Summary: Bastien and Alice prepare for a very special Christmas.
When Alice opened the door to her family’s quarters at Valtoria, a warm, spicy scent greeted her like an inviting embrace. She smiled and hurried inside, closing the door behind her. Alice could hear the faint sound of music as she slipped out of her heels, her feet aching slightly with relief as she walked gingerly down the hall, past the living room with the glowing Christmas tree and into the kitchen. She hesitated in the doorway, smiling as she watched Bastien bend down to check the oven as he quietly sang along to “Jingle Bell Rock.”
“Hey, you’re back,” Bastien said when he turned to find her watching him, a grin breaking across his face as he crossed the kitchen to gently kiss her hello.
“And glad to be back,” Alice said. “Where’s Violet?”
“Sleeping,” Bastien said, pointing to the baby monitor on the kitchen island. “I set her up in the bouncy seat while I put the lights on the tree and she dozed off almost immediately.”
“That bouncy seat is magic,” Alice said as she let Bastien lead her to a chair at the island. She sat and watched as he poured something into a mug from a simmering pot on the stove before topping it with whipped cream and handing it to her. “So fancy—what is it?”
“Peppermint hot chocolate,” he said. “Since you dealt with the holiday party stuff while I stayed here with Violet, I figured it was the least I could do. What happened down there, anyway?”
“Oh, god, it was ridiculous and it could’ve been an email. Or a text. Preferably one I ignored,” Alice said as she took a sip. “God, that’s good. Anyway, apparently the party planner was having an issue with the floor plan but it was already sorted out by the time I got downstairs. I tried to get out of it, but then he roped me into a discussion about the signature cocktail.”
“We’re having a signature cocktail?” Bastien asked.
“I told him we didn’t need one, and that big vein in his forehead started throbbing. He then launched into a very panicked speech that he’d obviously practiced about how, as a nod to my former peasant life as a bartender—“
“I’m embellishing, but not much. Anyway, as a nod to my past, he thought it would be fun to elevate Valtoria as an elite event venue by making it our ‘thing’ to have signature cocktails at every event we host. I then told him that between Olivia’s compulsive need to be the best and the Beaumonts’ legendary parties, I didn’t feel the need to compete.”
“Then what happened?” Bastien asked as the timer dinged and he slid oven mitts onto his hands.
“He started crying.” Alice paused, taking another sip of her hot chocolate. “I really miss having Hana as our publicist.”
“So what’s our cocktail?” Bastien asked as he pulled a tray of sugar cookies out of the oven.
“Some kind of spiced mulled wine accented with the depressing reality that the party planner isn’t Hana.”
“Does it come with a reminder that we’re the ones who funded Hana’s first collection and basically fired her from working for us?” Bastien.
“Oh, sure, remind me that it’s our fault Hana’s following her dreams,” Alice said. “Come on, Dorian—it’s Christmas.”
“Not for another two weeks, but fine—the cocktail sounds like garbage and it sucks Hana moved on,” Bastien said.
“Thank you,” Alice said. “Ugh, I know I should’ve expected this, but the holiday season is exhausting as a duchess. Not only do we have the normal holiday stress, but we have to host everyone for a holiday party as part of a tour? Jesus Christ, there are so many tours that it’s amazing we get anything done. Plus, it’s Violet’s first Christmas and there’s all this pressure to make it magical even though she’s probably not going to remember any of it.”
“I feel like you’re not giving yourself enough credit,” Bastien said as he sat down beside her. “Yeah, the party planning has been a lot, but you’ve managed to get us out of most of the tour—that’s pretty impressive.”
“Only because nearly everyone is coming to spend Christmas here—I got us out of Ramsford because Drake, Maxwell, Bertrand, Savannah, and Bartie are all coming here for the holiday, not to mention Frankie and Seth. And I had to promise Liv we’d spend New Year’s in Lythikos in exchange for bailing on her parties there and at the palace.”
“That reminds me, did you hear back from Hana? Is she going to be back here for Christmas?”
“Unfortunately, no,” Alice said. “Well, maybe not unfortunately because I’m happy for her. Rashida is going to be stuck in Switzerland for a work thing so Hana is going there with her. They’ll both be in Lythikos for New Year’s though. Oh, and I promised Hana we’d FaceTime with her on Christmas so she can see Violet. And then—“
“Hang on,” Bastien said as he stood up. He held out one hand to Alice and picked up the baby monitor with the other. “Come with me.”
Alice accepted his hand and allowed Bastien to lead her into the living room. He brought her over to the Christmas tree and pointed to the ground.
Alice shrugged and did as he said. Bastien lay down beside her and adjusted so that his head was underneath the tree, staring up into the lights. He motioned for Alice to come closer and he wrapped an arm around her, pulling her close.
“What are we doing?” Alice asked.
“Getting a change of scenery,” he said. “You’ve been working so hard to take care of your professional responsibilities as well as being there for Violet and me, and I think you need a break to just be still for a minute and enjoy something small.”
“This tree is hardly small,” Alice said. Bastien tickled her side and she laughed, trying to roll away from him. “Okay, okay! Fine, I’ll try it.”
Alice looked up into the branches of the Christmas tree, taking in the glow of the lights as she took a deep breath of the fresh, piney scent. She relaxed against Bastien, feeling the warm, solid comfort of him beside her. The seconds stretched out into minutes and after along time, Alice sighed.
“I know I’m letting all this stuff get to me when it doesn’t matter. Not really, anyway. I have an army of people at my disposal to take care of everything and I’m over here stressing out about a stupid signature cocktail that I don’t even want for a party I don’t want to have. I don’t even have to do anything for our guests for Christmas—the staff is taking care of their rooms and you volunteered to do all the cooking for dinner, and all I have to do is not be a complete Grinch. I just…” She hesitated, trying to will the lump in her throat to go away. “I just want Violet’s first Christmas to be really special and I’m worried I’m going to ruin it.”
“Hey,” Bastien said gently as he hugged her a little tighter. “You aren’t going to ruin anything. All Violet wants is to be with you—you’re her mom and she loves you. Hey, how about this—since everyone is going to be in here on Christmas morning, why don’t we do our own thing on Christmas Eve? Just you, me, and Violet. We can exchange new pajamas, drink hot cocoa, read The Night Before Christmas, add a new ornament to the tree.Set up our own family traditions so that way, no matter what our Christmas plans are, every year we’ll have that time together.”
“Can we watch Die Hard?” Alice sniffed as she wiped away a tear. Bastien laughed and kissed her forehead.
“Anything you want.” He paused. “You know, if you want, we can cancel the holiday party. Liam won’t mind and Olivia will get over it.”
“What about everyone else?”
“They’d get over it,” Bastien said.
“No, it’s fine,” Alice said. “Besides, we already have a signature cocktail—it’d be a shame to waste it.”
“Even if it tastes like disappointment?”
“Eh, who cares,” Alice said as she snuggled against him a little more tightly. “Between you, Violet, and that peppermint hot chocolate, I already have everything I need.”
“You haven’t even tried one of the cookies yet,” Bastien said. “And I have another surprise for you…but I have a feeling Violet is going to wake up from her nap soon and I intend to take my time, so it’ll have to wait until after she goes to bed tonight.”
“Oooh,” Alice said with a grin as she turned to look at him. “Are you going to deck my halls? Jingle my sleigh bells? Give me a white …you know, as I say these out loud, they don’t sexy as much as they just sound creepy.”
Bastien laughed and kissed her. “You can jingle my bells anytime you want.”