NOTE: Some folks are telling me they're not getting e-mail alerts when my stories update. I see a notification from the site that says "Email Alerts are now only active if Email Opt-in is enabled in account settings" — so you may just need to select "Yes" again for the Email Opt-In question inside your personal account settings. :) And unfortunately, "Yes" has to be re-selected every 6 months from now on or it automatically resets to "No" at that time.

Hello, my dear friends! I'm so delighted to present you with this Christmas story featuring a happy and married Nathan & Elizabeth. It's been tucked away in my heart for awhile and I'm finally putting it "on paper."

Welcome to this alt!timeline/alt!canon story set in the year 1916, placed within a universe where N&E—having been joined in matrimony in 1901—have now been married for 15 years. Many of the established pairings (or soon-to-be pairings) I feature in my ongoing stories "From Flame and Ash" and "Neither Diamond Sunbursts or Marble Halls" will be present in this story in later chapters. They likewise will be long-married with children. (Those two stories had more or less been put on hold as I was working hard to get this story ready to publish leading up to Christmas, but I have not abandoned them and will be returning to updating them soon. Thank you to my patient readers; you are real troopers! *hugs*) Some details in this story will match with the canon I'm creating for those two stories—and some will not. ;)

I really wanted to visit a Christmastime universe with N&E, one more or less around the turn of the 20th century. I also wanted to change up the norm; set it (primarily) in a bustling, vibrant city with a multitude of Christmas traditions of its own. I've long had the idea in my head of Allie becoming a reporter/journalist, and I always saw her doing that in New York City. The world of NYC newspapers was a tumultuous, happening place in the early 1900's, but I'm not going to delve too deeply into that here as this is a feel good, cozy Christmas piece. Maybe in another story of future-Allie? ;)

Anyway, I'm so glad to finally be sharing this story with you all and I hope you enjoy this version of #FutureNathanAndElizabeth as much as I'm loving writing it! I'm grateful to you all for your support and readership.

Please give it a Favorite and a Follow if you're so inclined, and I hope you'll join us on this Nathan & Elizabeth Christmas journey. I'm a little rusty with publishing stories (it's been awhile) and I found myself getting a flutter of nerves before I hit "Publish", lol! Without further ado, here is. . . "Snowflakes Over Manhattan."

~Paths Through Lavender Fields

— Chapter 1 —

Arrival: A Christmastide Metropolis

New York City

GETTING RUN OVER by a loud, smoky automobile was not on Elizabeth's list of things to experience on her first day in New York City — but it nearly happened despite that.

She blamed it on the distracting vendor loudly hawking his roasted chestnuts on the corner — the enticing aroma of nutty goodness meeting her nose as she stepped out of the imposing stone train-station — and on the hiss and squeal of steam engines behind her which gradually faded, becoming one with the torrent of noise and activity that greeted her on the sidewalk.

She blamed it on the distraction of the red ribbon-festooned Christmas wreaths of evergreen and pine-cones that hung from every streetlamp post lining the tumultuous road; on the sheer bustle and flood of humanity teaming around her, nearly sweeping her off the icy curb and into the cobblestone street, where her stylish fur-lined boots — purchased exclusively for this trip — were first nearly run over by the narrow rubber tires of a bicycle, then nearly crushed by the wider tires of the automobile which seemed to be following on the heels of the bicycle much too closely for safety.

The teenage boy on the bicycle unrepentantly gave her a cheeky grin as he zoomed by and the suit-clad motorist hollered at her to watch where she was going as he maneuvered through motorcars, horse-drawn carriages, and merchant's carts pulled by mules.

A warm arm snaked around her waist from behind, pulling her back to safety.

"Careful," a low voice said above her head, then dipped to the tip of her ear and rumbled softly, "I'd hate to have to find another wife so soon after arrival." Warm breath ghosted across her cheek.

She turned her head and, still catching her breath from the close motorcar encounter, found a strong jaw filling her vision, a jaw whose clean-shaven line she pressed her lips against in a swift, discreet kiss.

"I'd hate that too," she breathed. His skin, where the scent of wild air still clung despite their long train journey, was warm. "Just imagine how hard she would be to replace."

At her playful tease, the little growl of mock opposition that he hid in the loosely-gathered strands of her low chignon curved her lips in a smile that was as wide as the miles that now lay behind them. His cheekbone nudged against the base of her pert traveling hat, angled on her head like a cream-and-black butterfly.

"I can see Allie's headline in tomorrow's Post now." He raised his head and kept playing along with their little charade, the lingering echo of his growl dissipating. "DEATH BY AUTOMOBILE: Famed Frontier Town Canadian Authoress Struck Down First Day in NYC."

"Oh, hush!" Turning around to the chest that so often served as her bulwark in the storms of life, she playfully pretended to slap its wide expanse, but her hands were light, the glow in her eyes radiating up into his. "There's nothing famed about me." Her gaze slipped down to his shoulder. "And don't you think we should pay more attention to this precious bundle than to me?" she tried to redirect his attention.

"Madam," he said gravely, eyes cerulean in the crisp winter light, breath puffing warmly in the nippy air, "as long as I draw breath, neither of you two ladies are or ever will be far from my thoughts."

She wanted to wrap her arms around his neck and tell him just how weak-kneed it made her when he said things like that but cognizant of their very public setting, she settled for touching her glove-encased fingertips to his cheek, lingeringly.

Fifteen years of marriage and three children with this man, and she still didn't think she would ever get used to the passionate tenderness with which he loved his children—and her.

Against his shoulder, the second female he had referenced lay motionless under her father's leather-gloved hand, splayed wide across her tiny back and neck, securing her dozing form to his warmth. Her two-month-old limbs were swaddled to within an inch of their life under a thick, double-sided throw of pristine white fur. One rosy cheek, curving up into her resting sweep of long lashes, peeked out from under the edge of one of several blankets Elizabeth had wrapped her in underneath the fur. A knitted woolly cap of deep rose ran low across her forehead, and rosebud lips lay slack in a perfect bow.

"Do you think she's warm enough?" Elizabeth murmured with an anxious look, pressing the plush fur more closely around the tiny body. It had been so many years since their other two children had been born that it sometimes felt like she was doing this—motherhood, worrying—for the very first, nerve-wracking time; as though she hadn't done this twice before.

Nathan kissed the tip of her chilled nose. "If she gets any warmer, she's going to melt into me, Mrs. Grant." His breath feathered across her face and his eyes were very teasing.

"Ohhhh, Nathan Grant!" She pushed against him in mock protest, huffing, but he only chuckled and pulled her even closer. Flush beside him, she blushed and protestingly wriggled against his immovable strength. He relented, kissing her hair in wordless apology and loosening his one-armed grasp around her trim waist.

She tugged at his coat to straighten it, then pretended to fuss over his scarf. In reality, she was admiring the way the crisp, woolen lines of the midnight-blue coat showcased his masculine form and the way the blue of the scarf made his eyes brilliant between thick fringes of inky lashes.

The years hadn't dulled his appeal. He was as manly and striking as the day she married him a decade and a half ago in that little stone church—

"Uncle Nathan! Aunt Elizabeth!"

Elizabeth spun, clutching Nathan's arm for support as the patch of packed snow under her soles proved slipperier than she anticipated.

"Allie!" she cried with joy, tugging Nathan forward in her haste to hurry toward the lithe young woman skirting around groups of gawking tourists as she rushed down the snowy sidewalk to them, her fashionably long coat blowing wide around her.

Allie threw her arms around them with an exuberant laugh. "Oh, I'm so happy to see you two! It's been far too long; Easter seems an age ago!"

"It was an age ago." Nathan smiled down at Allie, a loving arm around her.

She ducked from under his arm with an affectionate laugh and peered over at Elizabeth. "Indeed it was! You were still out to here"—she demonstrated, rounding her hands in front of her belly while Elizabeth shook her head, a fresh blush heating her face—"when I saw you then." Her hands lifted toward the bundle on Nathan's shoulder, her whole demeanor changing in a blink. "Oh!" she gasped with hushed delight. "Is this my new sister?! I've been so longing to meet her."

Elizabeth stood on tiptoe and pushed back the hood that the blankets and fur had formed around the heart-shaped face of her youngest daughter, giving Allie a quick peek before covering the baby's face again.

Nathan shifted, gently transferring the baby into Allie's waiting arms, then curved an arm around Elizabeth, forming a band of warmth that draped from shoulder to waist, where his fingers curled with familiar intimacy against the fibers of her sleek, pearly-cream coat. Contentedly, Elizabeth snuggled deeper into the thick muffler of black fur around her neck.

Allie touched the sleeping eyelids, the button nose with something approaching awe. "Welcome to the world, Holly Elspeth Grant," she whispered and kissed the sliver of skin exposed on the infant's forehead. When she looked up, her eyes were glistening. "You've given us such a beautiful family, Aunt Elizabeth. I always wanted siblings, now I have three. Thank you."

The broken quiver of sincerity in her voice made Elizabeth's eyes sting with sudden tears. "You don't mind that it's another girl?"

"Mind?" Allie echoed incredulously. "Aunt Elizabeth, I'm beyond happy with my three sisters. This world needs more Grant women. We Grant girls proved too tough an act for any boy to follow, and God in His wisdom knew it."

"Maybe so." Choked with emotion, Elizabeth swiped a finger under her eye, feeling Nathan's hand begin to stroke her back, silently offering comfort and love. "And God also knew our three younger girls needed a pioneering, whip-smart big sister to forge a path ahead, so He sent you to us in advance."

Orphaned niece by blood, daughter by love and adoption, Allie had been a precocious six-year old longing for a mother in her life when Elizabeth had married Nathan and become just that to his niece—the little girl she swiftly grew to love as tenderly as though she had given birth to her.

Elizabeth gave a watery laugh as both her eyes and Allie's were turned back to the lone male of their little group. Nathan was already reaching for his youngest daughter over Allie's laughing protest.

Since the instant Holly had been born, she was rarely to be found out of her father's arms, and even less frequently, out of his sight.

Her addition to their family had been so long awaited, so prayerfully beseeched, that when after ten years of barren waiting, her arrival had finally, finally come, it was as though he were afraid he might miss even a single moment with her.

Elizabeth didn't mind. At all. Her insides melted within her in piercing adoration when she watched him with any of their children, but Nathan with his babies was enough to turn knees and rational thought to mush. If Nathan was reluctant put Holly down, well, she had a solution that she was quite happy with: she simply held them both, wrapping fierce arms around them—something which, often times, led to her husband's sweet affections, an outcome Elizabeth Grant delighted in.

"I'm sorry that I couldn't make it to her baptism." Allie's eyes were troubled, mournful lines drooping her mouth. "But Mr. MacCord—" she broke off, mouth briefly tightening, before shaking her head as if to clear it. Her smile seemed forced. "World's worst boss," she pronounced tersely over the sound of the traveling carolers who were skirting around them, singing "Joy To The World" without a break in the notes despite the crowded atmosphere.

The two groups exchanged smiles, but Elizabeth could see how closely Nathan returned to watching Allie's facial expressions and body language. He had left the Mounties years ago, but some things never changed. Keen observation being one of them.

Allie had been close-mouthed but tart about her boss for as long as she'd had her job at the Post. What little they had managed to get out of her was that he was unreasonable, stern, and—Allie was convinced—had singled her out as the object of his special disapproval. Nothing she did was ever right, he found fault with everything, gave her the worst assignments—and all this despite only being a few years older than her own twenty-one years.

"We understand," Nathan was calm, even as his gaze continued to assess Allie. "It's a long journey and taking ten days off work for the train ride alone is bound to present difficulties for many an employer."

Allie's eyes turned stormy. "It didn't seem to be a problem for him when he wanted to go home to Scotland to visit his family."

"Earned perks of seniority?" Elizabeth suggested softly. She knew Allie's boss had been with the paper for several years now, whereas Allie was much newer than that. And Allie had taken two weeks off at Easter to come and visit them. Two long vacations in one year was probably already pushing the limits for an employee that was still low on the totem pole of seniority.

Allie took a breath and fastened a smile on her face. "Let's not waste another minute talking about that man. I've missed you all so much and we've so many other enjoyable topics to catch up on instead."

"Let's do that later." Nathan adjusted Holly on his shoulder with gentle hands, and slid a smile at Allie. "How about we catch you up on all the news over dinner tonight, when we can talk comfortably?"

Above her neck scarf, Allie's face softened. The gray-and-burgundy plaid of the scarf set off the light-brown, almost topaz of her eyes and and the honeyed-soft tones of her brunette hair, twisted now in a careless knot at the nape of her neck. Elizabeth was half-surprised there was no pencil haphazardly anchoring the bun as had been her custom before she left home.

"Good idea. Let me take you on a walking tour for a few blocks if that's alright with you, Uncle Nathan" — she eyed the small trunk, femininely detailed valise, and larger, masculine traveling bag that rested on the sidewalk behind them — "and then we can catch a hansom cab to my apartment, so as to keep Holly warm and spare your legs. I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to finally have you here! I can't wait to show you everything, and for you to see my apartment, though I warn you, it's not opulent and I was lucky to get it. Real estate is dear here and comes at an even dearer cost."

Privately, Elizabeth thought Allie's scarf had a vaguely . . . masculine . . . look to it, and she began to wonder. Allie bubbled over with happenings and information whenever she spoke with them on the telephone, but Elizabeth was unaware of her ever having even hinted at a relationship with a man that could have resulted in a borrowed scarf. Filing the perplexity away, she linked her arm through Allie's.

"Allie," she assured warmly, "we're so happy to be with you, we'd happily sleep on the floor, and as for excitement, coming here is all we've been able to speak of for weeks! Samantha and Leah hated not to be able to come with us, but perhaps when the weather is warmer we can come again—all the Grants together for a New York City reunion."

"That would be a dream." Allie squeezed Elizabeth's arm against her side, fallen tendrils of hair brushing her cheek, rounded in a beaming smile and pink with health. "But in the interim, I'll see them for Christmas when I go back with you. How are the girls? I miss them so."

"And they you." Elizabeth kissed her cheek. "That's from them, by the way. They made me promise. And they're wonderful, to answer your question; always missing their big sister and growing up faster than we would prefer, but they're over the moon at being able to spend time with the Tremblay girls while we're gone. You know Lillian and Sam are their favorite babysitters, although Astrid and Gabe are a very close second on that list."

Allie's lips parted in a girlish giggle that brought joy to Elizabeth's heart. She loved seeing how alive Allie was. "I remember that vividly, although I suspect they'd have a conniption fit at the term babysitters being used in relation to them. Last I heard, they thought they were entirely too old for such things."

"They still do." Nathan's chuckle warmed the air around them.

"Funny how their favorite babysitters are all in Brookfield."

"Who would have thought?" Elizabeth smiled reminiscently. "But never fear, they love their Hope Valley babysitters to death as well, and there's no shortage of happy volunteers for the task there, that is for sure."

"Don't I know it!" Allie's twinkling side-eye spoke volumes. "It was hard to get a weekend with them where they were actually at home that last year I was there. They're beyond doted on by the whole town."

"We've been very blessed." Nathan bent down to kiss Allie's forehead meaningfully. "In more ways than one, my first girl."

With tears welling up at his old term for her, Allie just leaned her head against him for a long moment. Sniffling, she finally stepped back, lifting her head up with a brave smile though her eyes were still filled with emotion. "Look at me—turning into a watering pot! And here I was supposed to be showing you the city." She spun around, the plaid scarf trailing around her as she threw her arms wide, her whole face lighting up again. "Come! Come see my city!"

And, with the smell of chestnuts and fresh pine and winter's crisp all around them, they did.

In the distance, fainter now, Christmas carols still resounded over and above the busyness of the street, soaring up past the tall buildings that surrounded them to raise notes of the Savior's Birth into the white, laden-with-snow winter sky above.


P.S. A note about Baby Holly's middle name — Elspeth is the Scottish form of Elizabeth, which means "my God is my oath" in Hebrew. But this version of the name doesn't sound as serious and is instead a little more playful. I thought it was perfect for Baby Holly. I toyed with the idea of using Lilibet or Lisbet instead (also derivatives of Elizabeth), but in the end went with Elspeth. ;-)