With Christmas on the way, I've been itching to write a Downton Abbey Christmas story for quite some time now, particularly one about Violet and her husband, Patrick. Inspiration struck one night while I was going through some Christmas music, in the form of Amy Grant's "Baby, It's Christmas." The song is about a husband and wife who have Christmas Eve to themselves after the kids have gone to bed... and thus formed in my head an idea of Patrick and Violet spending Christmas together after Robert and Rosamund were fast asleep.

Side note: I've always pictured the awesome Michael Caine as Patrick Crawley for a few reasons. First, I see Patrick as a man with a rather sly sense of humor, a "jolly old Alfie," as Michael Caine once described himself - he'd have to be to be married to Violet. Second, Michael and Maggie Smith were so amazing together as an on-screen couple that I can't see anyone else in the role. So, Michael is my Patrick, and I've tried my best to hear his voice while writing his lines in this story.

This story is dedicated to my dear friend Lala Kate, whose Downton stories continue to be an inspiration to me and to many, many others who have likewise been blessed by her talent. Love you, girl, and Merry Christmas to all!


Christmas Eve, 1879

"And I heard him exclaim, 'ere he drove out of sight, 'Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!'"

"Again, Papa, again!"

Patrick Crawley, Earl of Grantham, chuckled heartily as a mop of red curls bobbed near his knee and two little hands tugged at his trouser leg. "Again? I've read it three times already, you little imp!" he said, scooping his eight-year-old daughter up into his lap, where she proceeded to pull the reading glasses from his face and place them on her own.

Rosamund, her big blue eyes magnified by the lenses, grinned at him in that impossible way, the way that said she had her papa wrapped around her little finger. "So read it a fourth time, Papa."

Patrick barked another laugh and reclaimed his glasses, ruffling his daughter's hair. "You sound just like your mama, little one, you know it? She thinks she can get me to do whatever she wants with one look; what makes you think you can do the same thing?"

"Because I love you," Rosamund said, throwing her arms around her father's neck. "Please, Papa, one more time!"

"Rosamund, we've got to get to bed! Father Christmas won't come and bring you that dress if you beg Papa for another story."

The serious little voice from the floor snapped Rosamund to attention better than a sergeant's command, and Patrick beamed with pride at his son and heir. Robert may have been a mere boy of nine, but already he was showing signs of the viscount he was and the earl he would be many years down the road. And despite the sleepiness creeping over his face, he was fixing his sister with a very pointed stare, his chin raised in an imitation of his father – or his mother, given that that was her chin he'd inherited.

"Oh, Robbie, you can't make me go to bed!" Rosamund sassed her brother, having quickly regained her wits. "Only Papa can."

"So can I, young lady, or did you forget that easily?"

At the sound of the unmistakable voice, Rosamund jumped off her father's lap and Robert stood taller, and Patrick turned twinkling eyes to the nursery doorway until they came to rest upon his countess. Violet stood on the threshold, her arms folded as she regarded her husband and children, one of whom came trotting over to try the wheedling game again. "Oh, Mama," Rosamund began, hugging her mother's legs through the silk skirts of her gown, "Can't Papa read us one more story before we go to bed? Please? We'll go right to sleep, I promise!"

Violet reached down and, tucking a hand under Rosamund's chin, tilted upward the little face that was already the very image of her own. "Enough," she said, firmly but gently. "Your father has read it to you three times, and that is quite enough for anyone. If you beg him to read any more, Father Christmas is going to fly over this house and not leave you a single present."

"Mama…" Rosamund whined, her eyes pleading, but Violet didn't fall for it. "To bed, Rosamund Victoria," she ordered, ushering her reluctant daughter out of the nursery and down the corridor.

Patrick laughed yet again as he eased himself out of the chair. "Come on, my boy," he said to Robert, "it's high time you were in bed too."

Unlike his sister, Robert was only too eager to obey. He followed his father down the corridor to his bedroom, and as they passed Rosamund's room, they could hear her piping voice pelting Violet with questions. "Mama, is it going to snow tonight? Will Father Christmas really come down the chimney? Did Carson put out carrots for the reindeer?"

"Yes, yes, yes," came Violet's reply. "Enough questions. Go to sleep, you impossible child."

"Oh, Mama…"

Patrick laughed on the inside. These little mother-daughter arguments were only a hint of what was sure to come, he was certain. As he looked down at his son, he wondered if they, too, would one day cross the proverbial swords someday. Ah well, it didn't matter. For now, he was happy. Happy and blessed to have a gentle son, a vivacious daughter, a beautiful wife, and so much more, for which he gave thanks to God above. The earl and viscount continued on in silence until they reached Robert's room – and only then did the boy speak.

"Papa," Robert prompted as he climbed up into his bed, "what are you and Mama going to do when we're asleep?"

Inquisitive little lad, Patrick thought to himself. He hadn't given a thought to what he and Violet were going to do aside from have one last cup of tea together and go to sleep, but now, just a few innocent words from his son gave him a wonderful idea…

"Why are you laughing, Papa?" Robert asked, his brow furrowed in confusion as his father began to chortle.

Patrick shook his head. "No reason, Robert. No reason except that you're a genius." He pulled the duvet up to his son's chin. "What are we going to do? Well… I think we'll stay up for a little while and listen for sleigh bells." When that answer won him a satisfied smile, he kissed Robert on the forehead. "Good night, my son."

"Good night, Papa… and Happy Christmas."

Patrick smiled tenderly at his heir before backing out of the room and closing the door with a soft click. A sigh of relief whooshed behind him, and he turned around to behold his wife pressing a hand to her forehead. "Finally got Sleeping Beauty to bed, did you?"

Violet's next sigh was a longsuffering one. "Patrick, that child is going to drive me absolutely mad. All her questions and pestering."

"If you think it's bad now, just wait until she's a teenager in the bloom of womanhood. She'll be arguing with you over new fashions and young men, and pestering to borrow your jewels and cosmetics for every cotillion that arises on the London social calendar."

Violet groaned. "I dread the day that begins. She's saucy enough as it is; I've no idea where she gets that mouth of hers."

Patrick grinned. "Have you tried looking in the mirror?"

"Oh!" Violet exclaimed as she elbowed her husband in the ribs. "Laugh it up, Patrick Crawley. You would be bored out of your wits if you had married some quiet little mouse who always says 'Yes, dear,' and you know it."

"Actually, I wouldn't know. You've never let me try it for one day to see if I'd like it." He grunted as another slap landed on his shoulder.

"You wouldn't dare." Violet's eyes were glittering, challenging him. "You love my big mouth, admit it."

They had been walking along the corridor as they conversed, but now Patrick stopped and took Violet by the arm, halting her so that she looked up at him with those extraordinary eyes of hers. "Of course I love your mouth," he said softly, dropping a kiss on her lips. "I also love your cheek…" He brushed his lips against her cheekbone. "Ears…" Kiss. "Neck…" Kiss. "And every last inch of you." He moved back upward to claim her mouth in a deep kiss, his hands circling her slender waist and drawing her close until they were locked in a warm embrace, kisses deepening and mouths exploring. Never breaking their liplock, Patrick walked them both the short distance to their bedroom and inside, shutting the door firmly behind them. The second the latch clicked, he walked Violet backward until her legs came up against the bed. With one gentle push, he brought them both down onto the mattress, hands caressing her hips while hers roamed over his back.

"Patrick…" she sighed, her head falling back to expose her throat.

"Oh, Violet," he moaned, trailing his lips over the creamy skin of her neck.

"Darling…"

"Yes?"

"We can't."

The two little words hit him like a blow from a sledgehammer. Patrick, who had frozen mid-kiss on Violet's neck, pulled himself away until he was sitting upright on their bed – their marriage bed, he was tempted to remind her. "We can't?" he repeated stiffly, watching his wife as she sat up and smoothed the folds of her amethyst-colored frock.

"We can't," Violet said again, as though there were something terribly wrong – which there wasn't, as far as Patrick was concerned.

"Am I missing something?" the earl asked, his deep blue eyes boring into the brilliant azure of his wife's. "IF this is one of those not here situations, you haven't one excuse. We are in the privacy of our own bedroom, on our own bed – our marriage bed, where we have conceived two children, fallen asleep in each other's arms, and made love too many times to count!"

"Patrick, please!" Violet hissed, her eyes darting to the door as if expecting someone to come bursting in or giggle from the other side at any moment. "Keep your voice down; what if one of the servants is in the corridor? Do you want them to know what we do in here besides sleep?"

"Violet, we have two children. Unless the servants insist on believing in the stork, I think they're very aware of what we do in here," Patrick retorted dryly, unable to keep from smiling.

Violet's face flushed. "Patrick Crawley, don't you dare laugh at me! We are the Earl and Countess of Grantham, for goodness' sake! We have a sense of propriety to maintain!"

"Propriety doesn't matter behind closed doors," Patrick chuckled. "Unless you want me to ask permission before we go to bed. 'Violet, my darling, may I please make love to you?'"

Violet tossed her head. "I never wanted you to ask, and after hearing how utterly ridiculous that sounds, now I know why." She shot him a look through narrowed eyes. "This isn't about a where, it's about a when."

"A when? Would you care to enlighten me?"

"We cannot make love on Christmas Eve!"

Patrick sat shell-shocked for a good ten seconds before he threw his head back and roared with laughter, loud and strong.

"Shh!" Violet shushed violently, clamping a hand over his mouth. Unfortunately, it did very little to muffle her husband's braying. "I told you not to laugh at me! Don't you ever listen?"

"To you? Not when you're acting all uptight, I don't," Patrick said, his shoulders still heaving with laughter.

"I am not uptight!"

"Yes, you are. Do you even realize how absurd you sounded? Why, pray tell, can't we make love on Christmas Eve?"

Violet stared at him as though he had just spoken blasphemy. "Patrick, it is a sacred holiday! This is the night that Christ was born; I'd hardly call being wrapped up naked in silk sheets a good way to celebrate His birth!"

"Be careful. The servants might hear you," Patrick teased, delighted to throw her own words back at her.

"Oh, don't joke!"

"Violet." Patrick sidled up beside her and slipped an arm around her shoulders. "God intended intimacy to be a gift, one to be enjoyed in a marriage, any time and any day. And when I say God, I mean the Father, the Holy Ghost, and the Son whose birthday we'll celebrate tomorrow. It's a holy night, yes, but it's also a romantic night if one will let it be so."

Violet's mouth turned upward ever so slightly. "Really?"

"Really. Don't you remember the Scripture? 'Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.'"

"'And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed,'" Violet finished softly, her voice tender with longing, although a blush colored her cheeks when she dared sneak a glance at her smiling husband.

"See? It's nothing to be ashamed of, no matter what day it is." Patrick slid the hand the held her shoulder up to her hair, where he began removing the pins that held her elaborate bun. "So, my love… it's a peaceful Christmas Eve… the children are finally asleep… and we've got the whole night to spend together. What do you say?"

"I say…" Violet tilted her head back so that her mane of red hair tumbled down like a waterfall of flame. "You are arrogant and presumptuous, and you ought to beg for the pleasure of my company."

Patrick's voice was a husky whisper. "I never beg. I persuade – and you know how good I am at that." He sank his fingers deep into her thick hair and combed them through the long waves, all while planting teasing kisses along her temple and cheek. "You are the most beautiful…" His lips trailed her jawline. "Exquisite…" He kissed a trail along her chin and up her other cheek, "and ravishing creature that God ever made. I thank Him daily for you, and even more so this time of the year. He sent us the gift of His Son, and He sent me the gift of you." Patrick took his wife's hand in his and looked her in her eyes, the huge blue eyes he loved and woke up to every morning. "I love you, Violet Alexandra, with all of my soul, every beat of my heart, and every inch of my body – if you'll have me on this Christmas Eve."

Violet shook her head as though she didn't know what to do with him, but the smile on her lips and the sparkle in her eyes told him that he'd won. "Oh, that was good."

"I know."

"Cheeky devil. You know me too well."

"Of course I do." Patrick leaned in close and, placing his lips next to Violet's ear, whispered "I've seen you naked, remember?"

Violet didn't even blush, but rather let out a soft chuckle. "In more ways than one." She reached up to loosen her husband's tie. "Shall we forget about calling for Jennings and Burkett tonight?"

Patrick grinned at the mention of their respective lady's maid and valet. "I think that's a splendid idea. I've been looking forward to unwrapping my present."

"It may take a while to do that. I'm a complicated parcel, you know."

"It doesn't matter. We have until morning, if we like. All night," Patrick murmured before capturing his wife's lips with his own. "Let's cleave unto each other, my darling."

"One flesh," Violet breathed as her husband's lips ravished hers and desire swept them, warmed them, joined them until they could feel it deep in their souls.

By the time the grandfather clock struck the hour, echoing midnight throughout the Abbey, the Earl and Countess of Grantham were resting together, her head against his chest and him drawing languid patterns on her skin with his fingers, which stilled when he heard the deep bong, bong of the clock.

"Patrick, don't stop," Violet whispered without opening her eyes. "That feels lovely."

"Listen." The clock chimed on until it completed twelve bells, and Patrick smiled down at the now open azure eyes of his beloved. "It's midnight."

Violet's lips, pink and swollen from his kisses, curved upward in a mirror of the same tender smile. "Christ is born."

"He is indeed." Patrick closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the pillows, the expression on his face reverent.

"Are you praying, darling?" Violet spoke into the silence.

"I am." Patrick opened his eyes and returned them to his wife, one hand stroking her shoulder. "I was thanking Him, my love. For Robert, for Rosamund, for Downton, for everything He has blessed me with. But most of all, I thanked Him for you, the greatest gift of all." He kissed her on the mouth, gently, then deeply. "Happy Christmas, Violet."

"Happy Christmas, Patrick," Violet sighed, her husband's arms holding her tight and their love keeping them warm as snow swirled to the ground on the most magical and beautiful night of the year.