The Present Page 16

Christmas had always been a time to visit as many towns as possible, as quickly as possible because it was a time people spent money on gifts, rather than just themselves, and the Gypsies had many gifts to offer. But that meant they were never in a place long enough to give it a festive look, to decorate a tree, or hang a wreath. That was a Gajo thing to do. But not for Anastasia—not anymore.

With her servants to help her, she had unpacked the many trunks that Christopher had had sent from Ryding, filled with Christmas heirlooms that had been in his family for generations, and they had spread them throughout the house together. He hung mistletoe in every room, and made the silliest excuses, to lure her under it every chance he got.

She made or bought gifts for all the servants. They delivered them on Christmas Eve, where she got to experience her first sleigh ride, since it had begun snowing earlier in the week, and a thick coat of snow now covered the fields and roads. It was quite fun, despite the cold, and they weren't gone long, since many of the servants lived in the mansion, but the warm parlor was a welcome respite when they returned home.

They spent the rest of the evening there, sitting on the sofa near the fire where a large Yule log burned, watching the small candles flickering on the tree Christopher had gone out and cut down himself.

Anastasia was feeling such peace, such contentment, despite the feeling that had come to her a few days ago that she must try and explain to her husband. It was different from her normal "gift," her insight, and yet it wasn't.

She was four months into her pregnancy. She wasn't actually showing it yet, nor feeling it, other than the brief bouts of sickness she'd had in the mornings for a while. Yet she felt a closeness to her unborn child that was akin to holding him in her arms already. And the feeling that had come to her had to do with him, yet not exactly with him.

It would be best if she could get it into words that made sense, and she tried to do that now, telling Christopher, "There will be one more gift for us to make, though it won't be for us to deliver."

He had one arm around her. His other hand had been idly caressing her arm. He turned to her now to say, not unexpected, "I don't understand."

"Neither do I, really," she was forced to admit. "It is just a feeling that has come to me about our son.”

"Son?" he interrupted in surprise. "We're having a son? You actually know this?"

"Well, yes, I had a dream about him, My dreams are usually quite accurate. But that has nothing to do with the gift we must make."

"What gift?"

He was starting to sound frustrated. She couldn't blame him. She often questioned herself, the feelings she got.

"We must put down on paper, how we met, how we came to love each other, how we defied our respective people to choose love rather than what was expected of us. We must write our story, Christoph."

"Write it?" He sounded uncomfortable. "I'm not very good with the written word, Anna."

She smiled at him. "You will do fine. I already know this."

He rolled his eyes at her. "I've a better suggestion. Why don't you do this writing that must be done—and by the by, why must it be done?"

"We must do this, not for our son, but for his children, and their children. What I have 'felt' is that our story will benefit one or more of these children. I don't know when it will be of benefit, or why, I just know that it will. Perhaps I will know more about it at some future time, have other feelings about it, but just now, this is all I know."

"Very well, I can accept that—I suppose. Yet I still don't see why we both must do this. It only takes one person to tell a story."

"True, except I can't write about your feelings, Christoph. I can't write about your thoughts. Only you can add these, to make our story complete. But if your style of writing bothers you this much, or if you've had thoughts you think I might question or tease you about, I will promise not to read what you write. This story is not for us, nor for our son, it's for those who will come after, that we will likely never meet. We can lock it away, so no one that we know will ever see it."

He sighed, then kissed her gently on the cheek to make his reluctant acquiescence a tad more graceful. "When do you want to begin?"

She hesitated for only a moment. "Tonight, on Christmas Eve. I have a feeling—"

"No more 'feelings' tonight," he cut in with a moan.

She chuckled. "I didn't say we have to write a lot tonight, just a beginning. Besides, I have another gift to deliver tonight that will take quite some time—in the delivering of it."

It was the sensual look she was giving him that had him raising his brow with interest. "You do? Quite some time, eh? You, ah, wouldn't consider delivering that present first, would you?"

"I could be persuaded to."

His lips came to her cheek again, and then moved down her neck, sending shivers over her shoulders. "I'm very good at persuading," he said in a husky whisper.

"I had a feeling you would say that."

Amy closed the journal for the last time with a satisfied sigh. It had been more than she could have hoped for. She was now fully at peace with her "gift." It could just be incredible coincidence, how lucky she was with her wagering, but she preferred to think she had inherited her luck from her great-grandmother.

Not everyone had stayed for the full reading, which had taken three days. Roslynn and Kelsey took turns seeing to the children, so they only heard every other chapter or so, though they would catch up, now that they could have the journal to themselves.

Amy's older sisters had decided to wait and read it at their leisure. Though they did pop in every so often to find out how the story was progressing, they mostly kept Georgina company, who was entertaining her visiting brothers elsewhere in the house. The rest of the Andersons didn't come to England frequently enough to suit her, so when they did, she liked to spend as much time as possible with them.

James and Tony, those rogues, had interrupted repeatedly with droll comments about Christopher Malory, whom they had immediately likened to Jason. Jason had sat through the entire reading in pensive silence, not even bothering to scold his younger brothers for their drollery.

Amy's mother Charlotte had been unable to sit for such long periods, and so like her other daughters, she decided to read the journal some other time. But her father, Edward, had stayed for all of the readings, and now came to kiss her brow before he took himself off to bed,

"I don't look like her, as you do," he told Amy. "But like you, I used to wonder why I was always such a good judge of people. That 'insight,' if you want to call it that, is what has aided my investments and made this family incredibly rich. But never being wrong makes one feel deuced unusual, indeed it does. Glad to know I'm not the only strange one. Indeed, much nicer to know there's a good reason why we've been so fortunate in our many endeavors."

Amy was amazed. Her father might have been the most jovial and gregarious in the family, but he was also the most pragmatic and realistic. She would have thought he'd be the last one to believe in a Gypsy's gift.

Reggie, the only one close enough to have heard Edward's quiet remarks to his daughter, said with a grin, "Don't count yourself short, Uncle Edward. It still takes a certain genius to build the financial empire that you have. Being able to accurately judge the people you invest with helps, certainly, but you still did the picking and choosing. Now, look at me. Like Amy, I took after her in looks, yet I didn't inherit any of these other gifts."

Edward chuckled at her. "I don't mind sharing the credit, puss. And don't be too sure you didn't inherit any gifts. Gypsy charm works its own magic. And have you yet to be wrong in any of your matchmaking endeavors?"

Reggie blinked. "Well, no, come to think of it, I haven't." And then she beamed. "Oh, just wait till I tell Nicholas that he never stood a chance, once I decided to matchmake myself to him."

Reggie's husband had gone to bed several hours ago, simply too tired to stay up to hear the "ending." But the others in the room heard her delighted remark and started commenting, some with humor, some quite appalled . . .

Like Travis, who quickly said, "Just keep those matchmaking tendencies of yours away from me, cousin. I'm not ready to wear the shackles just yet."

"I am," Marshall said, smiling at her. "So do feel quite free to make me your next project."

"Never really thought of it before, but the dear puss really has had quite a hand in matchmaking a lot of us, myself included," Anthony put in. "She did fill my Roslynn's pretty head with nothing but good things about me, expounding on all my good qualities."

"That must have been bloody hard to do," James remarked dryly. "Considering how few good qualities you possess, old man."

"Look who's talking." Anthony snorted. "Can't imagine what George ever saw in you. But then she has come to her senses, hasn't she?"

That was hitting rather low, considering it was quite a raw spot for James at the moment, that Georgina still wouldn't talk to him about what was really bothering her, and their bedroom door was still being locked tight against him—especially since Anthony was having no such extended difficulties with his own wife.

So it wasn't the least bit surprising that James replied, albeit with his usual lack of expression, ''That black eye of yours is starting to fade, brother. Remind me to rectify that in the morning."

"Not bloody likely. I'll be catching up on quite a bit of lost sleep tomorrow, if it's all the same to you," Anthony retorted.

James merely smiled. "It's not. And do be assured that I can wait until you've caught up. Wouldn't want you in less than top form."

Chagrined, Anthony mumbled, "You're all heart, you bloody ass."

"I'd prefer you two did not go at it again," Jason said as he stood up to take himself off to bed. "Sets a had example for the children."

"Quite right," Anthony agreed with a grin, then to James, "At least some of the elders around here are possessed of wisdom."

Considering James was Anthony's elder by a year, there was little doubt that Anthony was getting in yet another subtle dig against him. James might have let it pass if his mood hadn't gone sour with the reminder that his wife was still annoyed with him.

"Which is fortunate," James said, giving his brother a sage nod. "Since some of the infants around here are possessed of none a'tall."

Derek, standing next to his father and seeing one of his stern frowns forming, whispered aside to him, "You know once they get started like that, there's no stopping them. Might as well ignore them. I get the feeling it's going to continue like this until Aunt George is smiling again."

Jason sighed and replied in an equally soft whisper, "I suppose I should have a talk with her. From what I've heard, her anger seems quite overdone."

"It does, don't it? Seems to indicate there might be something else that's put the bee in her bonnet, that she ain't fessing up to."

"You've hit the nail squarely. But James has already come to that conclusion himself—not that it's helped any."

"Obviously, since he still ain't himself. Course, he never is, when he and George are having a tiff."

"Are any of us?"

Derek chuckled, likely remembering some of his own tiffs with Kelsey. "Good point. Deuced hard to analyze the situation when you're knee-deep in the doldrums."

Jason was ready to conclude that that might have been his own problem where Molly was concerned. The logic she had always used on him, while valid, always made him rage inwardly that it was valid. The situation, as it had stood, was frustrating beyond endurance, and who could think clearly mired in such emotional muck? Yet he now had hope, thanks to his grandmother's amazing gift.

Jeremy drew his attention back to the current barb slinging by remarking cheerfully, "Well, this 'baby' is taking himself to bed. At least I didn't inherit any sorcery-type silliness with these blue eyes and black hair that I got from the grand-mere."

Derek rolled his eyes at that and said in mild disgust, "No, you just cast the most potent spell of all, cousin, in having every woman who looks at you fall hopelessly in love with you."

Jeremy beamed. "I do? Well, hell's bells, I'll settle for that."

Anthony chuckled, putting an arm around Jeremy's shoulders to confide, "They're just jealous, puppy, that all the charm in this family fell on us black-haired Gypsies."

"What rubbish." James snorted. "You've about as much charm as the backside of my—"

Jason cleared his throat very loudly. "1 think we've all been up far too long today," he said, and then sternly, "Go to bed, the lot of you."

"Would if I had a bloody bed to go to," James mumbled on his way out the door.

Anthony frowned and did some mumbling of his own. "Can't believe I'm feeling sorry for him. Gads, I must he exhausted. G'night, all."

Jason looked at Edward and shook his head with a "what can you do?" sigh, then turned to Amy to ask, "Do you need help, m'dear?" He indicated Warren, who was fast asleep with his head on her shoulder.

She smiled lovingly at her husband. "No, he wakes very easily."

She shrugged her shoulder to demonstrate, and Warren sat right up, blinked once, then said, "All done for the night, sweetheart?"

"All done for good," she replied, and handed the journal to Jason for safekeeping. "I'll tell you in the morning what you missed."

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