Bad boy Callum Fraser is head over heels for the first time in his life. Only his beloved, the Lady Alys is keeping him out of her bed until their wedding Christmas morning. It's enough to drive a man crazy!
Still, he intends to make up for his restraint. There are many ways to seduce, and Callum's a master at all of them. His goal? To leave Alys shivering in desire, anticipating the many delicious ways he'll bring her pleasure on their wedding night and throughout the twelve days of Christmas.
At least that's the plan… until Alys's dead first husband shows up, very much alive!
"Have you gone soft in the head, Callum Fraser to come to your bride's chamber on the eve of your wedding and disport yourself as though you were wedded already? You're nay supposed to so much as set eyes upon her let alone do—" She waived a claw-like hand to indicate the overturned trencher, goblets, and scattered cutlery "—that!"
Holding a hand to his pounding pate, Callum clamored to his feet. To find himself felled by a wee witch woman who scarcely came up to his waist would be a mighty blow to any man's pride—but before his bride, nay less!
He wheeled on her. "A curse on you, crone. I would have your head on a pike were you not my sister-in-law's creature."
"And my dear friend as well," Alys chimed in, stepping swiftly between them. She leaned into Callum and peered up at him. "How fares your head, my lord? You seem a wee bit flushed."
"I'm fine!" he snapped, though judging from the throbbing, the assault had raised a goodly sized knot.
Milread rolled her crooked shoulders and hacked sputum upon his boot tops. "Fie, he's a Fraser, isna he? They come with verra hard heads."
Callum's code of conduct wouldn't permit him to strike a woman, no matter how deserving of striking that woman might be. He did the next best thing, raising his fist high and punching air instead.
Alys moved to block Milread with her body. She wasn't a tall woman as was Brianna but still she topped the crone by a full head. "Pray let us not argue and on Christmas, nay less." She cast Callum a pointed look. "She means only to guard us against ill-luck."
He peered around her to Milread, the devil's own grin splitting her wrinkled face. "Guard us, that one! Lead us straight to Hell more like for sure she's no guardian angel but one of Beelzebub's fiends."
Milread ducked beneath Alys's raised arm. "Mayhap I am, for ‘tis fiendish delight I take in sending you off with that mighty pike in your pants." She poked her stick at the bulge still throbbing between his thighs.
Cupping himself, Callum backed up lest a knot on his noggin be the least of the "Christmas "gifts" the crone gave him. "Why, I'd as soon shove a pike down your gullet as—"
"Soft now, my lad, that great staff of yours shall find purchase soon enough." Aiming her weapon, Milread advanced. "For now, away with you and leave my lady to her rest."
Alys blew him a kiss as he backed toward the door. Reaching behind, he found the handle and turned it. "I will do as you bid, witch, but mind your mistress sleeps well this night, for she'll have little enough rest tomorrow night or the other eleven to follow."
Callum slammed the door behind him, sending the candles sputtering in their sconces.
Alys turned back to Milread and sighed. "Milread, truly, that was very bad of you."
The crone answered her with a dismissive waive. "Och, ‘tis his pride that's hurting more than his head of pride he has a surfeit. To think all my safekeeping's been undone by that one's selfishness. I will offer up a sacrifice to Lord Odin first thing on the morrow." Broom in hand, she shuffled through the rushes to where the scattered supper lay.
Contrite, Alys followed her. "Let me do that."
Scowling, Milread shooed her away. "To bed with you."
Lest she give further offense, Alys obeyed.
Sweeping the spillage into a pile, Milread chortled. "Your lord's head isna the only part of him that's hard." Leaning folded hands atop the broom handle, she looked over to her charge. "Randy as a bull your bridegroom is. Wheesht, I predict he'll no so much as lay himself down abed all the night." She cackled.
Alys climbed into bed. "I certainly hope that is not so." If tonight's "kissing" was any sign, their wedding night promised to be merry and memorable indeed. She meant for them to remain awake to enjoy it.
Wishing she were more inclined to sleep herself, she sat cross-legged at the foot of the bed, idly stroking the beard burn branding her cheek. Minded of all the ways her lord had loved her—kisses, only kisses—had her womanhood beating like a tiny heart.
"How did you find Alasdair?" Guiltily she realized that ere now she'd been too caught up with Callum and her own pleasure to spare her son so much as a thought.
Milread looked up from the pile she was creating and beamed. She was very fond of babies, but Alasdair especially. "Sleeping like a wee lamb and snuggling that stray you found for him like it held the keys to Heaven's kingdom."
Alys smiled, too. The past summer she'd saved Cat from drowning at the hands of Callum's cook—former cook—his "crime" being to lick a joint of beef that had been left sitting out. Alys well remembered her "hungry days" in the months bracketing Alasdair's birth as well as what it felt like to bear the brunt of injustice. She'd scooped up the tabby and taken him under her care. Cat and Alasdair had become fast friends. Upon introducing the two, she'd shown her son how to approach and stroke Cat so that he would not be spooked nor Alasdair scratched. Even though he was a baby still, Alasdair was very gentle with the animal and Cat responded in kind.
Thinking of how adorable they were together, Alys felt her smile broadening. "I'd say Cat is stray nay more. Alasdair loves him dearly and even Callum tolerates him." More than tolerate, she'd caught him feeding the cat scraps a time or two when he thought no one was watching.
Milread nodded. "It is good for a child to have a pet. There is much to be learned from tending creatures who dinna speak with words." Her task complete, she propped the broom in the corner. "Mayhap next time this year you'll give him another friend, a two-legged one, a wee brother or sister to bear him company."
Alys felt her spirits dip. She wanted Callum's baby with all her body and all her heart. For the second time that night, the midwife's warning came back to haunt her.
"I hope so; otherwise Alasdair is in danger of becoming more spoiled still. And Callum would make the best of fathers. I see him with Alasdair and…" She ended the thought there, pulled over one of the banked pillows, and hugged it to her breast. "I know my lord is a hard man and as unlike his brother as night is to day, and yet with us he is gentle as a lamb and so…wonderfully tender."
Milread snorted. "Wheesht, lassie, pray to the gods you make half as good a report of him a year hence."
Come what may, I dinna desire to marry you for a year and a day but for the rest of our earthly lives.
Alys sighed. She lifted a hand and absently traced the outline of her sensitized lower lip. "I will, Milread. I know I will."
Certain as she was of Callum, she was still uncertain of what the future might hold. She'd never learned to trust happiness. Just after she and Alexander had married, he'd announced he was rejoining his English knight's army. She'd pleaded and argued with him, to no avail. He'd been adamant. This stubbornness was a side of him she'd never before seen. But he'd been tender, too, swearing to return for the birthing. As much as she'd wanted to believe him, in her heart she'd known his parting kiss would be their last, that the child growing inside her would know no parent save her. When the letter informing her of his death finally found its way to her, read aloud by a kindly priest from the Church of St. Andrew, she'd dropped to her knees, devastated but not really surprised.
Callum's coming into her life had brought her joy such as she'd never before known. The past seven months' courtship still seemed more fairytale than reality. Even the antipathy between him and her best friend, Brianna had been laid to rest upon Brianna and Ewan's marriage last spring. Her best friend and the love of her life were allies once more, which gladdened her heart greatly.
And yet on the eve of her own Christmas wedding, she couldn't entirely trust her good fortune. She thought of the lifetime of companionable days and delicious nights that lie ahead, the lifetime of unending Christmas Callum swore to give her, and clutched the pillow tighter. Perfect happiness was within her grasp. Given her history, could she hope to hold onto it?
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Setting: The sequel to Bound to Please, Twelve Nights is set in the Scottish Highlands. Along with revisiting newlyweds Brianna and Ewan now happily settled on the Isle of Skye, we travel to the mainland and Castle Fraser where Ewan's twin, Callum, Laird of the Frasers and his bride, Alys eagerly await their Christmas wedding.
Learn more about Clan Fraser at ScotsClans.com. For fun factoids on Medieval marriage customs, medieval castles, and my "pet" topic, medieval bathing—medieval people were a lot cleaner than we've been brought up to believe, really!, visit these informative sites.
Hero Worship: My hero, Callum Fraser is the nearly identical twin of Ewan from Bound to Please and so like Ewan, his physicality is based upon actor, Christian Bale. And like the real life actor, alpha male and reformed rogue, Callum has a shadow side, an aspect that serves him well in defending his lady's honor—and life.
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A former abused stray, Eddie was first befriended by my late friend, Barbara. One day Eddie appeared and took up residence beneath Barbara's back porch steps. Stray but not truly feral, he began hanging about her kitchen door, playing with her resident cat, Bailey, and gratefully receiving the occasional food scraps. Occasional scraps soon segued to canned cat food and a regular program of feedings.
By summer 2007, Barbara's cancer had progressed to the point where she had no choice but to enter hospice. Bed-bound, she was no longer able to take care of Eddie or Bailey. Bailey was sent to live with her sister. Her beleaguered family, their hands full with caring for her around the clock, didn't have time to tend a former stray that wasn't exactly hers. Eddie's once regular feedings declined to occasional feedings and finally to no feedings at all. Predictably he went from showing up at the back door and meowing twice daily to disappearing altogether.
Before Barbara passed on, I asked her what I could do for her.
Tears streaming, she lifted her head from the pillow and fixed her watery gaze on my face. "There's nothing you can do for me. I'm dying but Eddie… Please find him a home if you can. I don't want him to suffer."
How typical of my wonderful, giving friend that in the midst of her own suffering and end-of-life, she would worry over the little "throw away" creature who'd been under her care.
Around the lump lodged in my throat, I managed to answer, "I promise, Barbara. Don't worry, I'm going to catch him and get him vetted and neutered and then homed with a permanent family."
It was a promise I prayed I would be able to keep. The truth was I hadn't set eyes on Eddie in almost two weeks. Stray animals tend to move on once their food source dries up, and the previous day I'd seen a dead cat lying by the side of the trafficked street that on first heart-jolting glance had looked a lot like Eddie. I could only hope he was still in the area and yes, alive.
The next day, my stomach in knots and tears in my eyes, I stood at Barbara's back door, her once lush garden desert dry and graveyard silent, and called for Eddie. I was months if not weeks away from losing my best friend to cancer. The prospect of losing this little cat too, her cat, seemed too much to take.
Both a humane rescue trap and a regular carrier stood at the ready on the deck beside a bowl brimming with tuna fish and laced with catnip I had a pair of heavy gloves as well which I hesitated to put on for fear he would slip out of my grasp. Gloves or not, I fully expected to bleed.
To my relief, Eddie emerged from the crawl space beneath the back fence a few minutes later. Though more skittish than usual, he was also—fortunately for me—ravenous. I waited until he was absorbed with eating, grabbed him by the scruff and shoved him into the carrier and slammed the door closed.
Predictably he panicked, thrashing and throwing himself against the locked metal door until the carrier seemed to take on a life of its own. I got us both into my car and made a beeline to the veterinarian. Blood tests confirmed Eddie was healthy though his one hind leg was permanently damaged likely due to one of those negative interactions with the not so nice people. I had him neutered and vaccinated, and then spent the following five months socializing him to indoor living. From playing with cat toys to doing his business in the litter box to eating his supper "all gone," he was a natural housecat! By then Barbara had passed on, and my move from Virginia to New York was coming up fast. I didn't see any way I could possibly take him with me. It was time to make good on the last part of my promise: finding Eddie a loving permanent home.
Before leaving the state, I placed Eddie with a former animal-loving neighbor. Unfortunately for Eddie she already shared her home with two elderly dogs. Hard of hearing, the one dog barked at one volume: high, creating a stressful environment for a former outdoor cat. Home number #2, which I coordinated via long distance, was with a nice man whose beloved Persian had recently passed over The Rainbow Bridge. But the Persian had been a lap cat, and Eddie's previous hard knocks life made him panic at being picked up. Even now, his affectionate interchanges involve copious ankle stropping and head butting, but he likes to keep his four paws on terra firma.
More than a year later Eddie came back to me, or rather I came back to him. Retrieving him involved a nine-hour drive from New York to Virginia—the pickup weekend coincided with Pope Benedict's spring 2008 visit—but having Eddie back in my life has been worth every leg cramping minute of that doubly long drive.
As you can see from his photo, Eddie is an American shorthair, a fairly ordinary feline specimen. Much like the red-colored stone in the ring I inherited from my grandmother, the one set with what she always believed to be a ruby but which an appraiser confirmed was but crimson-colored glass, Eddie's market value isn't particularly impressive.
But value, like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder. My grandfather found that ring sticking up from the dirt one day on his walk home from work. He was a poor man, a laborer, and he couldn't afford much, but he cleaned up the ring and gave it to my grandmother, and she wore it every Sunday of her life for the following fifty plus years.
As a child, I'd sit in her lap and twist that ring around and around her work-roughened finger and invariably she'd say, "One day, Dumpling, this ring will be yours."
She gave it to me a few years before she passed so that she could have the joy of seeing me wear it. In the decades since, I've accumulated my fair share of so-called "good" jewelry, but that red glass ring is by far the most precious piece I own. I wouldn't part with my grandmother's ring or my friend Barbara's cat, not for a million dollars.
Love you Granny, love you Barbara, and yes, love you, Eddie.
P.S. Pet overpopulation is a national problem but the good news is that progress is being made. Solutions exist in local, regional and statewide programs and projects focused on providing early age spay/neuter and reduced-cost options. I am privileged and proud to be a member of the board of directors of Marian's Dream: Philanthropy for Animal Advocates, the charitable recipient of my 2009 Holiday Goodness Challenge. To learn how you can help bring an end to the suffering of stray, feral and homeless cats like Eddie, visit MariansDream.org and become a part of the solution.
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"If you love historicals and a beautiful love story wrapped around it, this is a great book...!"
"Beautifully written... Callum and Alys make wonderful lovers"
"If you love historical romances you will want to give this one a try... "
"Twelve Nights is a spectacularly sensual historical and a joyously fun read."
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