New Year's with Tristan
Tristan MacLeod glanced at the door to the stone cottage, barely visible in the dark, bloody cold night in the highlands of Scotland, and then looked back at his sister, Arabella. “Bram should be doing this, not me.”
She smiled at him as she readjusted her sleeping son on her shoulder. “Bram is clan leader and therefore scary. You’re a lot less intimidating.”
His inner dragon snorted. According to who?
Ignoring his beast, he motioned toward the door. “So I just knock and walk inside?”
His sister’s mate, Finn, replied, “Aye, there’s not much to the first-footing. Tradition says if a dark-haired male is the first visitor of the year, it brings good luck.”
Of course it would be a dark-haired male. Finn and his whole bloody family were blond or ginger.
Almost. “Both of your sons are dark-haired. They can do it.”
Arabella snorted. “But neither can’t walk, let alone stay awake this late. Besides, you agreed to this. The sooner you get started, the sooner you can end with Aunt Lorna’s place and be with Mel again.”
Finn slapped him on the back. “Besides, think of this as building better relations between the clans. Both your mate and Bram will approve.”
There was a reason Tristan didn’t envy Bram, or even Finn, their positions. In general, he liked to interact with adults as little as possible. Children were easier to deal with.
His dragon chimed in. Only because most of them find you scary.
For once his beast merely harrumphed without arguing and curled into a ball inside Tristan’s mind. Probably because he’d enjoy Tristan’s discomfort over the next hour or so.
Sometimes his inner dragon was a bastard.
Wanting to get things going, Tristan gestured toward the basket Finn held, which contained more little parcels than he could count. “And those? I know I’m supposed to give one to each household, but no one told me what’s in them.”
Finn smirked. “Look who’s now trying to learn about those ‘bloody Scots’ I think you called us?”
Tristan growled. “I’m a teacher, so the more I know, the better prepared I am for questions. I’m sure my twins will ask about it one day, after a visit with their cousins.”
Finn winked. “If it’s up to me, I’ll suggest more interesting things for your twins to ask their dad.”
Arabella sighed. “Be nice, Finn.”
Finn shrugged. “What? I’m sure he and Mel will do the same with the triplets.”
Arabella muttered, “Your own cousins will corrupt them long before that.” She gestured toward Tristan. “Just tell him about the parcels already.”
Hoping to hurry Finn along, Tristan put out his palm. As Finn placed a parcel, he explained, “Each one contains a coin, a piece of bread, some salt, a wee bit of coal, and a wee dram of whiskey. There’s tradition behind why those things, but I’ll save the detailed explanations for later. If we don’t get started, our ballocks will freeze off soon.”
As another gust of wind blew, Tristan agreed for once with his brother-in-law.
He turned toward the door and knocked. A faint “Come in!” Came from the other side, and taking a deep breath, he braced himself for the possible madness on the other side.
Although once he walked in, he mentally sighed in relief. It was Dr. Layla McFarland and her mate, Chase. He’d met the doctor before, and she was decidedly less crazy than most of the other Scots. He said, “Happy New Year,” and held out the parcel.
Layla took it and replied, “Aye, and same to you, Tristan. I’d ask how your twins are doing, but you’ve got a long night ahead of you yet, so I’ll spare the chit chat.”
Chase hugged his mate against his side. “And I have some of my own New Year’s celebrating to do with my mate, aye?”
Not wanting to deal with the newly mated pair and who knew how many sexual innuendos from the younger male, he merely grunted. “Enjoy.”
Melanie would say he was rude for leaving so quickly, but Tristan had a job to do. So he exited the cottage and shut the door. He put out a hand. “Next. I want to get this done as quickly as possible.”
His sister shook her head. “You could at least smile while you do it.”
He raised his brows. “Shouldn’t you take your son home, Ara? It’s cold out.”
She opened her mouth, but Finn beat her to it. “I agree, lass. You should take wee Declan home. He may be able to sleep through anything, but I don’t want him to catch a cold. I can help Tristan on my own.”
Arabella looked between them before finally speaking to Tristan. “You promise to behave?” He grunted his assent and she continued, “Okay, then I’ll take Dec home. But try to be nice to everyone, Tristan. This is my home now.”
He watched as Finn murmured something into Arabella’s ear, kissed her and then his son, and Tristan realized not for the first time how glad he was that Arabella was finally happy.
His dragon spoke up. Which is why you should be nice.
Fine, I’ll try. Although if anyone starts blowing some bagpipes, I’m running out of there.
Agreed. I hate them, too.
Arabella finally waved goodbye and Finn turned toward Tristan. “Aye, well, let’s get a move on. Now that I’ve eased you into it with Layla and Chase as the most recently mated couple, we’ll start with some of the older families first. They’ll pretend they can still stay up all night, but most of them are probably taking wee naps as we speak.”
“Show me the way and I’ll finish this in record time.”
And as they headed toward the next house, Tristan yearned to be with his mate and children.
At least he’d been able to kiss Melanie right after midnight. Anything else would have to wait until he finished.
Right. With the motivation of being able to strip his mate and claim her, Tristan quickened his pace. Time to see how quickly he could finish his task.
When they finally reached the penultimate house, Tristan’s face hurt from trying to smile at those who smiled at him first.
He’d lost track of how many houses there were, but there had to be at least a hundred of them, if not two hundred.
Some had been better than others. A fellow teacher named Alistair and his mate, Kiyana, had been rather calm. The complete opposite of an old granny named Meg, who had two males hanging off her the entire time.
Even without asking about it, Tristan suffered Finn’s long explanation of the thruple. It was definitely more than he wanted to hear about the sex life of people older than his parents.
Well, at least his father since his mum had long passed away.
His dragon spoke up. You haven’t talked much to Dad.
Ara is more forgiving than I am.
Someday you’ll have to accept him, for Jack and Annabel’s sake.
He mentally grunted. We’ll get to that when the time comes.
Finn stopped in front of a semi-detached house, on the side with a better looking garden. It was one of the few homes Tristan recognized. He groaned. “Not your cousins.”
“You should thank me as they’re all together, in one place. That means only one visit and not three.”
Putting out his hand, he said, “Fine. Just give me the parcels.”
Finn handed him the basket. “They’re family, so they can just find their own.”
Taking a deep breath, Tristan knocked and did his best not to tap his hand against his thigh. Sometimes Finn’s extended family were fine. Other times, they threw food at each other.
Regardless of the mood, they were the complete opposite of what Tristan had experienced growing up. And far too social for his liking.
His dragon yawned. Stop complaining. I’d rather be with Mel, too. But this is important to Ara.
At the mention of his sister, Tristan forced his face into an almost smile. He’d try for Arabella.
A loud, “Come in!” filtered through the door. He entered and was greeted by a loud, “Happy New Year!”
He blinked at all the people crammed into the living area. Fraser, Fergus, Faye, and their mates. Aunt Lorna and hers as well. And off to the side, he found Melanie’s gaze and the rest of the room melted away.
She beamed at him and all his irritation from the night faded. If him being social for an hour or so would make her happy, he’d do that and more.
The curly-haired female cousin—Faye—walked up to him and plucked a parcel out of the basket. “There aren’t quite enough, so hurry and get yours, Fraser and Fergus.”
Not wanting to deal with the grown males rushing him, Tristan handed the basket to Faye and walked over to Melanie.
His mate tilted her head and said, “I hope you were a little less grumpy with everyone else.”
He cupped her cheek, loving the softness of her skin. “I did my best. But these lot are family, so I don’t have to pretend.” Despite the house full of MacKenzies, human mates, and even Finn and Arabella, he did notice one absence. “Where’s my father?”
Placing a hand on his chest, she murmured, “He was tired. But we’ll see him tomorrow.”
He nodded, not wanting to think too much about his dad or the strained conversations they had. Instead, he pressed Melanie against his front, lowered his head, and whispered into her ear, “Happy New Year, love. Maybe we can sneak away and celebrate it.”
She chuckled. “Maybe if we were on Stonefire, but all of these guys will notice. They’re the kings and queens of sneaking out on their own.” She kissed his jaw. “But don’t worry, Aunt Lorna said she’d watch the twins for us tonight, as a thank you for the first-footing.”
“And how long do we have to stay before we can say we’re leaving?”
Melanie stroked his jaw, and his inner dragon hummed. I hope soon.
His mate replied, “At least long enough to have drinks and maybe play a game. And don’t complain about the game. All of us have children now, so it’s kind of nice to have some fun with just the adults.”
His dragon spoke up. I know a better adults-only game.
Even though Tristan agreed with his dragon, he gently kissed his mate and murmured, “For you, anything. I love you, Mel.”
“I love you, too, Tristan.”
Not caring who watched, he took his mate’s lips with his own and showed her thoroughly how much he loved her.
After all, he couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the new year than with his mate in his arms, his children safely asleep, and his sister laughing with her own family now.