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The picturesque town of Snows Fall has a new resident: Rand. Lead reindeer and… Santa’s son.
Rand has some pretty big doubts about humanity’s inherent good versus their apparent greed. But doubts aren’t tolerated in the North Pole where wonder and magic rule the kingdom of Christmas.
The one thing Rand does believe in is an elf named Blix. She’s the owner of Wishes Bakery and the future Mrs. Only, she doesn’t know about that part. Rand didn’t have the chance to tell her before waking up in a snow covered cabin far from home with more questions than answers.
Now he’s alone, just days before Christmas with nothing but a basket of Blix’s magical cookies and a few wishes of his own.
Is it too late for Rand? Will he be banished forever? Or do the holidays, his parents, and the town of Snows Fall have a few tricks up their collective sleeves to help restore his faith in humans and the holiday season?
*Author’s Note: This tale was previously published in the 2015 bestselling, multi-author anthology, A Very Alpha Christmas. The story has been revised to include new characters, along with new and expanded scenes.*
Read An Excerpt
“Hey.” Tomas tapped the tip of a pencil on Rand’s desk. “Are you even paying attention?”
Rand glanced up. “Nope.” He wasn’t sure when the feeling had settled into his muscles, but ever since this mountain of discontent showed up, he’d been grouchy and on edge. He suspected it started when he’d taken his turn on Wish Retrieval rotation. Everyone had to do it at one point each year and he was no different.
Only, it seemed to affect him in ways it didn’t affect others. It wasn’t like him to be this way.
But now it was starting to take on a life of its own through his mouth and that was going to land him in a hell of a lot of trouble from the man in the red coat. His father. Santa Claus.
“I see.” Tomas took a step back, standing to his full height. “Is there something you’d like to share with the rest of the team?”
Rand flipped his notebook closed and stood as well. “Look, we go over this every year. It’s the same ol’ pep talk about the same ol’ procedure about the same ol’ route and routine. I’ve been coming to these meetings for five years. I know it by heart. We all do.”
“But it’s your first year as lead reindeer on the sleigh. One might think you’d want to give it a little more respect and attention.”
“I’ve been flying second to you. I’ve passed all my flight tests. I’ve been in the simulator. I know how to do my job.”
“That’s your problem. You see it as a job. Nothing more, nothing less.”
“What else is it?”
Rand eyed Tomas, trying to recall even a smidgen of that pride and honor and yes, privilege. But it was as though it had vanished into thin air. “Really? Man, everyone thinks this Season, this holiday time of year shit is so grand, so great. It’s not. It’s a lot of work for us and a lot of selfishness for the people who live in other parts of the world.”
“Not every part of the world, Rand. There are many who need the magic only comes from us. The hope we give. There are many who believe in what we do, in what we give, in the magic that is your family.”
“And what about the other ones? The ones who get all the press and gifts and glitz? What about them? The ones who are only out for their own gain? What about the kids who only think of themselves? People who are superficial and materialistic? Are they the ones we do this for, year after year, century after century? Because they seem to be the ones winning the race. They don’t need more, but they want it. They want it all until there’s nothing left and the ones who do need it? They don’t get near enough what they should. All I see when wishes and letters come in is greed. Humans don’t love each other. Humans don’t forgive and build. They hate and destroy. Is that what we do this for? Is that what the privilege is?”
Rand immediately regretted his outburst. Wide eyes from every corner of the room settled on him. Hurt and confusion gazed back him. Tomas didn’t deserve it. Neither did the sleigh team. They were all there busting their asses, learning everything they could so nothing went wrong on Christmas Eve. If one reindeer slipped up, it could spell disaster for all of them.
No one understood the consequences better than Rand. No one understood the importance and the danger and the sheer wonder better than Rand.
“Do you want out? Because that’s what this attitude is going to get you.” Tomas asked. It wasn’t the first time he’d asked and each time, Rand swore to himself it would be the last. But with each training session, he pushed Tomas into asking. Again.
It was on the tip of Rand’s tongue to finally say no, but he hesitated, stopped himself. Did he want out? Did he want that? He asked himself that each time, too. He never had a concrete answer.
He just wanted to feel that they made a difference, the way he used to when he was a younger buck, when the world was bigger to his eyes, when he was still filled with joy and pride and wonder.
“If you say yes,” his friend continued, “you’ll be stripped of everything except the ability to shift. You’ll have no magic. You’ll be cast out and you won’t be allowed back. Is that what you want, Rand?”
“I…” No. that wasn’t what he wanted. So, why couldn’t he say it? No, he didn’t want out. But he couldn’t make his tongue move and couldn’t make his lips form the words.
For the first time in his life, he was truly speechless. What the hell was he supposed to do? He didn’t want to leave his family, his friends. He wanted to stay at the North Pole. He wanted to be part of the sleigh team, be the lead reindeer, the way it was always meant to be. He wanted to marry and children: a girl who looked like her mother, all dark hair and glittering eyes, and a boy, an heir to the name Claus.
Because at the same time, he wanted to say yes, that’s exactly what he wanted. That yes, he wanted to go, explore, be free of everything. Tomas sighed, picked up Rand’s notebook and communicator and pressed them to Rand’s chest. “Twenty-four hours, Rand. You have twenty-four hours to think about it. We’ll need your decision, then, whether you want to stay or go, whether you think you can do what is required of you or not.”
Something about a time stamp on a decision as monumental as this pissed him off. It shouldn’t be as easy for them to kick him out when it wasn’t as easy for him.
Rand stalked from the room, amid the curious stares of his team, and slammed the door behind him. He was looking for a little satisfaction from the childish move, but found none.
Deep breath in. Deep breath out. Toes curled in his boots. He wanted to throw something. Hit something. Shift. Run hard and fast until his lungs burned with exhaustion and exertion.
Only, there was no place for that where he was. There was no room to move. Not at this time of year. Other times, shifters were allowed out in small groups. They could travel just beyond the borders, just beyond the magical shield that hid them from view. They could run through the woods, shift. But it was too close to Christmas.
Humans in normal parts of the world, especially large cities and metropolitan areas talked of the hustle and bustle of the holidays, but at the North Pole, it lasted from year end to year end. It was constant motion, constant going.
There was nothing to look forward to anymore. No anticipation. No surprise. There was only dread. He felt it. Humans felt it. He couldn’t help wondering what the point of it all was. If there even was one.
His mother would tell him that he had a case of the Bah-Humbugs. In humans, it was seasonal depression. They couldn’t have such sensible and non-Christmas terms at the North Pole. There was always a silver lining. Never a fading bulb.
Rand looked around. Elves power walked from one building to the next, always in such a hurry. Why? Why couldn’t they slow down? Why couldn’t anyone slow down? Why couldn’t they stop and appreciate where they were, who they were?
And when did you become so damn philosophical? He grumbled under his breath at the voice in his head, turning in the direction of the paddocks, but a whiff of sugar and cinnamon wafted past him and he took a slight detour toward Wishes Bakery.
He, like every other inhabitant of the North Pole was addicted to sweets. His weakness was cookies, and a pretty, sexy little elf named Blix.
She was the one. Like, the one. He’d known for more years than he could count that he wanted her, was going to marry her, was going to spend hundreds of years with her. Black hair, a pert nose, bow shaped lips, and silver eyes so brilliant they sparkled.
They matched her personality and they matched her name. Blix Silverberry.
He dated other elves. Even dated several doe shifters, but it had always been Blix he wanted. He’d never found the courage to tell her, though. His friends would find that funny. Tomas would find it pathetic. Rand didn’t know how Blix would feel. She never treated him any different than she treated anyone else. He couldn’t imagine she saw him as anything more than the maverick shifter he’d spent years cultivating a reputation for.
He was the daredevil. The one who took chances, tempted the magic flowing through his veins.
And, he smiled, if he was lucky, there was also Blix.
Only… She loved the North Pole. She loved being a baker elf. It was one of the most coveted positions among the elves. She loved everything about Christmas, every day of the year. And if he were banished, what then? He couldn’t take her with him, couldn’t ask her to give up her life.
Inside Wishes Bakery, a long line had formed, starting at the register. A fresh batch of cookies must’ve come out. He loved when they were just out of the oven, when one of the elves brought out a tray of them for the customers. They would melt in a spicy mix of goodness on his tongue when they were warm.
Rand took a spot behind a group of elves who, once they saw him, turned away and started to whisper and giggle. That wasn’t a new thing. His role on the sleigh team this year was a well known fact and he was some sort of celebrity among the citizens of the North Pole. He grinned down at one of the elves when she glanced over her shoulder at him. He winked and her eyes widened.
He didn’t mind the extra dose of popularity. He minded that he could never get near the one elf he wanted most. The one coming from the kitchen carrying a large stack of gift boxes. The one who just tripped and started falling forward, disaster written all over her face. Rand jumped from his place in line and stretched out his arms as the boxes began tumbling down. He caught all of them, lifted them high, and put his body directly in front of her. She fell right into him. He hardly felt the impact.
Beneath the sparkle of her eyes lurked embarrassment accompanied by a blush staining her already rosy cheeks. “Rand,” she said, breathless and hushed.
“Hey, Blix.” He raised his brows. “You okay?”
She righted herself quickly and let go of where she’d grabbed his shirt. She was barely five feet, and the small heels on her shoes helped minimally, but her soft curves and plush weight was felt in every region of his body. He’d been the buffer between her and the floor and if he let his mind wander, it’d wander straight to wanting to take her to the floor, a bakery full of curious eyes or not. He didn’t care. He wanted to kiss her. He wanted to hold her. He wanted to make love to her.
He simply wanted her. There was no way around it and there was no way to fight it.
“Yeah, Rand. I’m okay.” She flipped her hair over her shoulder and straightened her dress. Red and silver, a scoop neckline and a skirt that swished around her knees when she walked. “Thank you for catching the cookies for me.”
“You’re welcome. Where were you headed with them?”
“Oh, the display table behind you and the front window. They’re the first chocolate sugar cookies of the season and I wanted to make sure there were plenty ready. I got a little over excited.”
“I see.” He’d like to see her a lot excited, but right then and there wasn’t the time or the place for it. “Let me help you set things up.”
“T-that’s not necessary. Really. I can do it.”
“I’d still like to help.”
She nodded after a brief hesitation. “All right. Sure.” She took three boxes from the stack he held. “I’ll take these to the window, if you’ll put yours on the table.”
“Any particular way?”
“A pyramid is fine. It’s what I was planning to do until I brought out some other things.”
Rand smiled. “A pyramid it is.” He was aware of the stares from the line behind him, but he didn’t give anyone the satisfaction of looking at them. They were curious and he’d let them be. Blix had disappeared into the opening of the display window where she painstakingly arranged and rearranged her three boxes.
Was she avoiding him? Was she trying to take as long as possible so she wouldn’t have to talk to him again? Was she still embarrassed about having almost fallen? Whatever it was, Rand wasn’t going to let her get away with it. She was going to have to face him, talk to him just a little bit more before he went away.
At the window, he positioned himself so that when she turned around, she’d come face to face with him. She’d be the perfect height for a kiss. A kiss he couldn’t give her in such a public place, but a kiss he’d love to give her nonetheless.
She stepped once, twice, and her heel caught on the edge of the display platform. Rand’s arms shot out again, but instead of catching boxes of cookies, he caught Blix as she grasped for purchase where there was none.
“How have you survived without me?” he asked, lightly, with a chuckle at the end of his question.
“I’m kind of wondering the same thing.”
Rand eased her down the front of his body and held onto her a little longer than he should have. When he finally let go, she spun to face him. “You okay?” He brushed hair from her face, behind her delicately pointed ear. Rubies hung from her earlobes.
“I am. I’m not usually this clumsy. I am so sorry.”
“I don’t mind at all. I’m glad I was here to catch you.”
She smiled up at him and Rand’s heart stopped in his chest. The little elf had no idea what she did to him. “Admit it. You’re even more glad you saved the cookies from crashing to the ground.”
She was teasing him and oh, how he adored it. “That’s a definite perk. I mean, I can eat cracked and even crumbled cookies, but I’d rather eat whole ones. Even better if I could share a box with someone.”
“Oh. Of course. Why wouldn’t you want to? I’m sure she, ah… What I meant was… Your, ah…” Blix closed her mouth, pressed her lips into a tight, thin line, and blushed scarlet. He’d never heard her stammer like that. She stepped around him, grabbing the box from the top of his pyramid. “Take these. On the house. For helping to save them. I’m sure your date will love them.”
“Blix, I don’t —”
But she didn’t give him a chance to finish his sentence. She scurried back into the kitchen and out of sight, leaving him staring after her, with a box of chocolate cookies in his hands. He shook his head, certain confusion was written all over his face. “Elves.”
* * * * *
Blix hid behind the swinging door like the coward she was. She wasn’t proud of herself, but she’d embarrassed herself enough for one day.
Running from Rand was pathetic, she knew that, but He didn’t see her the way she saw him. He didn’t think of her as anything more than another elf to flirt with. And falling into his arms today, not once, but twice…? She’d been on the verge of leaning in for a kiss, of losing herself in his hold.
To her, Rand was everything.
Leader of the sleigh team.
Santa’s son and heir.
Her secret crush.
She wasn’t even in the same league as the elves he normally dated and she’d tried to talk herself out of her desire for him, but it had never worked. Her goofy little heart had settled itself on Rand and it didn’t appear as though it was going to budge.
She looked through the small, decorative cut-outs in the door to see him leaving the bakery. He glanced back, confusion written on his handsome face, then shook his head and disappeared. She, just like every other elf in the North Pole, enjoyed seeing Rand come or go. He was gorgeous. Tall, broad, dark brown hair, spicy, whiskey eyes. And marked. Not that she’d seen it.
Everyone had a mark of some sort. Elves had glitter. Sparkly vampires had nothing on the North Pole elves. Different glitter for different types. Her’s was multi-color, like sprinkles on a cookie. It classified her as a baker of treats. It was what she’d been born to and she loved it.
Reindeers had tattoos. They could shift from animal to near human, though they sported the pointy ears of an elf. It was rumored that the mark was on Rand’s chest. She’d never get close enough to know if the rumors were true, but that didn’t dull her fantasies.
She leaned against the wall and huffed out a breath. Unrequited love, or lust, stunk. Many females and even some males had set their sights on Rand and one day he’d have to pick someone to be his mate.
“Blix? Sweetie, are you okay?”
“I am.” She pushed away from the wall, grabbed her apron from the hook on the other side of the door, and tied it around her waist.
“Uh huh. Fibber.”
“Pixie, really. I’m fine.” And if she said fine in that tone again, Pixie would know for sure that Blix was lying.
Pixie was Blix’s oldest friend. Hundreds of years and hundreds of secrets shared had kept them close, along with thousands of batches of treats. Pixie’s specialty was cake. She could make the most decadent cake out of any ingredient combination. And her peppermint buttercream frosting? Blix completely blamed the width of her hips on all the nights they taste tested frosting recipes.
Then again, Pixie’s hips were the by-product of pounds of dough as Blix perfected her now famous Christmas cookies.
“I saw who was in here,” Pixie said with a sympathetic smile.
“He was here for the cookies.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“I know you don’t, but what you happen to believe just isn’t true. So, you might as well forget it.”
“Nope. I think he wants you as much as you want him.”
“You’ve been sniffing the magic peppermint too much.”
Pixie had the grace to blush. “That’s beside the point. Anyway, I heard a rumor earlier when I was out at the market.”
Finally, something to take her mind of Rand. “Okay. Spill. Is it a juicy rumor?”
“Rand doesn’t want to lead the sleigh team.”
Blix’s jaw dropped open. “What? That can’t be true.”
Pixie nodded. “Apparently, he’s unhappy with the way humans treat Christmas and he doesn’t think they’re worth everything we sacrifice all year for.”
“But that means, doubt and doubt leads to… Oh no. Pix…”
“Doubt leads to banishment,” Pixie confirmed. “If you don’t believe wholeheartedly, you might as well not believe at all.”
“He’s Santa’s son. How can he not believe?”
Tears pooled in Blix’s eyes and when she lowered her head to hide them, they fell anyway, small droplets of glitter and snow. If Santa’s only son didn’t think they did something special for the whole world at the North Pole, then… What hope did any of them have? What hope did humanity have?
“How long does he have? Do you know?” she asked, but Pixie just shook her head.
“I think it’s usually forty-eight hours and some pretty intense therapy during that time, but for Rand? I… I don’t know. He’s special. Second in command and…” Pixie looked as helpless as Blix felt.
“Can you watch the bakery for a bit? Please?”
“Of course, I can. Where are you going?”
“I…” Blix untied her apron. “I need to check on something. I’ll be right back.” She touched a kiss to her best friend’s sparkling cheek, then dashed out the kitchen door.
Wishes Bakery was on the corner of Main Street and Santa Lane. Santa Lane led directly to the Claus house, and if Blix had any kind of courage she’d march her little elf self up to the front door and beg them not to send Rand away. They were his parents. Surely, they wouldn’t banish their own son from his home just because he had doubts? Right?
But if they didn’t, if they showed him preferential treatment, that wouldn’t be setting a good example.
She turned away from Santa Lane and headed in the opposite direction toward the paddock. Tomas would be there. He was married to the only human in the North Pole, Maria. She was Blix’s sister, or sort of. She was raised by Blix’s parents when she was brought in by one of the polar bears that lived outside the gates.
Maria had been found wandering the wilderness as a child. No one knew what had happened to her parents and she’d never been able to tell anyone. The bears had watched her for a couple of days. She was near death when they picked her up and brought her in.
Blix’s father was one of three doctors in the North Pole and he’d put Maria under his care.
And with Maria being very nearly her sister, that made Tomas very nearly her brother-in-law. Or reindeer-in-law.
She blinked and looked up. “Oh. Santa! I’m so sorry. I was lost in thought.” He smiled down at her and that twinkle in his eye and that twitch of his lip… She suddenly felt exposed.
“Indeed, you were,” he said. “Where are you off to in such a hurry?”
“I… I need to see Tomas.”
“Tomas, yes?” Santa nodded in that all knowing way. “He’s very busy, but for you, I think he could find a few moments.”
“For me?” It was always pretty freaky, seeing Santa up close. Not that this was the first time, but given the subject matter in her head, it caught her off guard. He knew everyone’s thoughts right at the moment they happened upon him, or he upon them. He was intimidating, but not in a bad way. He was simply Santa.
“Family business and all, I assume.”
“Oh. I…” She stopped speaking, her words hanging in the air between them. She couldn’t lie to Santa.
“Isn’t today cookie day?” he asked, rescuing her from indecision.
It was her turn to smile. “Yes. Yes, it is. I put out the first batch this morning and they were gone in minutes.”
“I do hope you saved some for me.”
“Yes. Yours were sent to your house. Gingerbread Santas along with the peppermint marshmallow ones only you and I know about.” And that last one earned her the famous Santa chuckle that was known around the world.
“Sent to the house, you say? Funny, my Mrs. didn’t call to let me know. Sneaky woman I married. She likely snuck a few.”
“Would you like me to send more?”
“Please. And I understand there’s a chocolate cookie this year?”
“Yes, Sir. Chocolate with a hint of cinnamon. I’ll add some of those as well.”
“Excellent, Blix. Excellent.”
She watched him go, his red velvet cape brushing against the cobblestones with each stride. She tried to calm her racing heart and made a mental note to send an additional two packages of cookies to the Claus household. Staying on his good side, even through cookies, was always in her best interest.
He was the one who granted all the wishes. He was the one who granted her the bakery of her dreams.
And he was the father of the shifter she loved.
Publisher: Lissa Matthews
Title: Christmas Wishes
Genre: Paranormal Holiday Fantasy Romance
Series: Santa’s Shifters
Length: 86 pages
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