Confession time…I am not a big lover of Valentine’s Day.
The forced “we are soooo in love!” sentiment of February 14th feels wrong to me. Instead of a day focused on true love and intimacy, it seems like it’s become a billion dollar day focused on selling everything from expensive jewelry, to sexy lingerie, to cheap stuffed bears that say “I Love You” on their bellies.
Honestly, when I think of Valentine’s Day, I don’t even think of romance anymore. I think of pressure and expectations and disappointment. Not to mention it causes many people who are not partnered up to feel inadequate, especially when they get the dreaded question: “What are you doing for Valentine’s Day?” or “What did so-and-so get you for Valentine’s Day?”
Love doesn’t need to be wrapped in a pretty red bow in order to make me feel special. It can be a few brief words scribbled on a scrap of paper and placed on my keyboard for me to find in the morning, or a tight hug when deadline stress is rising, or taking my van in to rotate my tires. (Bow Chicka Wow Wow!)
I know, I know…you’re thinking…But Alyson, aren’t you a romance writer?
Um…yep, I am. And believe it or not, I even got engaged on Valentine’s Day, which now that I think about it, is surprising because my husband feels the same way I do about the holiday: fake emotion, manufactured feelings, consumerism.
But then I had kids—twins—who are in grade one this year and they LOVE Valentine’s Day. They get to send cards to all their classmates at school—girls and boys—and they get to have a special party in their classroom with special Valentine’s Day-themed-treats, and they get to wear red, eat chocolate, and cut out imperfectly shaped hearts.
And come on…who doesn’t like cutting out hearts and eating chocolate? I know I do.
For my kids, the joy of Valentine’s Day is simply the act of giving and receiving love and affection. There’s no pressure to impress or expectations of gifts or feelings of anxiety and/or inadequacy…it’s just love…and it’s a joy to behold.
Give. Receive. Love. Affection. Now those are sentiments I can get behind.
Since we’ve been talking about love, affection, and gift-giving, here’s a favorite scene of mine from the third book in my Highland historical series The Sons Of Gregor MacLeod. The book is called HIGHLAND BETRAYAL and features Laird Callum MacLean and his hard-won, warrior wife Maggie MacDonnell. Be prepared for a little heat, a few laughs, and a heart-felt sigh at the end.
Oh, and Happy Valentine’s Day!
* * *
Maggie braced her good arm against the stone mantel and tried to lower herself to her knees. About halfway there, her ribs pulled, and she had to let go of the mantel, crying out in pain as she tumbled to the floor.
“Maggie!” Callum yelled, jumping from the bed and racing to her side. He gently helped her into a sitting position. “For the love of Christ, lass. What are you doing?”
“I would think that was obvious, Callum MacLean.”
“You’re lying on the floor, writhing in pain, when you should be in bed, sleeping. How is there anything obvious about that, Maggie MacLean?”
“My daggers,” she said, indicating the four knives scattered on the floor around her. “I was hiding some of them to be safe, but you used up all my spots. So I was checking to see if you’d hidden any in the hearth or under the chair. Men never think to look down low, but if someone has you trapped under them, you willna be able to reach the mantel.”
Callum stared at her, a twitch in his right eyelid and a muscle jumping in his jaw. Apparently, he agreed with the necessity of hiding weapons down low.
He gathered her in his arms, mouth tight as if he was stopping himself from saying something. After carefully lifting her, he walked to the bed and laid her down. Maggie almost groaned in relief, but she didn’t want him to know how much she’d needed his help.
Aye, she was a daft woman.
He sat beside her and clasped her uninjured hand. “Maggie, you doona need to worry about hiding daggers because I’ll—”
“And escape routes,” she interrupted.
“Escape routes. I was going to look for them next.” She held her breath and found she was actually enjoying herself, despite the ache in her ribs and hand. She wondered how long Callum could keep calm, and what she could say next to make his eyelid twitch.
He blew out a loud breath and then said something she could barely hear, cursing most likely.
“I willna convince you to let me protect you, will I?”
“Callum, why would I do that? Aren’t you happy to know that I have the ability to protect you? And someday possibly our bairns? I know I froze at the hot springs, but you said you could work on that with me. And if you do, I promise to work on your aim with you.” She kept her face innocent, knowing he’d catch on to what she’d said, to the two different ways her words could be interpreted.
His gaze jumped to hers, so quick and alert. It made her want to sigh and invite him between her legs, to start practicing right then despite her pain.
He leaned forward and bit her neck in retaliation, then trailed his lips upward to suck her earlobe into his mouth and nip it too. “Aye, we’ll be working on my aim, Maggie. We’d start now if not for your injuries. You’ve already done enough damage to yourself this morning.”
She lifted her good arm to pull him closer, but he clasped her hand and drew it to his mouth for a kiss before rising from the bed and retrieving her daggers. “So you want one hid in the hearth and one under the chair?”
And there she went again, wanting to cry. Because he’d put his own feelings aside and supported hers.
She nodded, unable to get words past her tight throat. Then she forgot about anything else but her husband in front of her as he leaned down on his hands and knees, head in the fireplace, and pointed his barely covered arse toward her.
Her eyes widened, especially when his shift rose up and she saw those heavy stones of his hanging down. An excited gasp escaped her lips.
“Quit staring at my arse, Maggie,” he grumbled.
“Then quit waving it in my direction, you daft man.”
He grunted but continued to work in the fireplace, and she continued to stare, wanting so badly to rise from her sickbed and cup those twin, muscular globes. Then slide her hand down and squeeze the other twin globes between them.
The idea filled her with yearning, her blood drumming in her veins, the softest parts of her swelling as heat and wetness gathered between her legs. She raised her hand to her mouth and bit down on her thumb so she wouldn’t moan aloud. It was most unfair that she was finally married to Callum and she could do nothing to slake her need for him.
Well, she could do that. Her hand slid down her body of its own accord, then stopped when he suddenly backed out of the hearth, minus one dagger, and sat back on his heels. “It’s near the front on the left side. Are you sure you want it inside the hearth? If the fire is burning, the metal will heat and burn your hand when you grab it.”
“I’d rather my hand be burned than be dead. Or you dead.”
He scowled, then grabbed one of the intricately designed chairs and flipped it upside down. After a second, he jammed her second dagger into the wood so it lay flush against the seat.
“Use this one instead, if anything happens—not that it bloody well will. Still, I’ll bring the mason in tomorrow and have him craft some hiding spots on the hearth down below. ’Tis a good idea. I should have thought of it.”
“See?” she said, a smile splitting her face.
He grunted, then scanned the chamber as if taking an inventory of all the hidden weapons and hiding places in the room. “Anything else?” he asked, his back to her.
“Aye, a rope. Long and sturdy enough to climb out the window. We’ll store it under the bed. In fact, have one made for every room above the second floor, just in case.”
His shoulders tensed, but he didn’t say no. “I’ll see what we have in storage. Anything else?” He glowered at her over his shoulder. “And it better not be a crossbow, rope, or pulley.”
She thought about all the things she’d wanted over the years. It was exciting to think that she could just ask for something and it would appear. At Clan MacDonnell, she’d had to keep everything a secret for so long. “I’ve always wanted a net. A big, sturdy one.”
He spun around, a look of incredulity on his face. “Maggie MacLean, you’ve lost your bloody mind. What in heaven would you do with a net?”
“I doona know exactly, but I’m sure I could drop it on someone. Or maybe jump into it if I had need.” He looked like he was going to refuse her, and she said, “’Tis customary to give your wife a gift when you marry, is it not?”
He threw his hands in the air. “And that’s what you want? Not jewels or fine clothes or even land? You want a big net?”
He looked heavenward and muttered under his breath before shaking his head and reaching for his plaid. “You shall have your net, Maggie MacLean. My wedding gift to you. And it will be the biggest bloody net you’ve e’er seen.”