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He’s Santa’s right hand… reindeer. For a year now, Dash has been handling the day to day business for the big guy. He also took over the training of the young reindeer shifters as they prepare to enter flight school. What he hasn’t done, is have a life of his own. And as the head elf’s reputation suggests, Santa has noticed.
Tessa’s days start before dawn and end well after sundown. She’s spent every waking moment for since college getting her family’s farm back in the black year around again. Her life belongs to the land, her horses, and the small community of Silver Falls.
But when the oh so handsome reindeer shifter appears outside the barn with honest to goodness twinkles in his eyes, and a smooth cultured voice, more than Tessa’s endless responsibilities take up space in her head.
Can a reindeer shifter be a farm girl’s ultimate Christmas gift?
Can a farm girl fill the empty space inside a lonely reindeer shifter’s heart?
Two old friends, a few little white lies, and an old family secret will help you and them find the answers.
Read An Excerpt
Dash paced outside the office door. Twenty steps to the left. Twenty steps back. Twenty steps to the right. He was nervous. Anxious. Uncertain of his future. Things had changed since Rand moved to Snows Fall last season to head up the outreach program which allowed shifters and elves from the North Pole to interact and connect with the human world in a more personal way.
He hadn’t been to that side yet. The waitlist grew daily of those who wanted to visit and learn and spread the magic that only they could.
Dash didn’t know if he’d ever get the chance. Santa had kept him busy the past eleven and a half months. He’d become Santa’s right hand and at times, he’d become Rand’s too, delivering mission statements to those at the North Pole who’d been chosen.
Dash had also taken over the training schedule for the new reindeers that passed the qualifiers. Tomas used to do it, but he’d retired and had earned the well deserved the time off.
He didn’t mind being of use to Santa. Most everyone, elf and shifter alike, desired to be of use to Santa in one way or another. They all wanted Santa to notice them, recognize them. Only when they were good, of course. Naughty and well… No one ever wanted that. There wasn’t much one could do with lumps of coal except burn them.
“Good afternoon, Dash.”
He turned around. “Mrs. Claus,” he said with a smile. “Good afternoon.”
Her twinkling silver eyes were narrow and calculating. “How long has he kept you waiting?”
“I don’t know. A while, I guess.”
“Hmm… Long enough for me to bake a fresh batch of sugar cookies.” She set down a plate stacked high and offered him an engraved pewter mug practically overflowing with whipped cream, sprinkles and two candy canes. Peppermint hot cocoa. His favorite.
“Thank you. You didn’t have to do this.”
“Oh, hush. I know I didn’t have to, but I wanted to. My cookies can’t hold a candle to those Blix makes, but they’ll do in a pinch.”
Dash blushed. No one could bake cookies the way Blix could. No one really knew what her secret was, but he bet even in the human world, there wasn’t a cookie that was half as good as hers.
“How’s the training going?”
“It’s going really well. The new reindeer have a good handle on the basics and by the time we’re ready to start flying in the Spring, I think there will be a fair few for Santa to choose from.”
“Oh, that’s excellent.” She beamed, her cheeks glowing bright red with excitement, but that was nothing new really. For all the months he’d been coming to the Claus manor, Mrs. Claus was rarely without that wide, welcoming smile on her face.
“Yes, ma’am.” Dash wasn’t sure what else to say. He hadn’t aspired to teach the young bucks, but he hadn’t shied away from it either. Santa asked and Dash accepted. And while Rand had a leadership personality, he was better suited, it seemed to organization and outreach. No one had ever imagined that being the case with Rand. He’d always been a hot head, doing first, thinking later, but he’d settled into the role with relative ease.
But it left Dash not knowing where he fit. Not that he’d ever really known. He was one of two lead reindeer on the sleigh team, the other being Rand. But after Rand found his place in the world and began the transformation from Santa’s son and lead reindeer to Santa’s heir and lead reindeer, it had left Dash wondering if everyone had a transformation coming or if only certain people did.
Would he be content working as a reindeer instructor?
Was there something more he could do with himself? Did he have a purpose beyond that and being Santa’s errand runner? And if he ever had the chance to travel beyond the North Pole, what would he do? What could he do?
What else did he have to offer?
Until this last year, he’d never imagined himself being discontent with his life. He’d never imagined being someone who felt he was missing something.
He sipped at his cocoa and nibbled on one of Mrs. Claus’ sugar cookies. They weren’t bad, but the sweet and rich cocoa made them taste even better.
“I don’t expect he’ll be much longer, Dash, but if you finish those cookies and that cocoa before he’s ready for you, you just march right on in his office. It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s taking a nap.”
Was that the sound he’d been hearing? Santa snoring? Dash smirked behind the cup at the thought. It was entirely possible.
She wandered off, back downstairs, and Dash resumed his pacing.
So, Santa wasn’t sleeping. Dash pushed the office door open. “Sir?”
“Come on in, young man. Oh, you have some cocoa, do you? Did my lovely bride leave me any, by chance?”
Dash shook his head. “Uh, no, Santa. She didn’t.”
“I see.” Santa shook his head. “She’s likely still upset with me for sneaking a box of Blix’s new peppermint white chocolate sandwich cookies in last night.”
“Sir, you’re always sneaking boxes of cookies in. How was this time any different? You sneak them in, and Mrs. Claus always finds out.”
“Because I didn’t share them with her.”
Dash was shocked. The man who was enviably unselfish wasn’t above not sharing his cookies? Okay, so maybe Dash wasn’t all that shocked. “You didn’t share?”
“I meant to. I really did, but before I knew it, they were gone. You understand how that can happen, don’t you, Dash?”
“I do understand, yes.” Though, apparently not to the same extent as his boss. “Was confession the only reason you wanted to see me?”
“They say confession is good for the soul, but no. Dash, I’ve been wondering… Do you have a special someone?”
“Is there a reason why not?”
“I, ah… I haven’t had time. I… Why are you asking?” Dash couldn’t fathom why Santa would be interested in his love life.
“Is there anyone you’d like be seeing?”
“I haven’t really thought about it. Sir, what is this about?”
“Dash, you’ve been a big help to me, but I think I’ve kept you too busy and taken advantage of your kind and giving nature.”
Dash wasn’t sure how he was supposed to react. He was a reindeer. Employed by Santa Claus. He was supposed to have a kind and giving nature. “Not to be disagreeable, but I don’t think you’ve taken advantage of anything. It’s part of the job and it’s been my pleasure to be of use to you since Rand has been doing other things.”
“Be that as it may, it’s time for a change.”
A change? “Are you firing me, Santa?”
“I am not. However, I am poking my nose into your social life or lack thereof, as my wife puts it.”
Dash’s cheeks heated. He had no idea that he’d been the topic of conversation. “I don’t think that’s necessary, sir. There will be time for a social life and romance when things are sorted out here.”
“Things here are running better than ever, Dash. But take it from me… You can’t live to work. You need time to relax and smell the balsam and fir in the air.”
“Is there any way to talk you out of whatever it is you’ve got up your sleeve?” Dash asked, his uncertainty completely lost on his boss. Once Santa got something in his head, there was no changing it. Dash knew he might as well accept his fate for the time being and just go with the flow.
“I’m afraid not, son. This is important.”
“What did you have in mind?”
“Well… You’re going on a little pre-Christmas Eve vacation.”
“A vacation? Sir, there’s too much to do before Christmas Eve. You’ve reminded us many times about this being our busiest time of year. I can’t just take off somewhere.”
“You can and you will, Dash. I’m in charge here,” Santa continued quickly when Dash opened his mouth. He was going to have to object to being forced on vacation when he was up to his antlers in Christmas preparations.
“But, Santa, I—”
“You’ll thank me for this,” Santa continued.
“Who will take over my responsibilities?”
“I have it all taken care of. I may be old, but I still know everything that goes on in the North Pole.”
“I have no doubt about that, sir.”
“Have a little faith, Dash.”
“I have nothing but faith, sir.”
“Then all will be well.”
The satisfied smile on Santa’s face had Dash settling back in his chair. How could he have thought he could object and win? The best thing for all involved was to agree and accept. Not that he couldn’t use a vacation, but he’d have never thought to ask for time off during the Christmas season. “I guess it will be nice to have some days to sleep in and to catch up on some reading.”
“Oh, you won’t be staying here.”
“No?” That had Dash sitting upright on the edge of his seat again. “Where am I going?”
“That’s the second part of this little meeting. I have a little errand for you to take care of for me while you’re gone.”
“Very well, sir.” This made Dash feel better. He would have something to do. He would have a job. He wasn’t used to not working. He didn’t want to seem lazy. Lazy reindeer and elves spent several months mucking stalls for full blood animals and sweeping floors in the workshops. The privilege of living outside the dorms was revoked, too, and it was back to shared rooms and hall monitors. Needless to say, there weren’t many who were classified as lazy. Most pulled their weight and then some, especially around the holidays. “Where am I going?”
“I’m sending you to Silver Falls, Wisconsin. It’s a special little town and there’s a craftsman who’s making something for me. I’ll need to bring it back here when he’s finished.”
“I’m going to the human world?
It was almost too much to fathom. He was going on an adventure to a place he’d begun to imagine he’d never get to visit. His stomach tightened at the thought, but fluttered with excitement, at the same time. “What am I picking up for you?”
“It’s a gift for the Mrs. A chest. She used to have one just like it when she was a little girl that her grandfather made for her grandmother. I broke one of the panels on it by accident. I tried to get it fixed, but was unsuccessful. So, I’m having a new one made for her. One that’s as close to identical as possible.”
“I’m so sorry, sir. Of course, I’ll do whatever you need me to do.” Dash meant it. He also felt incredible pride that Santa trusted him with something so important and personal.
“I know you will, Dash. I know it’s been very different around here without Rand. You’ve become invaluable to me I don’t know how I’d have made it through the year without you there to pick up the slack and to keep me and the reindeer school running smoothly. But I won’t allow you to forget that these few days are meant for you to relax and to enjoy yourself in a new place with new people. You might find more than you can even imagine if you just keep yourself open.”
Dash wasn’t sure what to make of that last statement, but there was more than enough time after he left the office to drive himself nuts wondering what it meant. “When do you need me to leave?”
“Tomorrow. I’ll have all the travel and destination information ready for you at dawn.”
“Sir? Am I right in assuming your craftsman knows about us? Or about you? Like really knows?”
“Yes, he and his family know. He’s the son of a man I began a friendship with many years ago. He put me in contact with other craftsmen when we were still making toys by hand during the nineteen thirties. The humans were going through a financial depression and I gave them work to do.”
“That was kind of you.”
“It was necessary for them and it was good will. They were struggling, and they had families. What Rand is doing now, Silverberry Outreach? We had many different programs like it when I was younger. It was how I met this man’s father. My father and my grandfather knew that if we didn’t help touch the lives of those who believe in us, we’d lose them and they’d lose their faith in the magic of the season. It’s what Rand was feeling as he read all those wishes that came in. He was losing faith in humanity the same as they were losing faith in each other and in what the season was really about. Love. Giving. Sharing simple, small joys.” Santa stopped pacing and sat heavily in his red leather desk chair and closed his eyes for less than the span of a heartbeat. “I spend every Christmas season giving to others around the world, but this year… This year, before I leave on Christmas Eve, I need to be able to give this one gift to my wife.”
Dash couldn’t deny that the kind of love Santa had for Mrs. Claus, the kind of love Rand had for Blix was a desire that he’d buried deep inside his heart. He’d been orphaned at an early age and had never had a family of his own. He wasn’t even sure he was capable of having a family. He’d depended on himself alone for more years than he could remember. But seeing the changes taking place in the North Pole, the changes in Rand, the openness to more interaction with humans, Dash’s hunger for someone, for love and acceptance, had begun rising to the surface. “I’ll make sure it’s here in time for you to do just that, sir. Is that all?”
“For now. I’ll meet you at the paddock at first light. Time is a little different there than it is here.”
Dash nodded and pulled himself out of the chair across the desk. He made his way to the office door and with his hand on the doorknob, Santa’s voice stopped him.
Dash turned. “Yes, sir?”
“Where you’re going is a magical little place. You’ve been too serious for far too long. You’ll still have your magic and you’ll still be able to shift, but I hope you’ll smile and take it all in, that you’ll relax and enjoy this time and the family I’m sending you to stay with. They are wonderful people and I think a really special connection is waiting for you there.
Dash blushed and wished he could blame it on the overly warm room. “I wouldn’t even know where to begin, Santa.”
“Then you’ll just have to trust that someone will come along to show you the way.”
Dash nodded once and slipped out the door, narrowly missing one of his closest friends and fellow reindeer shifters, Donovan.
“You too?” Donovan asked.
“Me too, what?”
“Santa. Is he calling us all in today?”
“Oh, no. He just needs to see you me and you.”
“Everything okay? He doesn’t usually call meetings this close to Christmas unless something has gone wrong.”
“Nothing’s wrong. He’s just making a few changes for the next few days.”
Donovan gave Dash a skeptical look and Dash just shrugged. There wasn’t much he could say beyond what he already had, but he was saved by the sight of Mrs. Claus bustling toward them. She carried a near identical plate of cookies and an engraved pewter mug filled to near overflowing as well. It didn’t have candy canes sticking out of it though. It didn’t have anything like that. Whipped cream, yes and shavings of something on top, but Dash wasn’t sure what.
“Here you go, Donovan, dear,” she said.
She gave him a wink, then plucked Dash’s empty mug from his hand and disappeared down the stairs again. What was she up to? Did she know something?
She was always a hard one to figure out with her winks and secret smiles.
“What did she fix you?” he asked Donovan.
“Oh man, it’s white hot cocoa made with eggnog. It’s my new favorite. I tried something similar when I was down in Minnesota earlier this year. It was made with coffee instead of cocoa, but it was still delicious.”
“Did you enjoy it? Being around humans, I mean?”
“I loved it. They’re so interesting and curious. Not all of them are like those we receive some wishes from. I can’t wait to go back.”
“Are you? Going back?”
“Yep. After Christmas.”
“To the same place?”
“Minnesota? Yeah. Are you thinking about going?”
“I hope to. I—”
“Donovan!” Santa called.
“I guess that’s my cue. Wish me luck.”
Dash smiled and clapped his friend on the shoulder. “You’re gonna need it, my friend.” So will I.
Publisher: Lissa Matthews
Title: Christmas Dreams
Genre: Paranormal Holiday Fantasy Romance
Series: Santa’s Shifters
Length: 132 pages
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