CHRISTMAS AT ARDMORE by Nora Roberts
village of Ardmore spread itself tidily along the coast of County
Waterford with the blue waters of the Celtic Sea a skirt at its feet.
The hills and cliffs rolled above it, green now even in the dark of
winter. Some said when the air was quiet and the stars were bright
diamonds in the night sky, a keen ear could catch the sound of pipes
and flutes playing from the raft beneath the faerie hill where a
pretty cottage made its home.
were some who knew the music was real, and that it played for lovers.
on Christmas Eve the air was far from quiet, and the music that pumped
into the chilly winter air was made by human hands and voices.
Pub was packed with friends, with family, and the occasional paying
customer. It was the one night of the year the pub would close its
doors early, and those who lived in Old Parrish crammed in to
celebrate the holiday with pints and song.
the chestnut bar, Aidan Gallagher pulled those pints and held three
conversations at once. He did so with the skill and pleasure of a born
publican. At the far end of the bar, his father did the same.
was good, Aidan thought, to have his parents home for a bit of time.
And to work the bar like this with the man who'd passed Gallagher's
into his hands. He could hear his mother's voice raised in song while
she bounced Ailish, his child, the light of his life, on her knee. And
while he built another Guinness with one hand, made change with the
other, he could watch his wife Jude, his heart, move through the crowd
granny sat by the turf fire gossiping with old Mr. Riley, and his
sister Darcy's in-laws, the Magees from New York City. The air was
scented with that sweet smoke, with the yeasty aroma of beer, and when
his sister-in-law swung through from the kitchen with a tray, the
rich, full scent of his brother's Mulligan stew joined the mix.
nearly seven months along," Aidan called out as she carted the
tray through the pass-through. "You shouldn't be carrying
strong as a horse." She tossed her red curls, and there was a
gleam in her eyes. "And if I stay in the kitchen with Shawn
another five minutes, I'll be forced to brain him with his own stew
pot for nagging me about putting my feet up. If I wanted them up,
they'd be up, wouldn't they?"
moved off, the baby she carried making a mound under her faded work
shirt. Aidan had only to catch Jude's eye, nod in Brenna's direction
to have the matter dealt with. Jude wound her way around to Mollie
O'Toole, had a quick word. Moments later Mollie had the tray in hand
and her very pregnant daughter in a chair.
all's right with the world, Aidan thought. Or nearly. There was one he
missed seeing moving through the crowd, serving pints and bowls,
adding her voice to the music. Without his sister Darcy arguing with
Shawn, flirting with the customers or stopping by the taps for a quick
gossip, it wasn't quite Christmas.
had a life of her own, he reminded himself. A new husband, a new
career. In the three months since her wedding, she'd been seeing the
world as she'd always wanted to. In a first class manner. And he was
thrilled for her, content that she was happy and that the man she
loved was one he could respect, one he considered a friend.
damn it, he missed her.
course she wasn't just traveling and swanning about in hotel suites.
She was working and working hard. Her voice might have been a natural
gift--that was the Gallagher way--but recording for a man like Trevor
Magee would be no walk through the park, Aidan was sure.
pints of Harp, two ginger ales, pint of Guinness." Jude touched a
hand to his before he reached for the glasses. "What's made you
sad. Thoughtful maybe. I'm missing Darcy."
be here tomorrow, the next day at the latest." She paused a
moment. "But it's not the same."
not, no. It's grand having my mother and father here, and your granny,
Trevor's parents. It's Ailish's first Christmas." He glanced
toward his daughter again, cuddled in his mother's arms. And his heart
simply swelled. "It should be enough for anyone."
for you, Jude thought, not at Christmas. Not for a man with such deep
love for his family and such a wide need for tradition. She loved him
for it. It had been Aidan who'd hauled down all the boxes of
decorations for the pub, for their home. And both places that were so
dear to him, and to her, were alive with the holiday.
lights hung from the eaves outside, from the rafters in. A little pine
tree squeezed into a corner and was dripping with ornaments. A
grinning Santa stood on the bar hefting a pint glass, and a trio of
angels flew over the front window. There were sleigh bells on the door
and reindeer on the roof.
was turned away when those sleigh bells jingled, so didn't see who
walked in, or his wife's wide, delighted grin. But he heard the voice
pick up the chorus on I'll Be Home For Christmas, and swung
around as Darcy plucked his daughter off his mother's lap.
set the baby on her hip, started toward the bar. Aidan flipped up the
pass through, met her halfway. Then just lifted her off her feet.
was missing you."
make me cry," she murmured. "I worked forever on my
always been beautiful."
eased back, smiling. "So's yours. I had to come home." She
wrapped her free arm around him, pressed her cheek to his. "I had
to wake up Christmas morning in Ardmore." She grinned fiercely
over his shoulder as Shawn came out of the kitchen.
now, it's about damn time," he said. "These orders aren't
going to serve themselves."
me a minute, won't you?" She passed the baby to Aidan. "I
won't feel at home until I've thrown something at Shawn."
she didn't have anything handy, she threw herself at him the minute he
stepped around the bar. In minutes, they were dancing.
for bringing her back," Aidan said to Trevor.
where she needed to be." Trevor skimmed a finger over the baby's
cheek as he glanced toward his parents, around the pub to the people
who'd come to mean family to him. "Where we both needed to
when the pub was closed it was the Gallagher house that strained at
the seams with people and with song. A great silver bowl held the
wassail Jude had made herself from Shawn's recipe. Cups of it were
passed lavishly while the Gallaghers, in the Gallagher way, made music
with piano and fiddle, with voice and with squeezebox.
the front window, the grand tree showered light within and without.
Beneath it, presents were heaped in shiny mountains. Between the
songs, there were stories, and through both there was laughter.
oddly, Aidan felt there was something yet missing.
put the baby to bed himself, lingering over her long after she was
dreaming. "Next year," he murmured as he bent one last time
to kiss her cheek, "you'll know more of what's going on around
here. It's not just noise and people and presents. It's family and
roots and it's magic. It's one night out of the year everyone
understands there's magic in the world."
he left her, he didn't see the faerie mobile that hung over her crib
glow and dance. Or his daughter's sleepy smile.
was nearing midnight when Darcy drew him aside. "Get Jude, will
you, and come outside."
it's cold, in here it's warm."
took the wassail cup from him before he could drink. "Out,"
she insisted. "Front of the house." Before he could argue,
she walked away to drag Shawn from the piano.
for you to stand about in the wind," Brenna complained when she
followed Darcy outside. "In your smart fur coat. It's bloody
freezing out here."
it?" Darcy smiled smugly as she rubbed her cheek against her soft
collar. "I hadn't noticed. Oh, stop complaining for five flaming
minutes, the lot of you." She tossed back her head. The sky was
clear as glass with the stars brilliant against that black sheen.
could hear the sea, the steady heartbeat, and the music that played
inside her childhood home, another heart.
wanted the six of us first," she began. "We've all been part
of something special, and bigger than ourselves. That stays with
us--like this place and these people stay with us--wherever we go,
whatever we do. We have Ardmore, and the pub, and soon the
you're going to make a bloody speech, can't we do it by the
fire?" Shawn complained.
you turnip-head." Darcy huffed out a breath. "I love you
all," she continued. "Even the baboon here. So I wanted the
six of us out here when I gave Trevor his first Christmas gift."
turned to him. "It was outside, down the beach there where you
finally used that sharp brain of yours and asked me to marry you.
Loving each other joined our lives, once and always, and broke a three
hundred year spell. But since I don't think this lot will troop down
there for this, we'll settle for here, outside the house, where we can
hear the sea. Stop stomping your boots, Brenna, this is a
get on with it. I'm freezing my ass off."
her, Darcy took Trevor's hand. "There are presents for you
inside, wrapped in pretty paper. You'll like them, for I know you, and
what pleases you. And there best be plenty of those boxes for me as
well. With nice glittery items tucked inside."
can count on it," he said with a grin. "For I know you, and
what pleases you."
have one for you that will please us both more. It's wrapped as well,
and if I do say so myself in a very attractive package." With her
eyes on his she brought her hand to her belly.
heard Jude's quiet sob an instant before she saw understanding come
into Trevor's eyes. And an instant later, the joy that rushed over his
face. Then she was caught in his arms, laughing as tears slid down her
cheeks. "I think he likes it."
He could barely get the single word out as emotion swamped him.
of summer. I'll have your child at summer's end. God, I'm so happy.
We'll go in and tell the others, but I had to tell you this way--with
the six of us."
her over," Shawn demanded and pulled her away for a hug. The
tears and laughter continued as she let herself be passed from embrace
to embrace. Then it was Aidan's arms around her.
girl," he murmured.
that tears it. Someone give me a damn hankie."
Jude said quietly and gestured to the sky as the village church bells
rang out midnight.
across that black and glittery glass was a streak of silver. The
winged horse flew, the man and woman astride its broad back. Over the
beat of the sea came the joyous sounds of pipes. They watched as the
woman turned her head, as the man bent to her. When they kissed a
shower of jewels--diamonds, pearls, sapphires--rained down into the
dark sea and sent it to sparkling.
they flew over the cliffs in a night that had turned brilliant, Aidan
felt the last piece slide into place. "There now, it's perfect,
isn't it?" He took Jude's hand, brought it to his lips. "Happy
Christmas. To all of us."
© 2011 Nora Roberts – All Rights Reserved