The brisk winter chill had settled over Ireland, moving through the barren finger-like branches of the dormant apple and poplar trees like a swift coursing river, causing the thin snow-covered limbs to shutter and tremble. Interspersed with the dead waif-life wood were strong, thick evergreens, frosted with speckles of red dancing teasingly within. White snow now covered the rolling hills and once brightly green and fruitful plains of the countryside surrounding the city of Swords, creating a vast, empty sensation as if all the world had retreated beneath the onslaught of December's cold.
Francesca Marie Ghetti sat quietly on the edge of a stonewall on the outskirts of the city, some twenty yards away from the area in which the GothFaire had settled for the next two weeks. She watched the tents rise from the ground, towering over the colorless landscape in a mass of bright orange, sunny yellow, and deep purple. She watched the other members of the Faire hither and dither, setting up their shops and booths and dashing quickly back into their trailers to escape the chilly weather.
Fran herself was bundled up in two warm sweaters and a thick coat, tight black jeans encasing her legs and tall worn leather boots embracing her shins. A purple knit cap sat atop her head, while long streams of jet back hair enfolded her shoulders with warmth. A beautiful black scarf trimmed in tiny gold Celtic symbols that had been purchased by her mother earlier in the small rural settlement of Glendalough was tied tightly around her neck and collar, the ends whipped to and fro by the wind. Clutched between her leather-gloved hands was a steaming cup of apple cider that her mother had whipped up as soon as they had stopped driving into Swords.
She took a small sip of the delicious cinnamon brew, her dark lavender eyes scrolling lazily over the land, before hopping off the stone perch and trudging back toward the Faire, her slim shoulders hunched against the wind.
During the entire ride through the Irish country side, Miranda Ghetti had sung old wiccan songs of Yule and the Goddess Mother's blessings, her loud high voice penetrating every nook and cranny of the trailer with it's out of tune wail, leaving her seventeen year old daughter desperately attempting to drown her out through use of her iPod. Even with the aid of modern technology, however, she could still hear the unfortunate high notes of Bless me, Oh Goddess Divine.
If her mother noticed the agony she was inflicting upon her daughter, she never gave any indication of caring, her holiday spirit too strong and her annoyance at her daughter's mood still prickling her anger. The entire ride Miranda had attempted to make Fran lighten her mood by singing traditional wiccan songs and supplying endless amounts of ginger nutmeg cookies and apple cider, but her efforts were all rewarded by sour looks, dramatic sighs, and rolling eyes. So, she gave up and decided to divide her time between eating cookies, singing gleefully, and completely ignoring her daughter.
She knew the reason for her daughter's mood. Benedikt. The young man (still much too old for her teenage daughter) had left the Faire group to head for Dublin the night before, his reasons vague and secret. She liked Benedikt (as much as any mother could like a man interested in her daughter); however, she was wary over the entire Dark One situation. Miranda was worried that Fran would be not be able to experience life and love the way that young girls were supposed to, that she would be pressured into Joining with Benedikt Czerny much too early. He was also older, more experienced, incredibly attractive, and equipped with a motorcycle. He was essentially the worst nightmare of every parent with a beautiful teenage daughter.
Now, as she propped up her little wiccan shop next to Desdemona's fortune telling booth, she wondered at her daughter's moroseness, feeling her motherly instincts tighten at the idea of Fran having a bad Yule time due to an absent boyfriend. Sighing, she decided she would work harder to get Fran into the holiday spirit. Luckily, she'd have help.
Fran strode through the center of the GothFaire, moseying around and peaking her head into various booths, dark eyes surveying the tents for her blonde haired friend. Imogen liked to spend her days shopping, tanning, and then working throughout the night at her palm-reading booth. As they were in Ireland in December, she wouldn't be tanning in her bikini. Therefore, she must be shopping in Swords.
Fran sighed, slumped down onto one of the stone benches near the Faire's center, and looked up into the cloudy sun-less sky. The night Benedikt had left for Dublin swam up to her mind's eye, and she felt a dull throb in her chest, something that only served to increase her glum. She knew that he had left for something to do with his blood brother David. It was pretty much the only thing he ever left the Faire for, the only thing she wasn't allowed to accompany him on. And she understood why, she wasn't angry with him where that was concerned. However, she couldn't help being disappointed. Her first Christmas and Yule time with a boyfriend, and he left to help his friend. She knew it was unreasonable, she knew it wasn't his fault… but it sucked regardless. No horse-driven carriage rides, no sharing warmth by the fire…. No mistletoe. Damn, she had wanted that mistletoe.
She sighed wistfully again, before leaning forward to stare at her feet.
She looked up. A young, sandy haired teenager walked toward her, an ever so slight limp in his gate. Soren.
"Hey, Soren." She smiled, feeling a little bit better from the instant grin on her friend's face.
Soren, son of the GothFaire's owner, had been her friend from the very first summer she had spent on tour with her mom. With his large blue eyes, the freckles speckled over the bridge of his nose, and the cheerful bounce in his step, Soren always reminded her of a puppy. She'd been aware of the crush he'd had on her since a few months before when she had accidentally touched his arm and felt his emotions.
That was her power, the reason her mother had decided to take Fran with her on this crazy trip through the world with a supernatural faire. She was a psychometric. As in, she could read people's feelings and memories all with just a touch to the skin. The only person she had met who had ever been somewhat immune to her touch was Ben.
Ben….No, She thought. Mom's right; it's stupid of me to stand around and mope. I'll just distract myself. Somehow.
Fortunately, Soren was plenty of fun, especially around the holidays. And he didn't have some blood brother that always seemed to ruin important moments in their relationship.
"What's up? You seem blue," He asked, pulling two candy canes out of his pocket and offering her one. She shrugged, took the candy, unwrapped it, and began to suck on the end, completely oblivious to the avid stare of the hormonal teenage boy sitting next to her.
"You know," Fran said quietly, closing her eyes and relishing the sweet peppermint flavor.
Soren grimaced, the candy cane hanging loosely from his lips. Of course. Benedikt. Stupid good looking Dark One, Soren grouched to himself. Since Benedikt had shown up at the Faire, it felt like all of Fran's attention revolved around him.Benedikt, Benedikt, Benedikt. If only he hadn't come to visit Imogen, then he would have never met Fran. His Fran. His beautiful Fran, with her fair skin and her long silky black hair, and those dark soulful eyes that made him want to shield her from the world that had made fun of her gifts. She had been beautiful to him even before she had grown into her looks and matured. Jealousy bubbled up inside of him, stronger with every day of watching the girl he had been in love with for months be with another guy.
His hand squeezed into a fist just thinking about it. He let the balled fist fall down next to his thigh, out of Fran's view. He couldn't afford for her to see his anger and become defensive over the stupid jerk. After all, that stupid jerk had unknowingly given him the perfect opportunity to sweep in and claim Fran's love for himself.
He had left on some 'important mission.' During the Christmas holidays, some of the most magical and romantic days of the year. The days when couples huddle together for warmth and closeness, the days when hot chocolate can be shared, the days when mistletoe hangs from the ceiling in random places. The days when simple candy canes can induce an instant erection. He left during those days. The idiot.
She would be here with no boyfriend to share those days. But Soren would be there for those moments, for those memories. He'd be there for each and every one she would allow him to be there for. And then, then he would win Fran's heart. He would win it with a kiss on Christmas Eve, by the holiday bonfire, under the giant mistletoe that would be hanging there all night.
He jerked back into reality, quickly moving to hide the evidence of his pleasure with his arms crossed under his stomach. "Sorry, I was just thinking of… some holiday plans. What were you saying?" He laughed, smiling at her.
Fran didn't notice the mischievous and determined glint in his eyes. She just continued on, all the while sucking on her candy cane. "Plans, huh? Anyway, I was wondering if you wanted to do something, you know? I'm bored, everyone's setting up for tonight…"
Soren licked his dry lips, fighting with himself not to drool at the sight of the candy cane being sucked by those perfect full lips. "Well, uh, they're setting up the tree in the main tent, putting on all the ornaments and all that. That's always fun."
"Really? Decorating the Christmas tree was always kind of boring at my house…" She looked at him skeptically, her boots nudging a mound of snow on the ground.
"Oh yeah," He grinned excitedly. "The Faire's Christmas tree is always the best. Dad always gets these giant ones, like sixteen feet high. And the ornaments are from our travels, souvenirs from all over the world. It's really amazing. Come on, I'll show ya."
Soren scooped up the hand that wasn't fixed to the end of the candy cane and pulled her gently toward the large tent nearby. Fran followed a little bit intrigued at the prospect and curious now about the large Christmas tree.
Maybe it wouldn't be so hard to distract herself.
Imogen floated around the small intimate shops in Swords' town center, incandescently happy with her cargo-laden arms, bags full of stunning articles of clothing and lingerie and scarves and the like. She even bought a light blue knit cap for Fran to help lift her spirits. She herself was always worried when her younger brother would leave with a vague destination and even more vague reasons. However, Benedikt was a strong, confident Dark One with plenty of experience. His older sister couldn't hover over him protectively forever. Not that he'd ever allow it, big strong male Dark One that he is.
All that male pride, she laughed at softly. Poor Francesca…
Ever since Benedikt had returned from a mission helping David with brutal gouges on his chest and back, Fran and Imogen both became incessantly anxious at the mere mention of the blood brother. The only reason she wasn't completely concerned and panicky now was that Benedikt had been very firm in his assertion that while this was a mission he was absolutely necessary for, it wasn't extremely dangerous.
Not that she believed him entirely at just his word. She had called David using Benedikt's cellphone and made it very clear to the man that her brother had better return in prime shape or she would relieve him of his prideful manhood. Suffice it so say that David was very amenable about giving them brief updates after the conversation.
Still, she couldn't help but be a little disappointed in Benedikt. Their first Christmas/Yule holiday together as a couple, and he left for a stupid mission. The morning after he had left for Dublin, Fran had walked around aimlessly, kicking rocks on the ground and grumbling moodily. When someone mentioned Benedikt, asked what the two were doing for the holidays, Imogen could see a quick flash of hurt in her dear friend's eyes.
She paused outside a small Irish bistro, thought for a moment, and then quickly entered. She flashed a white smile at the host station, causing a young redheaded male to flush and stammer. He led her to a table outside on the veranda with plentiful view of the bustling Irish streets.
"What can I get for ya, Miss?" The young waiter asked shyly, his thick accent causing Imogen to smile brightly, delighted.
"A glass of Pinot Grigio would be excellent: the older, the better." She simpered, fluttering her eyelashes.
"Right away, Miss!"
The waiter dashed off, eager to please the gorgeous blonde woman with refined tastes.
Imogen smiled to herself, before adopting a mischievous expression. She picked up her cellphone, checked the time (5:30), and decided that her brother would most likely be awake now. She dialed.
"Imogen?" Her brother answered, his voice deep and smooth even over the phone. "Is something wrong? Is Fran alright?"
She softened at his concern for a brief moment but quickly returned to her plan.
"We're perfectly alright, Benedikt. Well, disappointed, certainly, but physically we are unharmed."
He sighed over the phone, before replying. "Then what is it, Imogen? It is rather childish of you to attempt to guilt trip me. You know as well as I that I would rather be with you both. "
"I know, Ben," she said, "I apologize. It was rather mean spirited, I admit. And anyway, it's been a couple of days now. We're both getting over our anger and enjoying the holiday spirit."
"That's great," Ben replied, sounding relieved. "I'm trying to finish this mission as soon as I can so I can come back, but I might not make it before Christmas." The line was quiet for a moment before Ben continued. "She won't be too disappointed, will she?"
"Oh, I imagine she will be quite disappointed to hear that. But her friends and family will cheer her up, myself included. You know, I saw her earlier today before I left on a shopping trip. She seemed in better spirits. Soren is a great friend to her, after all."
Imogen smirked, taking her glass of wine from the table where the waiter had just set it. She ordered a French Panini with guacamole and onions, coupled with the House macaroni and cheese. While she had talked to the waiter, the line had been silent. Once the waiter had left, she heard Ben ask softly, "Soren?"
"Yes," she replied cheerfully, knowing he'd taken the bait. It'd be easy enough to reel him in. "They were sitting on one of the stone benches near the Faire center, sucking on candy canes and talking. There's nothing like sucking on a candy cane, very delightful shock of peppermint. Fran seemed to really enjoy it. I never knew she liked them so much."
An evil smirk had spread across her face by this point. With the feminine expertise that hundreds of years of age had afforded her, she kept going, aware of what image she was evoking for her brother. Benedikt had always has a strong sense of honor and obligation, but he was still a red-blooded Dark One. Dark Ones were incredibly possessive even in established relationships. When the Beloved is unclaimed….
"Really," he answered, his voice quiet. "I didn't know that either."
"Well, of course you would not. I mean, this would've been your first Christmas together. Anyway, I believe they decided to help the others decorate the giant Christmas tree in the main tent. It will probably look amazing when it's finished. It's an incredible sight at twenty feet tall. They traditionally do not use ladders to put up the ornaments except for the very top of the tree."
Ben sounded confused. "Then how do they put the majority of the ornaments on? I mean, some of the men are tall, but none tall enough to reach even half that height."
Imogen twirled the wine around lazily in her glass. "Well, that's one of the best parts about decorating the tree. The women and children will sit, and sometimes even stand, on the shoulders of the men so that they can reach higher. It is also great fun and—"
"Sounds unsafe." He interrupted shortly.
"No, no, it's completely safe! Usually when that starts happening, there are other people behind the ones adding ornaments to the tree on another's shoulders. Like the trust fall exercise, yes? Very secure, Ben, I assure you. I'm sure Soren will lend his shoulders to Fran in your absence. He's grown pretty tall lately, gained some muscle. It would be no problem for him to carry her on his shoulders. After all, she seems rather petite now by comparison."
She stopped for a moment to sample her food that had arrived somewhere in the middle of that conversation. By the tensed silence through the phone, she could tell he was imagining the things she had presented to him. If there was one certain way to light a fire under a Dark One's ass, it was to incite their possessive nature. Make them jealous.
"Yes, she is." She could practically see him standing by his motorcycle, body tense, free hand fisted with anger.
"So, you said you might not make it back before Christmas?" She questioned, internally preparing for the coup de grace.
"No, probably not."
"That's a real shame. You see, Benedikt, the GothFaire has this lovely Christmas Eve tradition, wherein they light this great bonfire and everyone gathers around it." She talked excitedly, both eager for the event and for the figurative punch to the face she was about to deliver to her dear brother. "We roast marshmallows, drink hot cocoa, and sing holiday songs, all huddled together by the fire for warmth. The couples present usually share one of the smaller logs, doing all sorts of affectionate things," She chuckled.
"I remember this one time, I brought my current lover—you might remember him. Victor? Anyway, I sat in his lap and we—"
"I don't particularly want to hear about your lovers, Imogen. What's your point?" Ben asked, sounding annoyed.
"Humph," she sniffed. "Well then, before midnight, there is a great countdown to Christmas day, much like what Americans do on New Years. Everyone will kiss their significant other to celebrate the holiday cheer."
The other end was completely silent.
"I mean, I will do my best to be with Fran so that she isn't by herself all night, but I will be bringing my new friend Byron." She tittered for a moment. "Though, I suppose Francesca won't be alone. She'll have her mother, me of course, and…Soren."
She sat smugly munching on her Panini, listening to the curiously deep breaths she could hear Ben taking over the phone. Most likely just the image of Soren taking the place on the log where Ben was supposed to sit, the idea that all Soren would be there when the clock struck midnight when all the lovers around them would be sharing a passionate kiss… Ben was probably raging with jealousy at the simple possibility. They both knew that Soren's crush on Fran had not died down in the least; if anything, it had grown stronger.
If Ben wasn't there to kiss his Beloved at midnight… Soren would almost definitely take the opportunity. And they both knew that.
Imogen heard a crunching sound similar to breaking glass or plastic, and then the line disconnected.
She finished her meal elegantly, left a very generous tip to the cute redheaded waiter, and stepped out onto the busy sidewalk to continue her shopping. All of this was done with a superior smile forming her light pink lips.
A week later, Fran, Imogen, and Soren were walking through the crowds of people Christmas shopping in the quaint town of Swords. Imogen, by now an expert on the best sales and stores, was leading them all over the place as they searched for presents, lending helpful advice here and there. She was wearing a blindingly red pea coat, deep blue jeans, and soft leather booths with tall heels. She wore a white fluffy set of earmuffs; the perfect blonde curls in her hair bounced with each step. Many male heads turned at her laugh, eyes followed her all over the street in admiration.
Fran smiled exasperatedly, shaking her head at Imogen, before walking over to a shop window to peruse the various children's toys overflowing in the display case. She'd decided to be slightly casual today. She wore a black sweater dress, purple tights with black lace designs, black boots with an abundance of silver buckle, and a black beanie complete with a poof on top and two small balls of fuzz hanging from strings connected to the side of the hat. She'd allowed Imogen to style her hair that morning, so long black ringlets swayed with the chilly winter gusts. While she didn't garner much attention from the older males in the area, she certainly commanded the attention of most teenage boys out shopping with their friends and families today. Not that she knew it of course.
But Soren sure as hell did.
He had chosen to wear baggy jeans, a large hoodie that held the GothFaire logo on it, and black high toppers on his feet, not really caring about what other people thought of his ensemble so long as Fran thought it was fine. He did care about what other guys thought of Fran's outfit. So, he proceeded to glare viciously at any guy who even seemed like he was about to approach the triad, even managing to scare away some of Imogen's admirers in the process.
Fran was oblivious to this, choosing instead to focus on the cute Christmas knick-knacks in the craft store they were currently looking in. Imogen had instantly noticed it, but as she herself had had no intention of allowing other strange males near her brother's Beloved, she saw no reason to stop him.
So far, Imogen had managed to find suitable Christmas presents for everyone on her list, though she made a special trip into an adult's pleasure store that both Fran and Soren had refused to even look at. Fran suspected that whatever she bought in there was either for herself or her latest paramour Byron.
Soren had been a little less lucky but still managed to find good presents for everyone on the list. He thought the present he had found for Fran was simply perfect, couldn't be beaten. It was personal, well thought out, and very nicely made. He couldn't wait for her to open it on Christmas morning.
Fran, being of a practical sort, had ordered the majority of her Christmas presents the week before, and they lay already wrapped under the small Wiccan Christmas/Yule tree in their trailer. There was only one person she had not found a gift for. The most important person.
Imogen looked over at Fran. The young teen was standing in front of an entire wall of snow globes. She held one in her hand, a large globe with bright white flecks of snow and red and gold glitter floating around inside while a jolly looking Santa Clause sat in a giant green armchair as he looked over his Naughty and Nice list.
Faster than she had believed herself capable of, she had whipped out her phone and capture that sweet smile with the camera on her phone. Without delay, she sent the picture to Benedikt. Though she might be frustrated at the circumstances, she understood that her brother was trying to do the right thing. It must be killing him to miss all of this.
Fran put the snow globe back on the shelf and turned to Imogen.
"Hey, Imogen? Could you give me any suggestions on what to get Ben for Christmas?" She asked, her teeth nibbling at her bottom lip worriedly.
"Hmmm…" Imogen thought. "You know, I'm not exactly sure, Fran. As one who has lived many years and through many holidays, it certainly becomes more difficult to find presents. But I'm sure he will love anything you give to him. It should be personal…something that reminds him of you."
Fran looked thoughtful for a few moments; then she smiled. "I'll think more on it later, but I think I have an idea." She nodded to herself, looking unseeingly out the shop window, before the content silence was broken by Soren.
"I found an awesome looking ice cream and fudge shop down the street. Who's in?" He asked eagerly, looking from one girl to the other.
Another week passed and before they knew it, Christmas Eve was upon them. And Ben still wasn't back yet.
Fran was still able to maintain some Christmas spirit, even though her smile was frequently a little sad. Soren had dogged her feet from the very second she had stepped out of her and her mother's trailer. By the time night descended over the GothFaire, Fran was perilously close to committing homicide.
Imogen became her saving grace in the multiple times she would find a way to distract Soren, enabling Fran to make a quick escape for some time alone. She found herself checking the mental bond she held with Ben and becoming increasingly glum about the general static in the bond that signaled that Ben was too far out of range to communicate.
At the moment, she was helping pass out s'more fixings and hot chocolate to all of the Faire's employees. Soren worked next to her, but the number of people they were dealing with was enough to give her some space and prevent him from constantly drawing her into a conversation. She wasn't trying to be mean, but he had begun to become incredibly aggravating through his persistence. Fran wasn't sure exactly what he wanted to accomplish by this, but she was almost positive that it had to due with the Midnight Kiss.
Later on in the night as they all gathered around the bonfire, Fran was snuggled in between her mother and Imogen, a hot cup of apple cinnamon cider in her gloved hands. She sang along merrily with the rest, joked and laughed about all of the good times from the past year, listened in awe of the great stories some of the other members had to tell about their lives before they joined the troupe. She had nearly forgotten completely about the kiss until a voice shouted exuberantly in the middle of some holiday dancing, "One minute!"
People were scrambling through the crowd, searching gleefully for their significant lover. Fran caught a glimpse of Soren's bobbing head in the crowd as he searched for her. She quickly forced her way through the throng of people and reached the outskirts of the crowd with a relieved sigh. Noticing the nearly frantic way in which Soren searched through the settling crowd, Fran stepped back into the shadow of a nearby evergreen and watch the fire blaze strongly.
They began to count.
Soren was still searching determinedly, sure that he would find her in time. But there were so many people…
Imogen was laughing along with an intoxicated Byron as the counting continued, feeling her phone buzz in her pocket. She didn't check it.
Fran could see the happy, exuberant face of her mother as she shouted, her arm wrapped around that of Stephen, an attractive middle aged man who liked to brew herbal solutions. They'd met and made an instant connection. Fran had never seen her mother so happy as when she was with Stephen. She found herself hoping they would last.
She felt red-hot heat shoot up her spine, a sudden awareness in her mind. Ben!
She could practically feel his smile in her head, could nearly feel him as if he stood next to her. Are you close? Where are you?
Why don't you look up and find out? He said, a smirk surely on his lips.
She could see him now, only a few yards away from her, standing in the flickering warm light of the bonfire. He was just as incredibly handsome as the day they first met. His smoldering ebony eyes seared her with the pure happiness and desire they contained when they looked at her. He was wearing his usual black leather jacket with a deep red muscle t-shirt underneath, showcasing the lean muscle and broad chest, long legs encased in sleek black jeans. His long silky hair was pulled back by its customary leather thong. His angular, masculine face was smiling brilliantly at her, filling her heart with a kind of heat that can only be called love.
The world seemed to slow down as Fran sprinted toward Ben, long black curls flying wildly behind her. As she ran, she hastily yanked the leather gloves from her hands, dropping them uncaringly on the ground.
His arms were thrown open, eager to embrace her as she was for him…
Barely a step away.
"One! MERRY CHRISTMAS!"
And then they were everywhere, seeming to mold into one. His lips settled firmly against hers, hot tongue pushing easily through her lips to reconnect with her own. She clutched the nape of his neck with one hand, untying the leather thong, feeling the silky strands run through her fingers. Her other hand had slipped under the smooth fabric of his shirt, traced meaningless shapes into the skin of his back. She felt him release the barriers on his mind and let her in. She felt the anxiety, the guilt, and the frustration over having to leave her at such an important time of the year. She felt his burning need to see her, to feel her safe in his arms, to have his lips pressed to hers. She felt his passion, the rush of relief at being together once more. She felt impossibly hot and yet not enough; she couldn't get enough of him.
Ben was in a similar predicament, his right hand anchored in the smooth tumbling curls of her hair, the other secured around her waist, fingers through the jean's belt loops to tighten the embrace. His thumb smoothed over the skin at the small of her back.
On and on, the kiss continued. Ben's lips locked with hers, tongue tangling, moving, thrusting. Impossible pleasure, impossible heat. When it became absolutely necessary to breathe, Fran broke away reluctantly, gasping for breath. He dove into her neck, laying suckling kisses there, nipping at the tender place where neck and shoulder met. She shuddered against him, pressing as close as was possible, gasping quickly.
Ben had somehow managed to maneuver them into the shadow of the nearby evergreen tree, and he hoisted her up against the trunk. Her legs slid around his waist seamlessly, tightening at the urgent press of his lips on her neck. He sucked powerfully there, scraping his fangs over her skin, causing Fran to moan at the spike of pleasure that shot through her with every suck, every nip, every touch. Lost in the myriad of ecstasy that is Benedikt Czerny's kisses, she vaguely thought that last bite was sure to cause a hickey
Ben returned quickly to her lips the second it seemed she had caught her breath, yearning for the sweet cinnamon lash of her tongue, the amazing softness of her mouth. All coherent thoughts had evacuated from their brains, jumped ship at the first connection.
Fran opened her eyes, immediately meeting the burning gold of Ben's. They continued to kiss, mouths softening, the kiss gentling. His hands moved up her body, a slow sensual slide, to cup her face between them. After a few more small kisses, they finally settled, content to gaze into the other's eyes.
Merry Christmas, my Beloved.