he’s going to be part of this family.”
Juliet’s heart swelled. “Je t’aime, Mémère. Joyeux Noël.”
“I love you, too, sweet girl. Joyeux Noël.”
Now, to call Hamish and wish him a merry Christmas.
Halfway to the Damselfly Inn, Hamish realized he’d left his phone behind at Kate’s. Damned technology. He’d been looking forward to catching up with Juliet at some point during the day. She’d said the family did a big Christmas Eve celebration, followed by a midnight mass, but that by noon on Christmas day, everyone was napping, reading, or cheating at cards.
“What?” Kate turned back, two frown lines deepening between her brows.
“Ballocks. Was I muttering? I forgot my mobile at your place.”
Kate offered hers on her palm. “You can use mine.”
“If I actually knew her number…”
Hamish watched the snowy fields roll by, sun-kissed and glittering, with a pit of disappointment in his gut.
Juliet was pinned down under a sleeping baby in the parlor when the rest of the Christmas party arrived; everyone else was in the kitchen. Nan and Joss’s daughter bounced into the room, her voice chiming the list of guests.
“Aunty Kate and Uncle Ewan are here and Uncle Jack is here and Chloe and Anna are here and Uncle Bobby and Aunt Jane.”
The baby snuffled in his sleep, flexing his toes in their striped pajamas. “So many friends,” Juliet mused.
“And a new friend, but I don’t know his name.” She boinged out of the room, singing half the tune of Jingle Bells as she went.
Juliet’s heart leaped at the next voice she heard, melodic over a bass line of heavy tread in the hallway.
“Just through here then?”
Hamish stopped short at the sight of her, his face lighting up like the tree he stood near. “Joss said to put these with the other gifts, but I don’t think I’m meant to put them all on that chair wi’ ye.”
“I’m a little stuck,” Juliet replied, keeping her voice level over the baby’s head. “Merry Christmas, Hamish.”
She was aware of the commotion of friends and family filling the kitchen, but the noise fell away as they grinned like fools, talking over one another.
“I thought you were in—”
“I didn’t know you’d be here—”
“You first,” Hamish said, setting down the stack of wrapped packages near the Christmas tree.
“It’s a long story, but I delayed leaving for my grandparents’, and then got stuck at home because of the snow. Joss saw me in town and invited me out here to stay where it’s warm and there’s power, and I thought, ‘Why not?’”
“Why not, indeed.” Hamish dropped down gently on the arm of her chair, speaking in a low half-whisper. “Kate frog marched me. She’d no intention of leaving me on my own.”
He pressed his lips to hers, ever so gently, with the snoozing baby between them, and Juliet felt the hinges come off every door to her heart she’d closed.
“Mmm?” He kissed Juliet again.
“Will you be my guest for the Chen’s Twelfth Night Masquerade?”
“I dinna know what a Twelfth Night Masquerade is, lass,” he said, clearly putting on a bit of his Scot for her, “but I wouldn’a miss it for the world.”