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Somewhere in the middle of the night, they heard a door shut and the sound of feet padding down the hallway. She stilled. Dobson must have felt her muscles tighten.
He raised his head and sleepily asked, “What’s Lucy doing up?”
“Probably going to check on Santa’s progress,” Holly remarked.
Pushing back the covers, she grabbed her robe as Dobson pulled his trousers up and buckled his belt.
“A fine how do you do on a wedding night,” he grinned. “Of course, it gives me an excuse to say a fine good night to my lovely wife again.”
Holly felt her lips pull into a smile and shook her head. “I have a feeling our marriage will always be quite unusual.”
Together, they went down the hallway and paused at the last step. Chow Ming lay asleep on the settee, his meat clever by his side. Dobson tipped toed over and handed Holly his weapon before putting a gentle hand on his cook’s shoulder.
“Chow Ming, Chow Ming.”
The older man’s eyes opened. He looked about wildly.
“What you doing here?” he asked.
“He come? Fat man in red suit. He come?”
Dobson shook his head. “No, Santa won’t come while you are awake. It has to be done in secret.”
“Chow Ming want to see wagon that fly. Chow Ming think this man in red suit want to steal things.”
“No, no,” Dobson shook his head. “He’s a good guy. But you must go to sleep or he won’t come.”
“Humph, then Chow Ming go to bed. Nearly midnight anyway.” Grumbling, he rose and moved to Holly taking the meat clever from her hands.
“Chow Ming, did you see Lucy?” Holly asked.
“No, Chow Ming fall asleep. Wait for man in red suit, wagon pulled by antelope.”
“Reindeer,” Dobson corrected him.
“Whatever, no see cowgirl in training.”
Holly hid her giggles behind her hand.
Suddenly, Dobson knew. “I think I know where she is. Grab your coat.”
Pulling their coats from the pegs by the door, Dobson and Holly slipped into the cold night. They crossed the yard, to the barn, and found the door opened from the outside. “She’s inside,” he told Holly. “Joe told her a story about the animal’s Christmas. I bet she’s waiting to see.”
Stepping inside, they stood in the quiet and waited. A few moments later, a sound came from the hayloft as a few bits of straw floated down.
“Come on,” he said, leading her over to the ladder.
Carefully, they climbed up the steps to the loft.
“Lucy,” Holly hissed.
“Sh, I’m over here.” A tiny hand waved.
They moved to where the little girl sat curled in the hay watching the animals below.
“Lucy,” Holly scolded. “It’s almost midnight.”
She held her fingers to her lips for the adults to be quiet. “I know.” Lucy grinned, her face full of excitement. “I want to see the animals pray. Joe told me the story about the animals kneeling on the stroke of midnight to thank God for letting them be the first to see Jesus.”
Both adults looked at each other. “Lucy, that’s an old wives tale,” Holly explained to her.
“No. No, it’s not. Sit and listen,” she urged them.
Holly sighed and sat down. Dobson moved behind her so his body would protect them both from the cold. Reaching into the pocket of his trousers, he pulled out a gold pocket watch and handed it to Lucy.
“It will chime when it strikes midnight.”
She took it and nodded.
The barn grew still. Lucy held her breath. Dobson’s watch seemed to tick louder as the remaining seconds to Christmas drifted away. Then a soft chime rang out and they all held her breath.
“See, nothing is happen-” Before Holly could finish, they heard the animals shifting. Peering over into the cows stall, they watched in amazement as the two calves dropped to their front knees. Then Star did the same. A horse neighed, and then the other animals answered one by one. Holly’s arms prinked with goose bumps. She looked around to Dobson, whose eyes were as wide as hers.
Both adults looked down to Lucy who grinned broadly. “Oh, Holly, you were right, there is no Christmas like a Cordial Christmas.” Her arms wide, she flung them around both of their necks and held on tight.
Dobson put an arm around her and pulled his family close. “Merry Christmas, Mrs. Winters,” he said again.