Authors: Breeana Puttroff
A Christmas Rose
The Dusk Gate Chronicles
A Christmas Rose
Copyright © 2012 Breeana Puttroff
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or
transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing
of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other
than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this
condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
Cover design by Mallory Rock
For all other inquiries, please visit http://www.duskgate.com
William peeked out the window just in time to see Quinn stalking across the lawn toward the castle. Sighing, he hurried to finish re-shelving the books he’d been organizing, and he was waiting for her when she came in the door of their apartment.
He didn’t ask her anything right away – he just helped her take off her cloak, pausing for a second to rub her rapidly rounding belly, and then taking her hands in his.
“It’s getting cold out there,” he said, bringing her hands to his lips, trying to warm them. “We’ll have to ask Ruth to make you some gloves.”
“I suppose I shouldn’t even be going outside now? I might shiver or something and hurt the baby?”
He took a deep breath. “Did I say that?”
She closed her eyes. “No. Sorry. I know it’s not you.”
He waited for a few minutes while she calmed herself, putting more water in the tea kettle, and swinging the hook over the little fire that was nearly always crackling in their fireplace now that the weather was turning.
“Sophia again?” he asked, when she’d finally settled into one of the chairs by their little table under the window.
She nodded. “I wasn’t getting on the horse. I was just brushing her. I
we have servants for that. But I wanted to do it. I just wanted to spend some time with Dusk. She’s not going to kick me. And so what if I even did want to ride her a little – I didn’t – but why couldn’t I if I wanted to? Pregnant people ride horses all the time.”
He walked behind her, pulling her hair back and rubbing her shoulders. “I know, love. I told you already that I think it’s fine if you do those things. You’re just not going to get her to agree.”
“She makes me feel like I’m six years old and getting caught sneaking a cookie from the jar.”
“I know,” he said, kissing the top of her head and going to retrieve the whistling tea kettle from the fire. “Of course, she didn’t know you when you were six. Maybe she’s just making up for lost time?”
“I wish I could find that funny right now, Will.”
He brought the tea kettle over to the table and set it down on a little iron trivet in the shape of the crest of Philotheum. “She really got to you.”
Quinn closed her eyes, taking several deep breaths before she opened them and started scooping tea from a tin into the infuser. “She thinks it’s a bad idea for me to travel to Eirentheos.”
His eyes widened. “Did she tell you she didn’t want you to go?”
“Does she ever just come out and say anything, Will? No, it was … ‘you know, when my friend Hazel was pregnant with her first baby, she rode in a carriage – even though I
her she shouldn’t – and her water broke’ … and ‘I know you’re just going to do what you want to do no matter what I say, but you should think about…’ I’ve never met anyone like her, Will.”
“I have,” he said wryly. “My father has a sister who does some of the same things – Gavin’s mother, believe it or not.”
“I’m pretty sure I can believe that.”
“Yeah. My mother always makes sure to only invite her to gatherings where there are going to be a
of people. Even so, she always manages to get some dig in. Something my mother should have planned better, or not allowed her servants or her children to do…”
“Well, I can’t exactly avoid Sophia, or only invite her to parties, Will. She lives here.”
“I know, love.” He waited until she’d finished placing the infuser in the little ceramic teapot, and then he poured the steaming water from the kettle into it. “She is worried about the baby, you know. Some of it is just because she cares.”
“There’s no reason to be
about the baby. Everything is fine. For seven moons, everything has been perfect.”
“And it’s going to stay perfect, love, but she’s a grandmother. She worries. You know, before her, there was a family history of trouble with pregnancy and babies.”
“Yeah…she might have reminded me about that once or a thousand times. And, I know, she thinks my mother being from another world means our baby might turn out to be an alien or something.”
He chuckled. “She doesn’t think that.”
“Yes, she does. Trust me; she saves the best stuff for when you’re not around.”
“I’m sorry, Quinn.” And he was. He had hoped, when they’d come to Philotheum for her coronation that living here would mean she’d find a connection with her father’s side of her family, especially since she’d been cut off from her mother, her adopted father, and her siblings when the gate had closed. But so far, her relationships with most of them had been cordial at best, and at other times, downright strained.
A surprising exception, most of the time, was her Uncle Charles, who was rather pleased with the advisory position she’d asked him to take. He had even moved his family to an estate closer to the capital, and he spent much of his time at the castle, helping Quinn with some of the still-tenuous political situations in Philotheum.
The only thing everyone agreed on, and was excited about, was the pregnancy. For some – like Sophia – the enthusiasm was to a level that bordered on obsession. The little nursery room here in their apartment was already overflowing with gifts – knitted blankets, hand-sewn gowns and diapers, even a growing collection of wooden toys that the baby wouldn’t be able to use for several moons – all surrounding a beautiful hand-carved cradle.
Unlike his family’s castle in Eirentheos, which was practically overflowing with children, this castle hadn’t housed a royal child in many cycles. Actually, although some of the live-in servants had children, the last royal baby born and raised here had been Tolliver – a fact that William and Quinn both preferred to ignore.
“You know, love – not that I’m worried it’s not safe – but are you really sure you’re up to traveling that far right now? Five days each way is a long time to be sitting in a carriage…”
“I am not going to miss Linnea’s wedding.”
“She would understand, Quinn. And it’s not like you won’t get to see her – she’s moving here.”
“I’ll be fine. The baby’s not due for another eight weeks.”
“Seven, by the time we leave, Quinn. Five to seven. We don’t know the dates for sure.”
She shrugged. “The trip will only be three weeks – even with the traveling. I’ll still have plenty of time to be stuck in this castle with everyone watching me like hawks.”
As if to illustrate her point, there was a knock on the door then, and William opened it to reveal an older woman with graying hair and sparkling blue eyes, holding a tray with several covered dishes. He stood to the side and motioned her in.
Sophia asked me to bring this up for you,” she said, setting the tray on the table. “It’s stew. She thinks you’ve not had enough vegetables to eat today.” She rolled her eyes, which made both Quinn and William chuckle. “I know you’re probably not actually ready for supper yet, but I brought these for you.” Ruth lifted a small silver cover from the tray, revealing a glass bowl full of green glasberries – Quinn’s favorite fruit.
“Thank you, Ruth,” Quinn said. “I appreciate it.”
“You’re welcome, sweetheart. Would you like me to tell Sophia that you ate every drop of the stew and that you’re napping now?”
“Tell her you heard me snoring.”
“That might start her to worrying you’re damaging the wee one’s hearing.”
“Then tell her you saw my eyelashes fluttering gently against my cheeks as I rested lightly on three down blankets, with an extra pillow just for the baby.”
“I will tell her exactly that,” she said, laughing along with them. “I am working on putting together the things that you’ll need for your journey, milady – is there anything special you need me to get you for that?”
“My husband here is worrying about my hands staying warm in this cooler weather.”
“I’ll have some gloves made. Anything else?”
“Some extra pillows and blankets for the carriage, maybe? So everyone can stop worrying about whether I’ll be comfortable enough.”
“Already taken care of, honey. You enjoy your afternoon – maybe actually relax a little bit. Nathaniel should be coming back this evening.”
“Anything for you, Sir?” she asked, looking at William.
“Just for you to stop calling me that, Ruth. I’ve told you – it’s not necessary to be so formal, at least not here, when it’s just us. You’ve been a friend to us already, and I consider you as such.”
“All right, William. But do let me know if you think of anything.”
He watched Ruth close the door behind her, and then he turned back to his wife. “Okay. Point taken. We’ll go.”
“Good. Because I can’t wait that long to see Linnea. And I want to see Thomas, too – and your mom, Will. It would be really, really nice to talk to your mom right about now.”’
He could see in her eyes, hear in her voice what she
saying – what she couldn’t bring herself to say anymore, the thing she was trying not to dwell on. That the person she really wanted to talk to right now was her own mother.
Going to spend time with William’s mother, Charlotte, was only a poor substitute for the real thing – but it was the most he could do for her right now.
“Come here, love,” he said, pulling her up into his arms, holding her tight and kissing her. “We’ll go. And things will get better. Once the baby’s here and everyone sees that she’s safe, it will get better.” He put his hands on either side of her belly and bent down to kiss her there, too.
“She? You still think it’s a girl?”
He shrugged. “I’ll be happy with whichever one. But for now, I like thinking about a little girl with your hair and your eyes and your strength.”
“And you, wrapped around her tiny little fingers.”
“Yes, that too,” he agreed, smiling as the baby rewarded him with a strong kick, right below his hand. “See? She knows it already.”
“Maybe he’s just kicking you because you’re calling him a girl.”
“An indignant little man, huh?”
“Or a quiet, sweet, little dark-haired boy who just has to kick out on occasion to let us know he’s there and that he wouldn’t mind being part of things sometimes, too.”
“Well, you have the perfect Mama for that, little one,” he said to her belly. “She’s good at noticing the quiet ones and making them feel important, too.” He looked up at her tenderly, keeping his hand on her, smiling in delight as the baby – active now – moved and pushed against him. “Whoever this is in here is one very lucky baby to have you for a mother, Quinn.”
“You’re going to be a pretty incredible father, Will. This baby definitely lucked out in that department.”
He smiled again, leaning in close and kissing her neck. “I think we’re the lucky ones.”
“I can agree with that.”
He held her like that for several minutes, rocking her back and forth, her tummy pressed against him, both of them feeling the baby’s gentle movements. Finally, she yawned.
“Did you ever consider
taking an afternoon nap, instead of just telling your grandmother you did?”
“Maybe I’ll sit on the couch and put my feet up. You can tell me what you’ve been doing all day.”
“That will put you to sleep for sure.”
She rolled her eyes. “Sounds like you win either way.”
He smiled and walked her over, settling her in with a blanket and pulling up the footstool for her before going back to the tray of food.
He still hadn’t gotten used to living in the master apartment in the castle. This one was even larger and more impressive than the one his parents shared at the castle in Eirentheos. In addition to this sitting room, a bathroom, and an enormous bedroom, it had the little nursery right to the side of their bedroom, and a large library with built-in shelves and a polished wooden desk.
The bathroom was even complete with water that could be pumped up from a heated tank near the fires in the kitchens, somewhat like the system Nathaniel and Stephen had spent many cycles devising at the castle in Eirentheos, although this one was much simpler, and only served the king and queen’s private living space. It was a pet project of William and Nathaniel’s now, to see if they could expand it, especially to the quarters Sophia had re-located to before Quinn’s coronation.
Although neither Quinn nor William would have ever dreamed of insisting on it themselves, they were both very appreciative that their apartment had been completely re-decorated before they’d come to live in Philotheum. Everything, down to the plush, ornate rugs was new, and there were no traces of Hector, with the exception of some of the books William had found in boxes and had been sorting, replacing the ones he was interested in on the empty shelves.
Still, it was strange to know that Hector and Sophia had shared these rooms for so many cycles, and before that, the library had belonged to Quinn’s grandfather, Jonathan.
Having grown up as a fourth-born prince, William had always expected to someday move away from living in a castle, not to be the master of one. Although the power and decisions belonged to his wife, king was still a title he wasn’t ever sure he’d grow comfortable wearing.