Christmas Wishes

an excerpt

Chapter One

Yorkshire, England 1922

Two days before Christmas Eve

Christopher Barnaby Fielding gazed glumly out of the window at the gently drifting snow falling on the grounds that surrounded his family's home outside the small town of Stainbridge in the county of York. He'd come up from Oxford for the Christmas break, and considering the circumstances of the past few weeks, he could not help but feel resentful of the time he had to spend away from the University where he taught musical appreciation.

Unfortunately, any excuses he could have dreamed up would have fallen on deaf ears. Christmas was sacrosanct in the Fielding household, and his parents demanded that all their children, along with their children's children, attended the festivities. Special sanctions were given to Christopher's old brother, Horace, as he and his wife, Charlotte, had to divide their attentions to include a visit to Charlotte's family. They were allowed to leave Christmas morning after breakfast to travel the short distance to the Redding residence, the home of Charlotte's parents. A frugal affair, Horace had confided in Christopher after spending several Christmases with the Reddings since he and Charlotte first became proud parents themselves.

"Not much fun for the children, I'm afraid," he'd muttered. "We'd all much rather stay here the whole time, but Charlotte feels compelled to spend at least part of the Holiday with her parents. They're such old fuddy-duddies, and the food-well honestly, I think the homeless fare better in the soup kitchens."

Christopher's sister, Nan and her husband, Richard, were still childless, although Nan was expecting their first, so they most certainly did not have any excuse to leave early. As the possibility of Christopher ever fathering the expected brood was next to improbable, all Christmases for the foreseeable future would be spent in his family's company, even as their numbers grew exponentially.

Sighing, Christopher turned away from the window, walked over to the large mahogany sideboard and poured himself a snifter of brandy from the array of crystal decanters and glasses sitting atop a polished silver tray. One good thing about Christmas with his family-there was always a plentiful supply of good liquor and wine in attendance. If he couldn't be in the company he longed for, he could at least spend the days in a pleasantly alcohol-induced state of euphoria. But even as he downed half the snifter of brandy in one gulp, the expensive liquid filling his stomach with warmth, he knew that nothing would help erase the despondency being away from William brought him.

Slim shoulders slumped, he stood looking about the drawing room and begrudgingly admitted to himself that if he wasn't exactly getting into the festive spirit, it was through no fault of his parents. The room was beautifully decorated with garlands of fresh pine, the seasonal aroma of which was intoxicating to say the least. A large gaily festooned Christmas tree sat in one corner, the tinsel, the myriad glass balls, the angel's wings at the top of the tree all reflecting the flickering light from the fireplace. They'd always had a tree at Christmas, from the time he, Nan and Horace had been children, and now it was there for his parents' grandchildren to enjoy, and if Jennifer and Rodney's cries of delight when they'd arrived with their mother were any indication, they loved the tree just as much as he and his siblings had years ago. At respectively five and six years old, his niece and nephew were wonderful, if noisy additions to the festivities.

Christopher had no doubt that, as always, Christmas at the Fieldings would be a splendid affair, filled with presents, good food, Christmas carols-which he would be expected to accompany on the grand piano-and visits from friends and neighbours, all of whom would be made to feel welcome and offered mulled wine, cider and sweet mince pies. Every year it was the same, and Christopher could not dispense with the thought that he was being churlish in hating the idea of it this year.

It was all William's fault really, though he would be surprised to hear of it. They had said their goodbyes in a satisfactory manner, and it was only a little over a week apart after all. William with his family, he with his. So why then was he so ill disposed to being here in the bosom of his family? Could he not survive seven or so nights without the sight of William's dear face, the press of his hard-muscled body against his own, the touch of his warm lips, the overpowering sensations created by the feel of his strong arms when he pulled Christopher into his embrace? Did he not have the memories of their time together when they would lie entwined on the couch or the bed in either one of the rooms they occupied at the University? Would those sweet memories of kisses and murmured words of endearment given and taken in rapturous harmony be enough to tide him over the next week?

"No," he muttered, gulping back the last of his brandy then heading back to refill his glass.

"Drinking so early?" His sister's voice came to him from the doorway as she entered the drawing room.

He paused, slightly flustered by her accusing tone. He put the glass aside and managed a smile. "Just trying to get in the mood for what is to come."

Nan stared at him as she walked slowly across the large room, one hand supporting her distended belly. With child for over eight months she had need to take care, the doctors had said.

"Why?" she asked. "You have always loved Christmas. Why so morose this year?" She placed a small hand on her brother's arm. "What's wrong, Christopher? You are not yourself. Is something wrong at Oxford?"

"No, no..." He bent to place a kiss on her cheek. "Just a bit out of sorts. The train ride up was slow and tedious with all this damnable snow."

"You love the snow," Nan said. "You've always been the one to say Christmas without snow is no Christmas at all." Taking his hand she walked with him over to the window. "Remember when we were children, we would sit and stare out of this window for hours watching it drift down, making us a wonderland to play in." She laughed gaily. "Horace would hate it when you'd pelt him with snowballs. You were always so nimble, getting out of the way of the ones he'd throw at you."

Christopher chuckled and put an arm around Nan's waist. "How is he?" he asked, touching her belly with his other hand.

"So sure it's a boy? Restless. Eager to come out. Too eager I feel, sometimes."

Christopher frowned. "Is everything all right?"

"The doctors think I may deliver early."

"Oh, Nan..." He pulled her into his arms, ashamed of himself for being so caught up in his own selfish thoughts when his sister was facing something much more serious than him-a week apart from his lover. "I'm sorry... I didn't realise."

"Don't worry. I'm sure everything will be fine. Besides, Richard does enough worrying for all of us."

"And so he should. He put you in this predicament!"

"Christopher, my dear brother, Richard could not have put me in this predicament, as you call it, without my consent."

He felt his face warm at his sister's words. The thought of Nan and Richard coupling was one he did not wish to entertain. Richard was a nice enough fellow, but he was so big, towering over everyone, especially his petite wife. How could she bear him on top of her? he'd wondered on several occasions. And if the bulge in his pants was any indication, he was big everywhere. Still he hadn't heard Nan complain, at least not to him. Perhaps he was gentle, just as William had to be because of-

"There you two are!" His brother's booming voice cutting through his reverie made him jump slightly and Nan to giggle at his reaction.

"Wherever were your thoughts?" she asked, her blue eyes large in her pale face.

"Um, oh, nowhere important, Nan." He turned to greet his brother. "Horace, I do believe you've put on weight."

"While you have not," his brother growled, "and could do with some fattening up." He hugged Christopher warmly, then wrapped Nan in a bear like embrace. "How are you, sweet pea? Richard tells me the doctors are worried."

"The doctors are not worried, Horace. It's Richard who worries. Needlessly, I may add. I am fine. Where is my worrying husband anyway?"

"In the parlour, with Charlotte and the children. He thought you had gone to fetch Christopher, and would return in a trice. But here I find the two of you, gossiping as usual no doubt."

"Conferring, Horace, not gossiping," Nan scolded her older brother. "But I do think Christopher has a secret he's keeping to himself," she added, mischief in her blue eyes, "and it's making him rather out of sorts."

"Oh?" Horace gave his brother a sly smile. "Some young lady fallen under the spell of our handsome brother's infinite charm, eh?" He paused to guffaw at his own wit. "I must say it's about time. What are you now-twenty three, isn't it?"

"Twenty seven, Horace, as well you know. You always subtract the years so you don't have to admit to being over thirty. Isn't that the truth?"

Horace ignored the jibe and said, "I think we should join the others in the parlour, don't you? I'm sure Mama and Papa are anxious to hear about the young lady who's caught your eye, as of course, we all are."

As Horace strode off, Nan tucked her arm inside Christopher's and whispered, "Best make something up or he'll badger you to death."

"Why on earth did you utter the word, 'secret'?" Christopher whispered back at her. "What is more, what makes you think I'm withholding any secret?"

"I sense it. Women are very intuitive about secrets being withheld."

"Well, unfortunately, this time your intuition has led you awry. There is no young lady 'under the spell of my infinite charm', as Horace inferred."

"But something is amiss, Christopher. I can tell."

Christopher slowed their steps to a standstill before they left the room. "Dearest sister, as much as I love you, this is not something I can discuss with you. Best you know nothing of it, quite frankly."

"Are you in some kind of trouble?" Nan's face grew paler as she stared hard into his eyes. She lifted her hand to push back an errant lock of his dark brown hair that had fallen over his brow. Her gaze softened as she said, "Tell me, I shan't judge you harshly. I love you, you know that."

Christopher wrapped his arms around her and kissed her forehead. "And I love you too. No, I am not in any trouble, and I don't want you worrying about me. It would seem you have enough to worry-" He stopped what he was saying as a large figure loomed suddenly in the doorway.

"Worry?" Richard's handsome but overpowering presence seemed to fill even the large drawing room. "Are you telling your brother you are worried?" He rushed to his wife's side. "What did she tell you, Christopher?"

"I told him nothing that everyone does not already know, Richard." Nan sighed with considerable impatience. "We were talking of something else entirely. Now, let us join everyone in the parlour and forget about worrying over nothing!"

Christopher lagged slightly behind his sister and brother-in-law as they walked towards the parlour. Years ago when he was a little boy, his mother had told him that wishes made at Christmastime always came true. Oh, how he wanted to believe that now...

If I could have but one Christmas wish, it would be that my dear sister delivers her baby safely, with no harm to either her, or the child. Surely that's not too much to wish for?