A Potters Woods Christmas
Cian no-middle-name Vincent didn’t belong among people. The truth was he didn’t like people, and people as a general rule didn’t much like him. He’d learned that lesson well and true at a very early age.
Christmas time was a time for people, a time for family and hope and sharing, a time to be thankful for the year gone by, and a time to welcome in the new year with rejoicing for the year to come. Cian didn’t need to Google Christmas to know that was the gist of it. He remembered well enough the euphoria of childhood Christmas Eve when his parents let him stay awake well past bedtime, reading stories, eating small cakes, waiting for morning and the inevitable piles of intricately wrapped gifts. Most were for him, but there were others for each of them.
He remembered the scent of evergreen throughout the house.
He remembered the scent of his mother as she held him close and read to him.
He remembered the way his father’s eyes lit with love every time they touched on his mother, or on him.
Cian Vincent remembered Christmas. He wished to hell he didn’t. It only made going to Potters Woods, engaging with Magnus Alexander’s extended family, that much worse. All the memories came flooding back every time he walked into the big house at Potters Woods. He’d gotten out of coming for any holiday up until now by convincing Magnus that he had people who needed him at the rescue mission downtown. And he did have people who needed him. He felt more comfortable among the needy than he did among the blessed. Magnus had respected that. Until now.
Magnus Alexander had taken him off the street after catching him trying to lift his wallet. Cian’s technique was solid. He’d used it hundreds of times to obtain what he needed to care for himself and his dog. Cian shrugged off the memory. He still missed that dog, but Taffy had already been old when he ran away, and try as he might, Cian couldn’t keep her alive forever.
Magnus took him home that day. Cian planned to take whatever he could from Magnus when he wasn’t looking and move on. He didn’t need a caretaker then and he certainly didn’t need one now, but Magnus roped him in with kindness and by teaching him a skill. One he was good at and loved. One that didn’t require going to Christmas dinner.
Cian steeled his jaw, squared his shoulders, and straightened his tie with one hand as his other tightened around the gift he’d made for the Bennett table. Magnus had married into the Bennett family and was now part of their clan. The problem with Magnus was that he thought since he’d made Cian part of his family, that meant Cian was part of the Bennett clan too. Unfortunately, those people were daft enough to buy into that fallacy.
Cian exhaled, lifted his chin, and reminded himself he owed Magnus the life he now led, which, no matter how he looked at it, was almost as good as the life that died with his parents. Better in some ways. He was a man now, not an eleven-year-old left to the cruel mercies of “family” after his parents died.
Cian tried to smile through clenched teeth. When that didn’t work he plastered what he hoped was a pleasantly neutral expression on his face and rang the front bell.
Being seven and a half months pregnant was not the joy Daisy Bennett Alexander was told it should have been. She felt as big as a house, had to plan her activities around how near the closest toilet room was to anything she wanted to do or anywhere she wanted to go, and her husband was insisting on naming a criminal as their unborn daughter’s godparent.
“He’s too young, Magnus,” she said, hoping to sway her husband with logic.
“He’s two years older than you were when you left me at the altar the first time.” Magnus came up behind her and helped her clasp her pearl necklace, which used to be loose on her neck and now was choker length. His gaze sought hers in the oval mirror he’d crafted for her. He smiled his devilishly handsome smile, the one that always made her wish they were naked. “After you had your wicked way with me.”
Magnus kissed the side of her neck, as his hands gently rubbed the tension she didn’t know she was carrying from her shoulders. “Cian’s old enough, Daisy, and you know it. He finished his apprenticeship and has grown into a true artist.”
Daisy closed her eyes against her husband’s knowing stare, relaxing into him as he continued to stroke her. His voice lowered, becoming more intimate. “Are you really going to tell me age and experience should trump talent, a loyal heart, and a good soul?”
Daisy spun around. “He’s a criminal, Magnus. That’s the kind of man you want as a role model for our child?”
Magnus held her shoulders now and Daisy found she missed the rubbing. His eyes lost none of their tenderness, but a strand of steel settled into them. It was the kind of look Magnus got when he knew he was right and no amount of talking would change his mind. “Cian has never been convicted of a crime.”
She spoke before she thought better of it, tingeing Magnus’s expression with mild disappointment. Daisy hated that. Anger she could take. Disappointment made the back of her neck flash with heat and the center of her universe wobble. “He’s committed several felonies I know of. I can’t imagine what bad things he’s done that I don’t know about.”
“What you can’t imagine—nor can anyone who lives here, with the possible exception of my father—is what Cian had to do to make his way in the world.”
Magnus didn’t raise his voice, but Daisy felt immediately contrite. Magnus was right—no matter how much she prided herself on making her own way in the world, her family ties and her family’s resources were always there as a safety net if she needed them, and she knew it. Knowing she always had a place to come home to did shape her in ways Cian never experienced.
Shame didn’t fit well with Daisy, so she threw it away. “Is he a good man, Magnus?”
“Yes, lass. Deep down you know he is as much as I do.”
Daisy didn’t continue to argue the point. Cian tried to avoid her as much as possible. Whenever she entered Magnus’s weapons smithy or his art studio, Cian found a reason to make himself scarce. On those rare occasions when he couldn’t, he was unfailingly polite. His knowledge of weapons making rivaled Magnus’s, which was hard to imagine since Magnus crafted some of the finest replicas of bladed weapons in the world. Most of the top museums carried replicas of Magnus’s Viking and Celtic swords. Those same museums showcased his Celtic jewelry in the gift shops and online. He was world renowned, and Cian was his apprentice in all things.
Magnus was right about Cian’s loyalty. Daisy had seen that firsthand. Cian traveled to Cape Breton with her and Magnus to meet with a fellow member of the Damselfly Society, a secret society pledged to keep, maintain, and share Celtic and Norse artifacts of significant historical, archeological, and spiritual significance. He’d handled himself well with the ranking members of the Society, and when a slur was made against her and the Bennett family, Cian quietly handled it.
Daisy smiled at the thought, although she knew she shouldn’t. Magnus would not have been pleased had he known the man giving insult suffered a few broken ribs and was missing a few teeth. Cian said nothing, he just went about his business, but Daisy knew. The insult hadn’t been to Magnus; the man had been quite complimentary in that regard. Magnus hadn’t even heard it. Cian sought redress on his behalf anyway. Or he was simply attempting to defend her honor, something she could defend herself—but either way, Daisy thought more of him after that.
She also knew with the bone-deep certainty that seemed to kick into gear since she’d become pregnant that Cian could be trusted, so she swallowed her misgivings about not naming one of their extended family as godparent and took Magnus’s arm.
“As you wish, husband,” she said batting her eyes up at him. “But I’ll expect payment for my graciousness in bed.”
He grinned down at her. “As milady commands, so shall I serve.”
With that, they went down to dinner.