Exclusive excerpt from A YULETIDE YEARNING

© Copyright 2020 Maeve Greyson 

Tait’s Cove - Christmas Eve 1703

Tait moved back to his chair without hitting the floor. If his balance was still intact, that was a sure sign he’d not had enough whisky. He needed more. Enough to knock him out. If such an amount existed. “Ye need to find her a good husband and get her away from here.” The sooner the better.

“She likes it here.” The quartermaster returned to the chair beside Tait. “She doesna want to leave, and I’ll nay be forcing her to do anything she doesna wish to do.” He thumped the arm of Tait’s chair. “Say ye’ll come to Christmas dinner so I can tell Ellie. I’ve worked out a new song on my fiddle, and Ellie sings along.” He beamed with a proud smile. “Sings like an angel, she does, if I do say so myself.”

“I thought I told ye to get out?” Tait glared at the man. 

“I said I’d leave once ye promised to come and celebrate Christmas with me and Ellie.”

“Christmas is for fools!” Tait immediately regretted the outburst. Shouting pained his throbbing head. Why couldn’t Hobbs understand that the last thing he needed right now was to eat a meal with a woman he could never have? A meal that would only make his fear of dying alone worse? “Get the hell out! Now!”

“Fine.” Hobbs stood, his scowl tight and dark. He pointed at Tait, then shook his finger. “But ye best take care, Cap’n. Spirits walk the earth on this holiest of nights. Walk it looking for miserable folk just like yerself—folk who willna listen to reason. Ye best realize all ye’ve got to be thankful for before a fearsome ghostie decides to step in and teach ye a lesson ye’ll never forget. If ye dinna like the course ye’ve charted for yer life, then change it. It’s yer choice, ye ken?” He poked the air again as he strode toward the door. “Mark my words! This be a blessed time and charged with a higher power ye’d be wise not to challenge.”

“Ye’re a damned fool!” Tait bellowed. “And send more whisky!” he yelled even louder as the door closed. Ghosts walking the earth. Higher powers. He’d never heard such foolishness. Sounded like Hobbs had been sampling too much drink as well.


Wiping her hands on her apron, Ellie slowly circled the worktable. Cook had promised her the use of this smaller kitchen for as long as she liked. Even told her she could see to the running of it from now on since it connected to the quarters Ellie shared with her father. After all, Cook had two other massive kitchens, one of them outside for smoking meats and the main kitchen inside. Those were plenty for Cook to feed everyone finding themselves moored at the Cove. 

Ellie ticked off everything she needed for tomorrow’s special meal as she spied it on the table. A fine goose, already plucked, hung in the larder. Salted cod waited in a small barrel. Carrots and potatoes. Suet, currants, and raisins for the best boiled pudding she ever hoped to make. She’d already baked the breads and other treats. Boatswain Mabry had even given her a lovely brandy for lighting the pudding. Aye, she was ready. Excitement and hope steadily strengthened like a wind filling a sail. She hoped Da had managed to convince Tait to join them. Maybe once he tasted her cooking, he’d give her more than a passing smile. 

A deep sigh escaped her as she sent up the same wish and a prayer she had made since they met. Three years she’d tried to attract that stubborn man’s attentions. Loved him for three long years. But this was the first time since she had become a resident of the Cove that he’d been here for Christmas, the most blessed and magical time of year. Surely, her wishes on the North Star would grant her his love at last. She’d make him such a good wife. Truly, she would. He so deserved a woman’s loving care.

“Here ye be.”

She whirled about with her hands pressed to her throat. “Ye gave me a start, Da! Caught me wool gathering.” After a quick kiss to her father’s cheek, she laughed and pulled him forward. “Have ye ever seen the makings of such a feast? Look at all this food. Cook sent everything I asked for. Oh, my goodness, we shall eat like kings tomorrow.”

“Aye, daughter,” he said. “’Twill be a fine Christmas dinner indeed. Finer than any by far.” Hobbs fidgeted a step away from the table. “But I fear it will just be the two of us unless ye have anyone else ye’d like to invite to our table.”

Her hopes dipped but didn’t fall completely. She hadn’t worked this hard to give up on Tait now. “What did he say? Why won’t he come?”

Her father slowly shook his head, rubbing the back of his neck as though it ached. “He’s trapped in a dark mood, lass. Best leave him to himself.”

“But Christmas dinner with us will help him feel better.” She wrung the tail of her apron between her hands. “Good will shared makes life brighter and cures all ills, aye?” He had to come. She’d planned it all out to show him how well she could take care of him. Disappointment battered her uplifted mood, threatened her hopes. “He has to come.” She sounded like a whiny bairn, and she didn’t care. “Why won’t he come?”

Hobbs shrugged and shook his head. “Said Christmas is for fools.” Her father rested a hand on her arm and gently squeezed. “Give it up, lass. I know what ye’re really trying to do, and it’ll never work.” His kindly look pushed her hopes even lower. “He thinks ye’re too good for everyone here at the Cove—including himself. Even asked me why I hadn’t taken ye off to find ye a husband yet. Said I was being selfish by keeping ye here.” A sad smile tempered his troubled scowl. “I canna deny that accusation. I am selfish when it comes to ye because I missed so much of yer life.” His smile grew and brightened. “Ye’re a comfort to me, Ellie, and I’m so proud to have ye for a daughter. But give it up, lass. Cap’n Tait thinks ye too proper…too meek and genteel for the likes of him. A match betwixt the two of ye will never happen.”

“Meek and genteel?” As a child, she had starved whenever she failed to steal enough to eat. She and Mama had lived in places animals wouldn’t stay. She’d fought for survival at the workhouse, even learned to read and write after working from dusk ’til dawn. “Just because I dinna act the whore or curse the air blue, he thinks me some delicate creature? Some silly female who’ll blush and faint dead away if I hear a bawdy tale?”

“Now, now. He’s always thought well of ye. Ye know that. That’s why ye’re safe here at the Cove. Not a man alive is brave enough to cross Cap’n and touch ye, and I, for one, am glad of that.” Hobbs went to the cupboard and sorted through several bottles on the shelf. “His stores are gone, but I willna be taking him the best whisky. He’s too drunk to appreciate it.”

“Give me the bottle.” By the saints, she’d show Tait she wasn’t some delicate flower too precious for his own good. “I’ll make sure he understands that I expect him at my table tomorrow. I’ve worked hard and willna accept such rude ingratitude from the likes of him.”

“I dinna think that wise,” her father said, holding the bottle out of reach. “As I said, he’s in a black mood. Old Scratch himself would lock the gates of Hell to keep him out right about now.”

“The bottle, Da?” She took a step closer, hand still held out. “I willna take ‘no’ for an answer. It’s blessed Yuletide. I’ve goodness and right on my side. Ye watch, I’ll make him see sense.”

Her father shrugged and headed for the door with the bottle tucked in the crook of his arm. “I willna have ye go alone. Ye can speak yer mind to him if ye must, but I’ll be right there in case he gets more unruly than what ye can handle, understand?”

“Fine.” She followed him up the back staircase to Tait’s floor, determination increasing with every step. It was high time Captain Tait Mackenzie looked at her as someone other than his quartermaster’s long-lost daughter. 

When they reached the captain’s quarters, her father blocked the door with one arm and gave her the sternest look he’d ever given her before. “Remember. He’s drunk. In the foulest of moods. And if he does anything foolish where ye’re concerned, ye know I’ll have to kill him.”

“I know.” Her father’s love strengthened her. She thanked the good Lord every day for guiding him to her. She took the bottle and hugged it. “I’ll be fine. Ye know he willna hurt me.” Gently, she moved her father’s gnarled hand away from the door and nudged him aside. “Now, let me talk some sense into him, aye?”

“Good luck with that, daughter.” Hobbs stepped aside. “I’ll be right here.”

Ellie smiled, rapped on the door, and waited. Nothing but silence came from the room.

“He’s finally passed out,” her father whispered with an approving nod. “Just as well. I’ve never seen a man drink so much—not even him.”

“I’m still going to check on him.” She eased open the door and peered inside. “Good heavens,” she whispered. 

“What?” he asked, edging her aside so he could see.

“Why does he need so much? It’s just him in here, aye?” The suite was crammed full of chairs, couches, pillowed benches, and all manner of things. Different styles, fabrics, patterns, but all at a level of gaudiness like she’d never seen before. Shelves and tables overflowed with assorted baubles. The wild mix nearly hurt her eyes. 

“’Tis plunder, lass,” her father explained. “Cap’n Tait likes to keep a sampling of every plunder.”

“I see.” And she did. The man depended on things in an attempt to chase the loneliness out of his heart. She’d seen him hanging in the shadows with such mournful looks she wanted to hug him. He needed her. He just didn’t know it. The workhouse had tried to make her feel the same. But memories of Mama’s unfailing love had kept her whole and given her strength. Things might sometimes be easily gained, but they were also easily lost. Loved ones filled your heart forever. As she forged deeper into the clutter, she looked all around the room. “Where is he?”

A grumbling snore from the vicinity of the window overlooking the bay answered. 

“Sounds like over there. Most likely on the floor.” Hobbs led the way through a trio of overstuffed couches and peeped over the back of the one in front of the window. “Here he be.”

Ellie rounded the furniture and smiled. The tall, hulking figure of Captain Tait Mackenzie, Demon Mackenzie to his enemies, lay stretched out on his back with his hands folded across his stomach. If not for the healthy coloring to his cheeks, she’d think him dead. Her heart fluttered and every last bit of her flushed with a delightfully uncomfortable warmth.  He was such a handsome man. Long hair, darker than sin, some of it braided and strung with beads. A gold earring in one ear. Dressed all in black, he looked as though he captained the fleets of the Earl of Hell himself. Aye, he did appear fearsome and evil, but she knew him for the big-hearted man that he was. She’d spied him playing with the harlots’ children—allowing the wee lads to capture him with their wooden swords. She’d also come upon him in the stables, sitting on the ground in one of the stalls, playing with a litter of pups. The man had a good heart. He just didn’t know it.

Tait shifted with a snorting mumble, then crossed his legs at the ankles. Without opening his eyes, he smacked his lips and grimaced. “Damnation, me mouth tastes like someone shite in it.”

“Help me get him to his bed, aye?” Now that the man was semi-awake, the two of them might be able to move him. Ellie grabbed hold of one arm while her father grabbed the other. “Come now, Captain, up and to the bed with ye.”

One green eye slowly opened. “Am I dead?” he asked then hiccupped as he opened the other eye the barest slit and looked to be having some difficulty focusing on her. 

“Of course not.” She pulled harder, nodding for Da to do the same. If they could get him on his feet, they had a fair chance of making it the short distance to his bed. “Ye’re just drunk as can be. Help us now. We’ll get ye in the bed to sleep it off, then tomorrow ye’ll join us for a lovely Christmas dinner.”

After several attempts, they got him to his feet and draped his arms around their shoulders. Tait staggered forward several steps, then came to a halt, scowling at his surroundings. “I wouldha though heaven a damn sight cleaner than this.” He swiveled his attention back to her and smiled. “But I must say ye are a verra lovely angel. Ye look just like Ellie.”

“I told ye, ye’re nay dead, and I am Ellie.” She nudged to get him moving again, more than a little pleased at the compliment. He thought her lovely. That was a good start.

“And why in the world would ye ever think ye’d land in heaven?” her father dryly asked.

Tait seemed not to have heard him. Instead, he kept his bleary-eyed focus locked on her. “Ellie’s a fine girl, ye know. Ye’d like her. She’ll be an angel too some day when she finishes her earthly walk.” He gave a hard nod and nearly lost his footing. “Her father, good old Hobbs, God bless his foolish arse, promised to find her the verra best of husbands. Ye know I’ll have to kill any bastard if he treats her ill? The husband—not Hobbs. He’d never treat her ill. Loves her more than life itself.” He hiccupped again, staggered forward a few more steps, then fell face first onto the bed. “Wish I had someone to love,” he mumbled into the bedclothes. He rolled over, closed his eyes, and smiled. “Hobbs’ll find her a good husband, though. Ye’ll see.” His smile melted away, replaced with a mournful scowl. “Wish it couldha been me,” he muttered.

She turned and looked at her father who backed away and mouthed the word, no. Since drink had taken Tait to such a frame of mind, she might as well use it to plant a few seeds of wisdom that he might recall once sober. “Ellie nay wants another. She means to marry ye. Says she loves ye. Ye need a good woman like her for yer wife.”

Tait cracked open an eye and looked at her as though he thought her mad. “Are ye daft? I thought angels knew ever…ever’thing.” He floundered his way higher up into the pillows. “I could never marry Ellie. She needs a moral man. One who’ll make her happy.” Wiggling his nose, he rubbed it furiously, then sneezed. “God’s beard!” he said as he cradled his head in his hands. Eyes wide, he stole a look around as though fearing capture. Leaning forward, he motioned for her to come closer. “Can ye say, ‘God’s beard’ in heaven?” he whispered.

He was worse than what she’d thought. Pearls of wisdom would never be recovered from this drunken haze. She pushed him back to his pillows and pulled a blanket up over him. “Go back to sleep, aye? Ye’re fair pickled.”

“Ye’re right about that, dear angel who looks like Ellie.” A peaceful smile spread across his face, making him even more lovable. “I’m glad I died and missed Christmas.”

Ellie couldn’t help herself. “Ye nay missed it, silly. Christmas is tomorrow, and ye’ll be spending it with Ellie and her Da.”

Tait chuckled and shook his head. “Ye’re the silly one. ’Tis best I stay away from Ellie. Ye know that as well as I.”

Maybe this drunken haze would be helpful after all. It might give her more information. “Why must ye stay away from Ellie?” she asked as she tucked the blanket around his shoulders.

Without opening his eyes, Tait blew out a heavy sigh. “Too dangerous. More I’m around her, more I wanna be around her,” he mumbled.

“Do ye like Ellie?” she softly asked.

Tait shrugged. “Nay matters. Only whores and harlots for the likes of me.” With what appeared to be a great deal of difficulty, he pried open an eye again and managed a wink. “’Twould be a cold day in hell before ye’d find me with a woman like Ellie.”

“Why is that?” If she could discover the one thing holding him back, she’d use it. Love trumped all else. 

“Too nice. Proper,” he mumbled, then rumbled out a long snore. His choking snort roused him, and both eyes popped open. He waved a finger through the air. “She’s a good woman, ye ken? All meek and soft. Quiet.” He dozed off again while still mumbling, “I might could love precious Ellie, but I’m nay good enough for the likes of her. Never will be. Would never marry her. Best stay away.”

She whirled about and looked at her father. “Did ye hear that? He said he could love me.”

“Aye.” He gave her a sad smile. “But let me tell ye something about that man lying there. He’s stubborn as they come, lass. Once he’s made up his mind, he’ll never change it. Even when it would be in his best interest to do so.” He shook his head. “If he says he willna marry ye—’twill never happen.”

“We’ll see about that.” With three years of wishing and praying invested in this man, she wasn’t about to give up now.



  1. I've pre-ordered this set and can't wait to read it.

    1. YAY!! With so many stories, I think it's going to be perfect for holiday reading! :-)