Hello! Wow, October already. Where did the last 8 weeks go? Summer was a blur of making coffee, serving cream teas and directing people to castles... So sorry to have taken such a long time to update. I hope you enjoy this second chapter :) Thank you to Ballettmaus and Elviiis for their encouragement!


Chapter 2

Breakfast passed stickily – syrup ending up everywhere, even in Holly's hair. But, following a bath, and dressed in her Christmas outfit of green and white striped tights, a red dress over a pink T-shirt, silver glitter ballet pumps, and a pair of wings strapped to her back, she looked every inch a Christmas fairy, as Mac observed.

'I think imp might be a more accurate description,' Stella said. They watched Holly rocketing round the living room while they fortified themselves with more coffee.

Mac leaped forward just in time to catch a vase that the wings had caught.

'Mini earthquake might be even more accurate,' he said dryly, placing the vase out of reach.

'Agreed.'

'Mommy! Daddy!' Holly crashed into them and began trying to drag them to the Christmas tree. 'We got to open the presents!'

'We do?' Mac asked, saving the coffee mugs. 'Now?'

Holly nodded vigorously, still tugging. 'Right now!'

'Why? Are they going to disappear if we don't?' Stella couldn't help the question. Holly looked horrified and let go suddenly.

'Steady on, baby.' Stella caught the squirming little girl who had been about to throw herself into the skyscraper of presents under the ceiling-scraping tree. 'We're going to sit down and open our gifts one at a time, okay?'

So the mammoth task of unwrapping began, and for the next hour or so, Holly managed, more or less, to stick to the rule. Although, as Stella mused, sitting among a swamp of torn paper, it was not so much unwrapping as frenzied ripping…

When the paper fragments settled and only a small pile of gifts remained, to be saved until after dinner, there was a chance to take a breath and take in more caffeine. Holly sat surrounded by toys, books and a multitude of things to gladden a four year old's heart. For just a moment, Stella felt a qualm: it was not that Holly was spoiled - well, not exactly, Stella qualified her thought - but she certainly did not lack for much. Because it was sometimes very hard to say no to a child they still thought of as their own little miracle. And, as she knew Mac would admit as well, buying gifts for their daughter; for birthdays or Christmas, or just-because occasions, was a pleasure for them both.

She became aware of Mac gazing at her.

'Are you okay?'

She nodded. 'Wondering if we're going to have to consider a bigger place soon, to fit all Holly's stuff,' she said, not entirely joking.

'That had crossed my mind…' He looked at the heaps of gifts. 'Do you think we got her too much?'

Stella shrugged, uncertain. 'Maybe… she did get almost everything on her Christmas list.'

'Not all from us,' Mac pointed out.

'It was still a pretty long list.'

'But she's only a child once, and Christmas is only once a year,' Mac said and Stella bit her lip.

They looked again at Holly, content and involved in her play, and Stella felt justified in having bought the gifts. Anyway, she argued with herself, Holly was said 'no' to plenty of times.

And it was Christmas Day; the day for giving. As such, with Holly happily occupied, Stella and Mac settled down to open the presents from each other that they had set aside for a quiet moment.

'It's perfect, thank you,' Stella whispered in Mac's ear, her accompaniment a kiss. He smiled and helped her fasten the delicate silver filigree necklace with a holly leaf pendant he had bought for her. Touching the pendant with one hand, she reached round and clasped his fingers, turning her head to kiss him again. They sat, leaning against each other, Mac's arm round her hip, enjoying the uncomplicated happiness of their daughter as she played, while the lights from the Christmas tree drew a halo round her curls.

Stella met Mac's eye, the same thought occurring to them as they grinned at each other.

'The only way she's ever going to get a halo,' Mac murmured.

'I don't know, Mac; she's pretty good when she's asleep. Most of the time,' Stella said hopefully. It drew a raised eyebrow from Mac. 'All right, so maybe her angel wings will inspire good behaviour.' Ever optimistic, Stella gave Mac an expectant look; his eyebrow rose even higher. Holly herself, delving into a small wooden treasure chest, remained oblivious to the conversation.

The giver of the chest, Flack, had thoughtfully filled it with things he considered appealing and useful to the four year old: candies in various gruesome shapes; gold coins and gems made realistically of plastic; even more realistic plastic bugs; stickers; glitter; fake blood; tiny bottles of coloured shower gels, perfect for potions; and, to Stella's disgust, a large and woolly toy spider.

'Flack and I are going to have a little chat next time I see him – I banned him from giving her that for Halloween,' she grumbled to Mac. 'And why you had to christen it 'Charlotte', I don't know.'

Mac smirked. 'There's no better name for a spider.'

'Oh, I can think of plenty better names,' she muttered, but he only smirked all the more, leaving Stella shuddering as she foresaw all the places to which the spider would find its way, with Holly's assistance.

Trying to put that thought out of her mind, she wrapped her arms round her knees while Mac began to gather up some of the wrapping debris. 'Don has too much insight into the likes of a small child,' she observed, scrunching up paper. 'No wonder he and Holly get along so well,' she added, thinking of Holly's look of glee as she opened Flack's gift, and imagining that Flack had likely had a similar look as he wrapped the items.

Mac's grin was broad. 'When Don has kids of his own, you can find a way to make this bite him in the ass.'

'I intend to,' she said, letting Mac's choice of word slide as Holly was too enrapt with her gifts to overhear. 'Already planning it in fact.'

'Someone ought to warn him,' Mac said, deadpan, adding in a hurry as Stella's look scorched him. 'But that someone won't be me.'

Stella smiled, smoothly. 'Good choice.'

Even after lunch and an energetic morning, Holly showed no signs of flagging; unlike her parents. By mutual decision, Stella and Mac decided their traditional Christmas walk was due, which would also be a chance for Holly to play in the snow that had been tumbling since last night. Holly was enthusiastic, so they bundled her into her scarf, hat, boots, coat, and wings.

'If anyone asks, we had nothing to do with her choice of clothes,' Stella murmured to Mac as she frowned at the clothing combination.

'If anyone asks, we tell them our daughter has her own style and to mind their own business,' he retorted and she stared before her face relaxed into a grin.

'You got it.'

Catching Holly up and kissing the top of her head, Stella suggested, 'So what do you say we go over to midtown and St Patrick's this year? We could go see the Nativity.'

The idea met with approval from both Mac and Holly, so after putting their own coats on and gathering up their essentials, they left the house. And returned immediately for Holly's forgotten 'kit' - a metal lunchbox which was her version of her parents' kits - filled with candy and other necessities.

Had Stella's parental instinct not kicked in as they left the front door for the second time, and caused her to grab Holly, the little girl would have hurled herself down the steps and onto the snowy street.

'Woo! Snow, snow!' she shrieked jumping up and down as if her short legs were on springs.

Stella grinned at Mac.

'Remember being this enthusiastic about snow?'

'Who says I'm not now?' he demanded and swept Holly into his arms, swooping her over the piled up snow, accompanying her flight with aeroplane sounds, to her huge delight.

Stella giggled, enjoying the spectacle of her dignified husband, usually every inch the head of the New York Crime Lab, having as much - and possibly even more - fun in the snow as his four year old daughter. When they turned to making snowballs, she had to join in herself, teaming up with Holly after yelling 'girls against guys!'

Screeching, laughing, darting about, dodging other pedestrians, the battle commenced. Outnumbered, Mac was soon outgunned, and then demanded Holly be his partner in the next round. By the time they came in sight of the subway station, all three were hot, tired and glistening with pearls of melting snow in their hair and on their clothes.

The ride on the subway gave them a chance to catch their breath, in between preventing Holly from running up and down the carriage. But once off the subway, the sight of more snow along 5th Avenue was too hard to resist and the snow fight, and flights, began again, although with consideration for the crowds of people.

'I got to sit down,' Mac muttered to Stella as, spattered with snow, they reached the steps to the vast cathedral doors.

'I hear you,' she said with feeling. Untroubled, Holly skipped and jumped, swinging her kit, trying to demand more flights from Mac. Mac refused; Holly wheedled; Mac refused even more firmly.

Entering the building, their attempts to hush Holly were not a success, leading to a new appreciation of the building's acoustics. But even Holly was muted as the glorious Christmas decorations came into view. Clutching her parents' hands, she gazed round in open-mouthed awe, almost stumbling, entranced with the wondrous things around her.

Although she had seen it herself many times, the beauty of the interior, especially at this time of year, always caught Stella's breath. They all walked slowly, gazing up and round at the soaring roof buttresses, imposing columns and the stained glass – alive and dazzling with the winter sun tumbling through them.

Slipping her hand into Mac's, Stella sighed in deep contentment. 'There really is nothing like Christmas in New York.'

Mac smiled and pressed her fingers. 'There really isn't.'

And one of the highlights of Christmas in New York was St Patrick's large-scale Nativity scene. They had last visited on Holly's first Christmas, when she was only six months old, and Stella felt a tingle of anticipation at what her daughter's reaction would be to seeing it now. A glance at Mac showed that he was just as eager.

'Is it as big as me?' Holly asked with wide eyes after Mac explained that the Nativity was a bit like the one at grandma's house, only much bigger.

Mac squinted, pretending to judge her height. 'Hmm, maybe even bigger than you…'

'Oooh!' Holly looked thrilled and stared about her even more excitedly, trying to catch a glimpse of the Christmas crèche through the milling crowd. They wove their way through, slipping along the pews, and reached the gathering round the crèche.

Gradually, they moved closer as people moved on and Mac relented to Holly's complaints that she couldn't see and swung her up onto his shoulders.

Another 'Ooh!' broke from the little girl and she clasped her hands in front of her, almost braining Mac with her kit, until Stella plucked it from her. As soon as they were near enough, Mac set her down and both holding her hands, they stepped forward.

Holly's mouth formed an 'O' of wonder as she crept forward as close as she could and stared at the figures.

'Mommy! Look! There's a baby, and animals, and a dog!' Squiggling with delight, she gripped the low barrier and leaned forward, straining to see everything, including the famous Lexington the dog among the animals. A barrage of questions followed, and Stella and Mac did the best they could to answer, feeling relief when the cathedral's Monseigneur greeted them, and thoughtfully and seriously answered all Holly's questions.

'My pleasure,' he said in response to Stella's heartfelt thanks. 'One more thing,' he added, addressing Holly again as he crouched down beside her. 'If you look carefully, under the baby's manger, you might see the smallest creature of all in our Nativity. Can you see?'

Along with Mac, Stella found herself looking as hard as their daughter, spotting the tiny animal just as Holly squealed, 'A mouse! Mommy, daddy, look! Baby Jesus got a mouse!'

Tucked under the plaster manger, out of sight of the other figures, was a perfectly carved mouse, its nose peeping out, visible to only the most observant.

Holly stood, transfixed: staring with enchanted eyes at the tiny creature, everything else forgotten. The Monseigneur bid them a smiling goodbye, but Holly's attention remained captured. Aware of the press of people behind them, Stella and Mac persuaded Holly to come away, only after promising that they could see the mouse again before they left.

As they moved on, Holly turned to her parents, an appeal in her big blue eyes.

'Mommy…'

Being familiar with that tone, Stella was instantly on alert.

'Yes, sweetie?'

'I really, really like the mouse, mommy.' Holly gazed at both her parents with huge eyes. 'He's super cute.'

'He sure is,' Stella agreed, waiting for what was coming next.

Clutching her kit, Holly twisted from side to side.

'Mommy, do you think he'd like to live with us?'

Stella glanced at Mac before answering Holly gently. 'No, sweetie, I don't think he would. He lives here.'

'But mommy, he could live with me, in my kit and come to pre-school and sleep in my bed.' This was said with an expression that suggested how simple and obvious this was.

Stella shook her head. 'No, honey. He can't do that.'

'But why, mommy? I like him and I want him,' Holly said, as if that was the end of it. Another glance at Mac showed Stella that he was having the same thoughts as she was about saying 'no' to Holly more often. What had they been saying earlier about things coming back to bite them in the ass?

'Honey, you can't have…,' Mac began.

'Hey, Taylors!' a bombastic voice boomed from across the nave before Mac could finish. Several people in the vicinity jumped. The figure in the distance waved and ploughed towards them.

'Is that?'

'Yes, it is,' Mac replied, giving an answering wave.

Stella gave him a wry look. 'If we stop and talk, are you prepared for the fact we might be here until matins tomorrow?'

As people parted to let the striding figure through, Mac turned to Stella with a grin. 'I don't think we have a choice now.'

'I guess it could be worse, imagine if we'd run into Sinclair,' Stella said in a low voice after Mac sent a pointed glance towards Holly – they had learned the hard way that Holly's ears missed very little, and that she had equally little discretion.

The indiscreet one tugged at Stella's sleeve. 'Mommy, can we go see the mouse again?'

'Soon, sweetie,' Stella said smiling down at her. 'Daddy and I are going to talk for a couple minutes to a friend, then we can visit the mouse again.'

Holly sighed just as the hail of, 'Detective Taylor and Detective Taylor! Two for the price of one!' announced the arrival of all 6 foot 2 inches (height and almost girth) of Larry Prince, the Mayor's chief of staff.

'Well, this is a real nice surprise. A merry Christmas to ya, Taylors.' Beaming, Larry held out a meaty hand.

'Larry,' Mac acknowledged, shaking the proffered hand. 'Merry Christmas to you, too.'

Stella followed suit. Holly simply stared at Larry, even as he crouched down as much as his bulky figure would allow and held out his hand to her. 'And you must be the celebrated Miss Taylor. I've heard a lot about you.' He grinned at Stella and Mac, who smiled back weakly.

'Who are you?' Holly folded her arms in front of her. Stella smothered a giggle as she explained to her daughter who the man was and that it was okay to shake his hand.

'Pleased to meet you, I'm Holly,' she reeled off, giving Larry's hand a vigorous shake.

'Pleasure to meet you, too, Holly. And how old are you, sugar?'

'I'm four.' Again, Holly held up her fingers, so there could be no mistake about her age. 'How old are you?'

Mac cleared his throat loudly while Stella, mortified, did her best to tell Holly that it was not polite to ask that of a grown-up.

Fortunately, Larry was tickled by it and beamed down at Holly. 'Well, sugar, I'm 56, which is a whole lot of years older than you.'

Holly's eyes were big. 'That's even more older than my daddy, and he's lots and lots of years old.'

Stella had to bite the inside of her lip while avoiding Mac's eyes.

'Oh, she's a keeper,' Larry chuckled after a bellowing laugh to which Mac mumbled something, wincing. 'Now listen, I'm real glad I saw you two,' Larry continued heaving himself upright and rubbing his hands together. 'Not that it isn't always a pleasure to see you, of course, but I got some information you might be interested in, too. Now, while I appreciate it's the holidays and you got your little angel with you, I got to tell you a bit about it. Won't hold you up for long…'

Which was a claim Stella did not believe, in the same way that Larry Prince did not believe in short conversations.

As Larry talked, Holly plucked her kit from Stella's hand and unlatched it, bringing out Bear. After a few minutes of making Bear dance, Holly plopped onto the ground by Stella's feet and continued to entertain herself. Allowing it, even though she usually would not due to the cold floor and knowing better than most what might have been walked onto that floor, Stella let her stay.

'Only a couple minutes and then we'll go do some more exploring,' she told Holly, who nodded, apparently very busy dressing Bear in his superhero outfit.

A moment later, Holly tugged on Stella's coat, continued to do so every couple of minutes to show her something and then seemed content to play by herself. Stella mentally promised her daughter a treat when they got home and turned her attention back to the conversation.

After a while, with Larry and Mac expounding on the subject of the Mayor's New Year fundraising ball at Gracie Mansion, both involved in and enjoying the conversation, Stella decided to excuse herself and take Holly back to the mouse again. Their daughter had been very good for a while and Stella did not want to push their luck. Now she thought about it, Holly was being almost too good and quiet…

Suddenly suspicious, Stella glanced down.

And found Holly no longer there.


Uh oh...

Sorry, couldn't help myself ;) Let me know what you think! Reviews loved and welcomed :D Lily x