A Yellowstone Christmas

By: Peggy L Henderson

Aimee followed her son from under the tree, and scooped a pile of snow in her hands, forming a tight ball. A large dark figure abruptly loomed in front of her. With a screech, she hurled her projectile at the fur-clad figure. She never got the chance to reach for more snow. A strong arm snaked around her waist, yanking her fully from her hiding spot. Matthew growled like a bear beside her and threw a snowball at her captor’s head before another figure, much smaller and closer to Matthew’s size, tackled him from the side.

Unable to help her son, Aimee was hurled to the ground, sinking in the deep fresh powder, pinned underneath her adversary.

“You think you can escape this easily, woman?” a deep voice drawled inches from her face, hot breath brushing against her cheek. Aimee ceased her struggles. Her body shook with laughter that she’d suppressed until now. Staring up into a pair of deep brown eyes, she pulled her hands from between herself and the man who had her pinned into the snow, and threw her arms around his neck.

“I’ve got a few more weapons in my arsenal,” she purred, breathing heavily, and pulled his head down toward her.

“You don’t fight fair, woman,” the man growled, and covered her mouth with his own.

“Neither do you, Daniel,” Aimee mouthed against her husband’s lips. “You knew there’d be no chance of Matthew and me ever concealing our tracks from you.”

“Zach and Sam did all the tracking,” Daniel said, an innocent grin brightening his face. He heaved himself off the snow-covered ground, pulling Aimee with him. Both their heads turned in the direction of their three sons, who wrestled loudly in the snow several feet away. Two-year-old Samuel growled like a bear, and threw himself on top both of his brothers.

“Maybe we should find that tree now,” Aimee suggested, nodding toward the boys. She brushed away the snow from her furs, and slipped her hands into her gloves. She bent to peel her youngest son away from his older brothers.

“Come on Sam, we need to find that perfect Christmas tree,” she said when the boy kicked wildly in her arms.

The twins Zach and Matthew scrambled up from the ground. “We want to help you chop it down, Papa,” Zach said loudly.

“Good idea,” Daniel said, reaching for his flintlock in the snow. “I’ll just sit back and keep your mother warm while you two do the work.”

Both Matthew and Zach rolled their eyes. “I don’t see how kissing keeps someone warm,” Matthew said.

“Someday you’ll see,” Daniel said, patting his son on the head. He pulled Sam from Aimee’s arms and set the boy on his shoulders.

“I think there are some nice-looking young spruce trees just a little further along the river,” Aimee said, pointing ahead. “One of them should make a nice tree for the cabin.” She adjusted the strap on one of her snowshoes that had come loose when Daniel pulled her to the ground, and headed toward the Madison River some hundred yards ahead. Snowdrifts lined the banks of the river, which was barely half as wide as it would be in summer. Ice sealed off the banks on either side.

Zach and Matthew ran ahead as quickly as their snowshoe-clad feet would carry them, chasing a family of river otters until the animals dove into the water.

“We want this one, Papa,” Zach said minutes later, pointing at a young spruce that stood to the side of several others. Matthew nodded in agreement.

Aimee glanced up at her husband. Although Daniel was not an overly tall man, her petite stature made him appear larger and more imposing. “I guess we found our tree,” she said brightly.

Daniel shook his head, and frowned. The twinkle in his eyes betrayed his mock annoyance. It was the same every year at this time. For the last six years, Aimee had insisted on a Christmas tree, and Daniel had put on an exaggerated show of irritation over it every time. He reached up, and pulled a squirming Sam from his shoulders. The toddler waddled off toward his brothers, babbling loudly.

“You know that Elk Runner will try and set fire to it again this year,” Daniel said, watching his sons swipe at the snow on their chosen tree’s branches.

“He won’t be invited to Christmas dinner if he tries,” Aimee warned. “You’d better make sure he’s clear about that, Daniel.” She shot him a stern look and nudged his arm to get his full attention. She pointed her other gloved hand at him in warning. “If he wants peach cobbler or huckleberry pie, he’d better not go near my tree. And if he tries another crazy stunt like releasing a squirrel up the trunk, I’ll ban him from our house forever.”

Daniel chuckled. He shook his head slightly. “He thinks the cold of winter plays with your mind for wanting to bring a tree into the cabin without chopping it into firewood, and decorating it with your trinkets.”

“I don’t tell him how to celebrate his traditions, so why should he always mock mine?” Aimee’s eyebrows shot up. “And don’t tell me he doesn’t enjoy the food, or the gifts I give him when he and his family come for Christmas dinner.”

Daniel’s indulgent grin brightened into a wide smile that always set her heart fluttering, even after six years of marriage to him. Her husband’s hardened features softened, and his intense deep eyes warmed her like a hot mug of chocolate when he favored her with such a smile. She stepped up to him and wrapped her arms around his middle as far as they would reach.

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