All is not sparkly snowflakes and sweet candy canes in North Pole City. Office workers Tim and Noel do nothing all day but antagonize each other—petty fighting that might be based on hatred… or a heated mutual attraction. It’s up to Jack Frost and his elf-friend Rudy to broach the hostilities and introduce some Christmas kisses, but is the Frost Prince up to the challenge of launching a new romance when someone’s trying to break his holiday spirit?
The Heart of Frost #2
At the North Pole, no one is more powerful and feared than the Prince of Frost. As general of the toy soldier army, Jack Frost has been working extra hard to put away the villainous Mouse King once and for all. If that isn’t taxing enough, Jack has to deal with the scandal and gossip brought on by news of his relationship with Rudy Rein Dear, captain of the Rein Dear Squadron, which hit headlines last holiday season. Lucky for Jack, his reputation has managed to deter any foolish attempts to stir up trouble. At least until now.
When someone sabotages Rudy’s plane during a test run a few weeks before Christmas, Jack is determined to find the culprit by any means necessary. The closer he gets to finding answers, the more difficulty he has not falling back to his icy ways. Has the Mouse King stepped up his game in order to throw Jack off his, or is someone a little closer to home behind the attempt on Rudy’s life? Either way, Jack has every intention of delivering a Christmas they won’t soon forget, even if it means losing the newfound warmth in his heart.
Vixen's Valor #3
Rein Dear is a prestigious title, accompanied by admiration, devotion, and celebrity status, all of which one saucy Vixen thrives on. Alas, Vixen’s only concerned with having fun, unlike his stuffy and sensible best friend, Rudy Rein Dear, who Vixen has always been jealous of. Aside from being chosen by Mayor Kringle to be Captain the Rein Dear Squadron, Rudy’s managed to snag himself a prince, even if that prince is the dangerous and imposing Jack Frost.
All’s not lost for Vixen though. He discovers Jack’s cousin Vale has a soft spot for him. Vale Frost might not be a dashing prince, but he’s the next best thing: a decorated Lieutenant for the Toy Soldier Army, and a member of the Frost monarchy.
Determined to get what Vixen feels he deserves, he sets off on a mission to ensnare the kind-hearted lieutenant. But Vixen’s selfish ways are sure to lead to disaster, and it’ll take more than a little courage to set things right.
ANOTHER brick of invoices hit Tim’s desk, snapping him out of his carol-induced trance just when he had found the right rhythm to go with the spritely holiday tunes pulsing through the office speaker system. Now he would have to start over. Bah humbug.
How was it that everyone else seemed to be taking part in all manner of naughtiness while still ending up on the Nice List? All of Tim’s friends were doing it: sneaking into Santa’s Grotto, getting drunk on eggnog and peppermint juleps, dancing the night away, but not Tim. Oh, no. How was Tim going to be spending his Friday night?
Not just his invoices, but those of two colleagues who had recently been promoted to Cookie Cutters at the candy mills. There they would no longer be met with endless paperwork, but the heavenly wafts of gingerbread, cinnamon, vanilla, chocolate, and every tantalizing flavor in Kringle creation.
Every day, someone new managed to escape the Abominable Administrative Department for more magical pastures, and it had become a sort of temporary stop for newly graduated elves on their way to something better. Tim wished he were one of those elves. In fact, he spent a great deal more time than he should daydreaming about all the exciting possibilities, imagining all the jolly adventures to be had outside of filing and typing. Then he remembered why he was one of the only elves never to move on from the AAD. It was the only thing he could do that didn’t require some kind of flair or unique talent. He wasn’t creative or coordinated enough to work in Mayor Kringle’s Construction Firm. He didn’t have the ability make toast, much less possess the skills necessary to work at the candy mills. He wasn’t ridiculously handsome, brave, or special enough to be one of the Rein Dear Squadron—then again, few were. He wasn’t hardboiled enough to be one of the Frost King’s toy soldiers. Heck, he couldn’t even cut it as a Ribbon Curler in the Gift Packaging Plant.
It seemed like only yesterday Mr. Kringle had assured Tim he would find his calling like everyone else. After all, he was still quite young, barely into his two hundred and forty-fifth year. But most elves found their calling by the time they were one hundred and fifty, and out of Claus College. The only reason Tim was even a part of Mr. Kringle’s organization was because of Tim’s father—something that hadn’t gone unnoticed by everyone who met him. At least they all respected his father enough not to discuss it. Either that, or the pity they felt for Tim surpassed the desire to gossip.
Holding back a sigh, Tim gathered up the latest mound of completed invoices and grudgingly carried them toward the banged-up old cabinet, the one that should have been replaced decades ago. Almond bark would have made a sturdier alternative to this thing.
Tim leapt into the air, his heart pounding fiercely in his chest from the unexpected fright. Around him the invoices drifted like falling snow, and the office erupted into laughter. Taking a deep, steady breath, Tim crouched down to pick up his paperwork, ignoring his supervisor, who loomed over him with a smug grin. He hated when Noel snuck up on him like that. Of course, if he stopped daydreaming, maybe Noel wouldn’t get the drop on him so often.
“Geez, Tim. You should try a few less marshmallows in your morning cocoa.”
Tim grunted noncommittally as he continued to gather the stray sheets. “Is there something you needed?” He tried not to let his irritation slip into his tone. The last thing he wanted was to give Noel an excuse to pile on more work. Tim had no idea what he could have possibly done to make the dark-haired elf dislike him so much. When Tim had first joined, Noel had been nice to him, had smiled and even held pleasant conversations with him. Now he went out of his way to avoid Tim, only interacting with him when it was absolutely necessary, and even then it always resulted in an incredibly unpleasant experience for Tim. Noel’s size and intimidating disposition didn’t help any, especially for an elf as small as Tim. Noel was the tallest elf in the AAD, broad shouldered, a few years older than Tim, and could actually be mistaken for handsome if he didn’t look so miserable all the time.
Tim couldn’t remember when it had happened, only that one day, out of the snowy blue, Noel stopped smiling at him, and had begun giving Tim a much harder time than the rest of the elves in the office. For the life of him, Tim couldn’t figure out why. There were times when he wondered if maybe Noel had found out about him….
Quickly, he shook that thought from his head. No, no one at the office knew. If Noel had known, and that was the reason for his hostility, then surely he would have confronted Tim about it by now. Instead, he tormented Tim every day from morning until the end of the work day.
Noel leaned against the filing cabinet and smirked down at him, his sharp, silver-gray eyes fixed on him. “I just wanted to remind you that tonight you’re scheduled to receive the coal delivery.”
“I know. I haven’t forgotten,” Tim grumbled, attempting to blow a stray lock of hair away from his eye while trying not to drop everything again.
“Here, let me help you with that.” Noel leaned forward and Tim went stock still. He didn’t even get a moment to contemplate what the heck Noel was about to do—or even a chance to run for the hills?before Noel swatted the papers out of his hand. They both stood watching the flurry of foolscap float to the floor all around them. Bah humbug. Again.
“Darn my clumsiness. Well, at least now your hands are free.” Noel grinned as he walked away, joking with some of the other elves about Tim’s clumsiness. No one came to help him, and even if someone did want to, they wouldn’t dare do so with Noel around. Tim couldn’t really blame them. The last thing he wanted was to be the cause of someone else’s misery.
Once he had collected every piece of paper, he spent the rest of the afternoon filing them away. Not even the bells on bob-tails ringing in the background could make his spirits bright. As usual, when evening came, he was the only one left in the office. With a groan, he let his head drop on his desk. How had his life turned out this way? Not only had his father been blessed with great magic, he had been one of the most heroic toy soldiers the Frost King had ever had; his mother had been the most beautiful and refined of the sugarplum fairies, back in the day when such titles meant something. Nowadays, fairies were usually found dancing on tabletops at Santa’s Grotto, wearing too much makeup and too little clothing. Those fairies who were lucky enough—not to mention pretty and daring enough—managed to get positions taking care of the Rein Dears.
Now there was a position that had it all. Being a Rein Dear that is, not one of their fairies. It was no secret that some of the Rein Dears went through fairies the way Kringle went through cookies. Rumor had it the Rein Dears used their helpers for more than just helping, but no one dared challenge that. The Rein Dears were Mayor Kringle’s glamorous flyboys. They travelled the globe, delivering presents on Christmas Eve. If you were a Rein Dear, wherever you went, everyone loved you and worshipped you. Even the Mouse King and his hoods respected the Rein Dears. They were like shining stars. And Rudy….
Tim let out a wistful sigh. Rudy was the Squadron Leader, and the most handsome of them all. Big, strong, and in possession of the most amazing red hair anyone had ever seen. Boy, what Tim wouldn’t give to get caught under the mistletoe with him! He was also the only Rein Dear who didn’t have his own sugarplum fairy. No one knew why. There always seemed to be one or two hanging off his arm, but the pilot just didn’t seem interested in keeping any of them around. Either way, Tim kept his silly crush to himself. Even if he were special enough to be a Rein Dear’s helper, he wasn’t a sugarplum fairy and, therefore, not in possession of the correct enchanted chromosomes. Not to mention, he didn’t have much experience when it came to certain types of “helping.” He couldn’t even recall the last time he had been out on a date.
A bell jingled noisily over his head, giving him such a start he lost his balance and toppled backward with the most embarrassing yelp. No amount of flailing kept him from hitting the floor with a painful thud. Could this night possibly get any worse? At least no one had been around to laugh at him. Then he remembered what the bell was for.
“Plum pudding! The coal!” He scrambled to his feet and grabbed his jacket and flat cap before running as fast as he could down the silver marble corridor and out into the stairwell. By the time he reached the boiler room, the delivery driver was tapping his clipboard impatiently.
“I’m here!” Tim called out from across the expansive warehouse as he caught up to the driver. “I’m sorry,” he wheezed, attempting to catch his breath. He really needed to cut back on the gumdrops.
“Sign on the dotted line.” The disgruntled elf thrust the clipboard at Tim, who swiftly did as asked. When Tim looked up at the back of the truck, his eyes went wide.
“Why isn’t it in bags?”
Snatching the clipboard from Tim, the driver didn’t so much as glance at him as he filled out a copy of the receipt. “You didn’t order no bags.”
Tim did his best not to panic. “It’s always ordered in bags. How am I supposed to—”
Before another word could be uttered, the stocky elf jerked a lever and the truck’s back door slammed open. Tim managed to jump out of the way in the nick of time, and stood speechless as the coal came barreling out, engulfing him in a cloud of black soot that sent him into a fit of coughing.
Tim waved his arms frantically, hearing the sound of the truck’s engine rumble somewhere in the haze. “Wait!”
It was no use. By the time the dust settled, the truck was gone, and Tim was left buried almost knee deep in a sea of coal. Picking up the receipt lying to one side, he scanned it for whoever was responsible for the order.
Noel. He had done it on purpose.
Tim sat down on the black lumps and bit his bottom lip, refusing to let any of his tears escape. That blasted Noel. What had Tim ever done to deserve this? He tried to think back, desperately searching for a time in which he might have mistakenly offended the supervising elf. Nothing came to mind. Tim had always been friendly with his coworkers, and worked very hard. In fact, despite Noel’s abrasive demeanor, Tim had always remained friendly toward him, hoping that Noel would see Tim held no grudges and merely wanted to get along. On several occasions, he had even offered Noel some of his cookies as a peace offering. That only seemed to annoy Noel even more.
Tired of feeling so pitiful, Tim got to his feet and shuffled over to the rack of shovels. Grabbing the biggest one he could lift, he started the arduous task of carrying the coal over to one of the empty containers on the other side of the gargantuan furnace. By the time he was done, his entire body ached, and it was very late.
Walking into the employee washroom, he stared at himself in the mirror. He looked like a little lump of coal, covered in soot from head to toe. As best he could, he scrubbed himself, thinking about getting home to a nice warm bath and letting the evidence of this rotten day wash away.
After managing to get most of the grime off his face, neck, and hands, he removed his deep green vest, red tie, and what had once been a white shirt, staying only in his deep green knickerbockers and white undershirt. His white and red striped socks were ruined, as was the rest of his suit. That left him with only two suits. He had started the year out with four. Darn it. He just couldn’t afford to have any more ruined. He had already spent most of this week’s wages on his rent and the rest was for his meals. Well, he supposed he could get by on chocolate sandwiches if he had to, and he still had the cinnamon swirl truffles Mrs. Kringle had given him two weeks ago. Maybe he should think about a transfer, but was he really going to give Noel the satisfaction?
Not wanting to think any more on the matter, he dusted his pants off, grateful he had left his jacket with his hat. At least he wouldn’t have to freeze on the way home. Having lived his whole life in North Pole City, cold didn’t bother him, so going out in the snow in a suit was fine, but going out in just your undershirt was a different matter. The last thing he needed was to catch a cold. Of course, there was nothing he could do about the state of his socks, so he would have to wear them as they were until he got home.
He slipped into his jacket and secured his cap on his head before going out through the back of the warehouse. It was nippy out, but not too unbearable. His thoughts filled with images of himself sitting cozily in front of the fire with a hot cup of his favorite cocoa.
Tim was so lost in thought while taking his usual shortcut through Caramel Corn Lane, he didn’t hear the low voices until it was too late. Three elves stood in the shadows, and for a moment, Tim’s pulse shot up. Then he realized they were toy soldiers. Phew. Well, two of them were. The other was—
He nearly let out a gasp but clamped a hand over his mouth just in time. The third elf was one of the Mouse King’s hoodlums, and he was handing over a parcel wrapped in brown paper to the taller of the toy soldiers.
“Here’s what the Mouse King promised. Now it’s your turn to hold up your end of the deal. When Jack Frost shows up at the Silver Bells Christmas Ball tomorrow night, you know what to do. I’ll be there to make sure it gets done. I don’t think I need to stress how important it is to the Mouse King that you succeed.”
The taller of the toy soldiers stuffed the packet into his red overcoat. “Yeah, we got it. We’ll take care of ’im.”
Jack Frost? Why would the toy soldiers want to hurt him? He was their chief, and the Frost King’s son. Surely, they wouldn’t….
This was bad. He shouldn’t be here. Tim took a quick step back and bumped into something hard, and when he turned around, he was stunned to find Noel there.
“What are you doing here?”
Noel grabbed his arm and pushed him roughly up against the wall. “I came to make sure you didn’t screw up the coal delivery. What mess have you gotten yourself into this time?”
“You mean besides the one you created for me?” Tim jerked his arm out of Noel’s grasp. “Don’t touch me.”
Noel was clearly ready to chastise him, but Tim had no intention of sticking around. Whatever reprimand Noel had for him, it could wait until Tim was on the clock. He tried to get around Noel, who stubbornly tried to block his path, and in the process knocked over a trashcan. It crashed noisily to the ground, echoing all around them and bringing the three elves spinning toward them, their hands snapping to their coats. Holy Holly, they were going to shoot! Apparently this night could get worse.
The Heart of Frost
“ARE YOU determined to ruin the name of this family beyond repair?”
Jack remained stoically in the center of the small, empty ballroom as his father paced slowly from one side to the other, the train of his fur-lined blue-and-silver paisley robe polishing the already gleaming marble floor. Jack’s uncle and twin cousins stood to one side, pretending for all the world they couldn’t hear Jack being reprimanded like some fledgling elf. A faint rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” floated in through the closed doors from the main ballroom. Now there was a thought. Rest. As in, he wished his father would give it a rest.
“It’s a party, father. Society dictates I should bring a guest, and I have.”
“Yes, but not that guest.”
“I wasn’t about to bring anyone else. For Kringle’s sake, am I no longer allowed to have any fun at all?”
His father rounded on him, pitch-black eyes shining dangerously. “Fun? Is that all that matters to you these days?”
Jack couldn’t help his surprise. “I’m sorry? Have you been paying the slightest bit of attention to the last two years? I’ve worked myself to the bone building a case against the Mouse King, doing everything within my power to put him away once and for all. Not to mention attend to the rest of my duties, and you’re dismissing everything over one party?”
“Don’t you take that tone with me—I won’t allow it.”
“Pray tell, what will you allow?” Jack narrowed his gaze as his father continued to pace. Then it struck him. He should have known. Wasn’t it always what these petty arguments came down to? “This has nothing to do with the party. This is about him, isn’t it?”
“It would have been better if he had left you be.”
“Left me a monster you mean. Is that what you want? A weapon instead of a son?”
His father stopped pacing, but he neither confirmed nor denied Jack’s words, bringing a lump to his throat. It’s true, his father had never shown him the same manner of affection his mother had, but could he truly have preferred Jack’s life not been spared? The thought cut deep. “Well forgive me for having a heart and daring to put it to use. Just because you’re incomplete doesn’t mean I should have to live my life the same way.”
The sharp sting left across his cheek after his father struck him wasn’t completely unexpected, but the mixture of anger and hurt in his father’s expression was. What exactly did his father want from him, other than for him to give up the only thing that brought Jack any happiness in his cold and lonely existence? There was no sense in arguing.
“If there’s nothing else, I’ll take my leave.”
“He is unworthy of you.”
Jack couldn’t help his anger or the way it swept through his body. The room drained of its color, leaving nothing but frosty white, due to his eyes doing the same. He could feel the bitter cold spread to the very tips of his toes and the strands of his now-white hair. “I’ll ask you to take care in how you speak of him. I love him and nothing you say will change that.”
“And if I made you choose?” To his father’s credit, it was more question than threat.
“He loves me wholeheartedly without prejudice or fear, and is in possession of a heart so pure he would melt the ice around my own. If you want to cast me out, then do it, because I won’t leave him. Nothing short of death will force me from his side. Do you really think I’d give him up for this?” he growled, gesturing to the ridiculous opulence of the exclusive club’s unused ballroom, one of many in yet another palace owned by his family.
“You youngsters are so bloody dramatic.”
“I’m not a child. I’m four hundred and fifty years old.”
His father scoffed at that. “Still a babe. I have lived since the beginning. You couldn’t begin to imagine the things I’ve seen.”
“And yet you want to deny me the one thing which means so little to you but the world to me. You’ve seen it all, and deep down, it isn’t even his being which upsets you, but the fact you believe he’s beneath me, beneath us and our great name.”
“You are the Jack Frost.” His father’s hands came to rest on his shoulders, father and son’s matching height allowing them to face one another eye to eye. “Your name is legend, and your power is unmatched. One day it shall surpass my own.”
“And when that day comes, I want him at my side, reminding me of my purpose, reminding me I have a soul. I’m more than the power I hold inside me.”
With a heavy sigh, the Frost King stepped away. “I see this conversation is getting us nowhere.”
“At least we agree on something.”
“Return to the ball. Try not to disgrace yourself, and take your cousins with you.”
Jack held his tongue and bowed before marching toward the door, his cousins following silently on his heels. Once he stepped foot out into the glittering ballroom filled with life and music, he felt marginally better, though his mood was still black as coal.
“Jack?” Hollis caught up to him, walking beside him to his left, while Vale flanked him on the right.
“Yes,” Jack grunted, making his way past the throngs of guests dressed in all their finery toward the red-carpeted, marble staircase leading to the second floor, where his private box accompanied the many others.
“The rumors about you leaving the toy soldiers aren’t true, are they?”
“You shouldn’t listen to gossip.” The night had barely begun and already he had been reprimanded by his father. Not even the melodic sounds of the chorus nor the merry echo of jingling bells was enough to buoy his spirits. Christmas was nearly upon them, and Jack was finding it more difficult than usual to feel jolly.
“But are they true?” Hollis insisted, his ice-gray eyes pleading.
Plum pudding. Jack had never been very good at denying his cousins. They were the only members of his entire family he actually liked. He had grown up alongside them, had played in the snow with them when they were all fledgling elves, teasing each other, seeing who could summon the strongest arctic winds. Of course, even when combining their powers, the twins weren’t nearly as strong as Jack, but he always encouraged them to strive for their best, and now look at them. Vale was Lieutenant in the Toy Soldier Army, and Hollis was a Major, both decorated and renowned for their bravery. Jack was very proud of them, and was never shy about expressing it.
“Jack?” Vale prodded gently.
“Not entirely,” Jack replied, unwilling to hide the truth from them. He reached the second floor, nodding a greeting to the prestigious occupants of the other private boxes who wandered out to sneak a peek at Jack and his entourage. Though he had to admit, he could see why they would be intrigued. Not by him. Kringle only knew why anyone would have any interest in seeing him, but his cousins were certainly a sight to behold. They were exceptionally handsome, with the pitch-black hair their family was renowned for. Where Jack and his father had black eyes, Hollis and Vale’s were a pale, foggy gray. They had chiseled jaws, pouting lips, and, in their ceremonial military uniforms, looked dashing.
“Jack, what will the other kingdoms think?” Hollis hissed quietly. He took hold of Jack’s arm and pulled him to a stop, his gaze one of concern.
“Do you mind? I have somewhere I need to be and it’s far more pleasant than standing around arguing nonsense with you. The other kingdoms will think whatever they like, regardless of what I do. It hardly concerns me either way.”
“How can it not concern you? We’re the strongest kingdom next to Alfeim, and you’re our prince. How are we supposed to keep our position if the Prince of Frost abandons his army to frolic in the snow with some Christmas elf? This is a dire situation, and you say it doesn’t concern you?”
“Watch your tone, Hollis. I won’t have my life dictated to me. I also have no intention of abandoning our army. I was simply considering stepping back from a few responsibilities by promoting other soldiers perfectly capable of doing the job.” He pulled his arm out of Hollis’ grip and marched off, finally approaching his private box.
“All for that… pilot?”
Jack pulled aside the red velvet curtain, his heart beating fiercely at the sight before him.
“He has a name,” Jack said quietly, as his gaze met with the most radiant smile of them all. “I hope I didn’t keep you waiting too long.”
Rudy stood to face him. A more beautiful creature Jack had never known. “You know I would wait for you however long necessary.” His pale-blue eyes shone lovingly in the warm glow of the crystal chandelier hanging above their heads. He was stunning in his red-and-gold frock coat, waistcoat, and breeches. A white cravat was tied elegantly around his slender neck, and his waistcoat accentuated his slim waist, concealing what Jack knew to be a beautifully toned, muscular physique.
Spinning on his heel, Jack gave the twins a gentle shove out of the box. “Get out.”
“Jack,” Rudy scolded playfully. “Manners.” He walked over to Hollis and Vale, offering a friendly smile. “Fellas.”
The twins bowed politely, Vale smiling brightly while Hollis frowned.
“All right,” Jack prompted, giving his cousins a wave. “Now get out. I’ll see you two at the Palace Courts promptly at ten tomorrow morning.” Without another word, he closed the curtain on them. He turned to Rudy with a thoughtful tilt to his head. “Was that rude?”
Rudy chuckled. “Do you care?”
“No.” Jack closed the distance between them in one step, his arms drawing Rudy against him as he crushed their mouths together in an ardent kiss. It was only after he was forced to come up for air that he realized he hadn’t checked that the outer curtain was drawn. The lack of scandalized gasps told him they had privacy. Rudy looked up at him, that starry gaze he held only for Jack reminding him of how lucky he was.
“We should probably open the curtain now,” Rudy suggested, sounding somewhat reluctant, not to mention out of breath. His cheeks were flushed, but the color couldn’t compare to the fiery crimson of his hair. No one in the whole of the North Pole had hair as stunning or as red as Rudy’s. He was handsome, an ace pilot, smelled wonderfully of cinnamon, and most importantly, he was all Jack’s.
“All right.” Jack took a deep breath and came to stand at the front of the gilded marble balcony while Rudy took position at his side. “Ready?”
“As I’ll ever be,” Rudy replied, his fingers discreetly lacing with Jack’s gloved ones.
Straightening to his full height, Jack summoned a gust of wind that parted the red velvet curtain before them, revealing the impressive sight of the crowded ballroom beneath them, everything a flurry of white and gold. Applause erupted from the guests attending this year’s Silver Bells Christmas Ball, though he imagined a good deal of them did so because they felt they had no choice. Whether they loved him or loathed him, there was no one in the kingdom who didn’t fear him. Jack felt fingers tighten around his own and he couldn’t help his smile. Well, perhaps there was one.
Jack held on to Rudy’s hand, joining him in waving to the crowd. No matter how anyone felt about his love for the Christmas elf, Jack had no intention of letting Rudy go, and anyone who threatened what he had would come to know true fear. That he guaranteed.
THE BELL above the door jingled, and Vixen let out a sigh. Showtime.
With a broad smile, he left his comfy spot by the window where he’d been watching the snow fall and made for the bar as the White Hart erupted into laughter and chatter. He took a seat on one of the red-and-gold stools, smiling while his Rein Dear brothers flooded in and crowded him. Dasher—the eldest and more brash of their Rein Dear brothers—threw an arm around Vixen’s shoulders and took it upon himself to order enough drinks to get the entire Toy Soldier army merry. He pushed a peppermint julep in front of Vixen and gave him a hearty pat on the back.
“Drink up. One more day until the test runs start.”
Vixen took his peppermint julep and swallowed it in two gulps. One more day of fun before he was meant to be on his best behavior. So many silly rules. Not that Vixen ever followed many.
“Hey there.” A pretty toy soldier in a bright red uniform with gleaming gold buttons and shiny black boots leaned on the bar beside Vixen. He had a smooth jaw and deep, dark eyes.
“Well hello,” Vixen purred. He raked his gaze over the dark-haired elf. Promising. Very promising.
“You must be Vixen. I’ve heard so much about you.”
Vixen gave the toy soldier a wink. “Only the scandalous parts are true. How about buying a fella a drink?”
The toy soldier laughed, showing a row of perfect white teeth. He signaled over one of the waiters, and Vixen ordered another peppermint julep. With a broad smile, the toy soldier took Vixen’s hand in his and put it to his lips for a kiss. “Officer Fern. At your service.”
Well. Well. Well. Vixen leaned in with a sultry smile. “And just what kind of services might you be offering, Officer Fern?” A lustful look came into the elf’s dark eyes.
“That depends on what you need.”
A tingle went up Vixen’s spine, and he licked his bottom lip. Oh, how he liked a naughty soldier. Vixen opened his mouth only to have Rudy wedge himself in between them. His infuriating friend dropped down onto the stool between Vixen and the handsome—not to mention willing—toy soldier. With that big grin of his at full force, Rudy turned to the toy soldier.
“Do excuse me, Officer. I’m afraid I have some urgent business matters to discuss with my Rein Dear brother. Perhaps you can catch up with him in, oh, let’s say three weeks?”
Officer Fern looked somewhat puzzled before nodding and silently walking off. Vixen was fuming. He opened his mouth, and once again, Rudy cut him off with a quiet hiss.
“Plum pudding, Vixen. Another toy soldier?”
Vixen shrugged off his friend’s disapproval. “What can I say? I have a weakness for elves in uniform.”
“It’s three weeks until the Big Flight. I need you to stay out of trouble.” Rudy put a hand to Vixen’s shoulder. “Please, Vixen. Must we go through this every year? It’s as if the closer we get to the Big Flight, the more reckless you become.”
Vixen removed Rudy’s hand with a sniff, annoyed at his friend’s accusation. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. In fact, last time I checked, it was your frosty beau who had put the Big Flight in danger. What would we have done if Kringle hadn’t healed you?”
Almost a year ago Jack Frost had nearly lost his heart to the ice after Rudy’s plane had been sabotaged, leaving Rudy injured. Healed by Mayor Kringle, Rudy had been determined to save Jack and in the process discovered a hidden power within himself, one that summoned fire and warmth. Either way, it was just another thing Rudy possessed that Vixen didn’t. Bah humbug. He worked just as hard as Rudy. Sort of. Maybe not as hard as Rudy, but he worked hard. So what if Vixen liked to enjoy himself when he wasn’t being the darling of North Pole City along with his brethren?
Rudy’s pale blue eyes filled with hurt and frustration, but Vixen refused to give in, knowing he was right. “You know very well that wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t Jack’s either. You can hardly compare what happened then to the reckless festivities you get up to mere weeks before we fly out. It’s getting worse. I do wish you would confide in me.”
“There’s nothing to confide,” Vixen replied irritably. “Have you thought perhaps I’m not being more reckless but that you’re becoming more of a stick-in-the-mud? He’s going to turn you into a grump like him.”
“Nonsense. The year before last, you almost overslept because you’d been out getting merry all day with that toy soldier you’d met only two days before. Then there was the year we had to make an emergency landing because you forgot to refuel your biplane. Why? Because you were too busy flirting with a toy soldier. And what about the year I found you mere hours before the Big Flight naked in your biplane with a toy soldier? This has to end, Vixen.”
“What has to end? My fun? Why must you always put a damper on my festivities?” Not a year went by where Rudy didn’t harp on about Vixen’s behavior. If he did tend to partake in certain festivities a little more the closer it got to the Big Flight, then it was due to the amount of pressure the event placed on him. Surely, of all elves, Rudy understood. The whole world was counting on them. The happiness of millions. That was a lot of responsibility to place on an elf’s shoulders.
Rudy’s expression softened and his tone along with it. “I’m trying to keep you from getting kicked off the squadron. You’re my best friend, Vixen. Please. You have to know it’s because I care.”
Vixen felt somewhat guilty, though he didn’t know what for. He didn’t want his friend getting so upset or worried, but Vixen wasn’t doing anything wrong, merely having a little fun. When had that become such a terrible act?
“What about Lieutenant Vale?”
The question caught Vixen by surprise. “What about him?” He finished his drink and ordered another. Yum. His favorite. Mistletoe Martini with plenty of kick. If only his best friend would have a drink—or several—and loosen up a little.
“You seemed interested in him a few months ago.”
Vixen took several sips of his fruity drink, feeling marginally better. “Sure, he’s quite handsome, but he’s too timid and quiet.” After the incident, he hadn’t given the lieutenant much thought. He was a member of the Frost family, and everyone knew what pleasant personalities they all had. Vale did seem to be less ill-tempered than his brother Hollis and cousin Jack, but he was still somewhat of a wallflower.
Rudy let out a huff as he declined Vixen’s offer of a sip from his drink. “You didn’t even give him a chance.”
“A chance for what? True love?” Vixen frowned. “Not everyone is looking to get their wings clipped, Rudy.” His friend’s face turned nearly as red as his hair. It was quite the sight. Rudy was renowned for his red hair. It was the reddest and brightest in the kingdom. Personally, Vixen thought it made his friend’s head look like it was on fire. Vixen was quite happy with his own tamer caramel-colored locks.
“For Kringle’s sake, if that’s what you believe love is, then you know nothing about it.”
“Maybe, but I know how to have a fabulous time. And this exchange is anything but.” Vixen finished his drink and, with a smile, held his hand up for another.
“Fine. Have it your way. But I’m begging you. Take things slow.” Rudy looked as if he wanted to say more but instead walked off. A moment later, Dasher took his place.
“Crabapples. What crawled up his stocking?”
“Most likely Jack Frost,” Vixen muttered. Dasher stared at him before bursting into laughter. Vixen found himself giggling along. A few more drinks, and he would be well on his way to being merry, which was just what he needed. He was here to have fun, for Kringle’s sake. “Was that mean of me? He’s my best friend. And our captain.”
Dasher waved a hand in dismissal. “You know Rudy. Always so responsible.”
The bell above the door jingled somewhere behind Vixen, and Dasher gave his shoulder a nudge.
“Look who it is.”
Vixen turned in time to see Jack and the Frost twins walk through the door. He had to admit it was quite a sight. Jack was at the front dressed in his regal black uniform, the expanse of his chest impressive. Silver braiding adorned the jacket of his uniform as well as the white-furred pelisse hanging off one shoulder. More of the same braiding was on the red cuffs of his sleeves and stiff red collar. The twins wore similar uniforms but with gold braiding instead of silver. Lieutenant Vale certainly cut a fine figure in his royal uniform. His Hessian boots were shined and spotless. His black trousers and matching jacket were pristine. Gold braiding adorned the front of the jacket along with the sleeve cuffs and high collar. A black-furred pelisse hung off one shoulder, the gold braiding matching the rest of the uniform. He and his twin weren’t as tall as Jack but no less imposing. His pitch-black hair was neatly parted, his silvery-gray eyes, sparkling. He had a full mouth and a chiseled jaw, and when he noticed Vixen eyeing him, his cheeks turned a lovely shade of pink.
“What I wouldn’t give for a romp in the snow with the twins,” Dasher murmured over the rim of his glass.
Cupid came to stand beside them, some pink fruit concoction in his glass. “Well, you’re out of luck with Major Hollis. He’s not into elves. Plus he’s not very friendly.”
“I can be very persuasive. And his disposition is hardly my reason for wanting to jingle his bells.”
“Dasher!” Cupid’s cheeks flushed bright red as he fidgeted uncomfortably where he stood. Their smallest Rein Dear brother was easily scandalized. Then again, Cupid was the only Rein Dear who was part winter faery—and he looked it, too, with his wispy blond hair falling over his brow, his rosy complexion, pouty lips, and soft features. Blitzen—who was the complete opposite of Cupid in every way, from his large stature to his somber expression—gave them a disapproving glare from over Dasher’s shoulder. Holy holly, he was just as much a stick-in-the-mud as Rudy.
Cupid quickly recovered and leaned forward, his pale blue eyes sparkling with mischief. “I’ve heard Lieutenant Vale has a crush on a certain someone.”
“Well, I don’t like to brag—” Vixen was swiftly cut off by Dasher. Why would no one let him speak this evening? He needed another drink. No, he needed to find Officer Fern.
“Humbug. You love to brag,” Dasher teased.
“Hush.” Vixen smoothed out his red-plaid waistcoat before replying, “All right, so the lieutenant may have a crush on me.”
“You know I have my heart set on a prince.” Vixen had never told Rudy because he knew his friend would only give him a disapproving frown, undoubtedly accompanied by another lecture. Ever since Vixen had been a tiny elfling, he’d dreamed of the day a prince would sweep him off to his castle, showering him with gifts and undying love. Then everyone would see how special Vixen was. He had been once, back when his parents had been warm and loving, doting on him. They’d adopted him when they discovered they couldn’t have elflings of their own. He’d been so happy. Everything he did had brought smiles to their faces. They’d clapped and cheered, given him hugs and kisses, told him how special and wonderful he was.
One day, a Christmas miracle happened. His parents had an elfling. A boy. After that, it was as if Vixen didn’t exist. Nothing he did would make them look at him the way they looked at their new elfling boy. They hadn’t been cruel to him, merely indifferent, which had felt just as terrible. Everything his brother did was always better. In their parents’ eyes, his brother could do no wrong. They’d given him everything that had once been Vixen’s, even his room.
He’d misbehaved to see if maybe then they would look at him, but it only made things worse. So when he was old enough to enter the Rein Dear Academy, Vixen ran away, lied and forged their signatures, believing if he became a Rein Dear for Mayor Kringle, they’d notice and be proud of him. They never bothered. Vixen felt the back of his eyes sting but pushed it away before anyone could notice. He worked so hard but never heard a word from them, so he’d decided to forget them. All he ever wanted was for them to love him as they once had. He’d show them. As soon as he found his prince, the world and his parents would know how wonderful and special he truly was.
“Well, the only prince in the kingdom is taken,” Cupid reminded him sweetly. “He also dislikes you. A great deal.”
“Frankly, Vale Frost is too good for you.”
Vixen gaped at Dasher. “That’s an awfully mean thing to say.” Not that Dasher had ever been one to mince words, but it still hurt to hear. This evening wasn’t going at all as planned. All he’d wanted was to get merry and perhaps join a toy soldier for a frolic or two. Dasher continued as if Vixen hadn’t spoken.
“Vale Frost is handsome, a lieutenant in the Toy Soldier army, and a member of the Frost family. I very much doubt an elf such as that is interested in one of your whirlwind love affairs. He’s part of the monarchy.”
Vixen turned in his stool to study the elf sitting over on a large davenport with Jack, Rudy, and Major Hollis. Vale Frost was very handsome indeed and only a few hundred years older than Vixen. He lived in a palace and was powerful. Not as powerful as Jack or the King of Frost, but he still wielded the powers of winter. For the love of holly, what was he thinking? He could certainly do a lot worse than Vale Frost. Vixen finished off his drink and stood. “You’re absolutely right, Dasher. Except for the being too good for me part. In fact, he’s just the sort of elf someone of my position should be courted by.”
“Uh-oh.” Dasher shook his head. “You have that look in your eyes.”
Blitzen let out a heavy sigh and sat back. “This is going to be nothing short of a disaster.”
“Thank you for the support,” Vixen muttered. He stood and headed for the tufted, red-velvet loveseat in front of the fireplace. On his way there, he caught Vale Frost’s eye and gave the elf his most charming, come-hither smile. Then he sat down, crossed one leg over the other and waited. Seconds later, a figure hovered to his right, and Vixen held back a smile.
“May I join you?”
Vixen looked up and blinked innocently, as if he hadn’t been expecting anyone. “Of course.”
As Lieutenant Vale walked over to sit, Vixen discreetly nudged over, so when Vale sat, they were almost touching. With a timid smile, Vale cleared his throat and faced Vixen.
“It’s lovely to see you again.”
Vixen leaned in a little closer. “Likewise, darling. Where have you been hiding yourself?” He gingerly reached out and smoothed out Vale’s pelisse, amused at the subtle fidget from the heroic lieutenant.
“Yes.” Vixen jutted out his bottom lip and stroked the fur of the pelisse. “I haven’t seen much of you around since that day in the field when your cousin had his little temper tantrum.”
Vale cleared his throat once again and absently fiddled with the braiding in his jacket. “Oh, well, I thought you were interested, but then I saw very little of you. I assumed you’d had second thoughts.”
“Don’t be silly. I had the Big Flight and then the celebrations that came after, plus all the post-flight procedures, the preparations for the next flight, the appearances, the charity events, the interviews, and so on. You know being a Rein Dear is very demanding.” His hand came to rest on Vale’s leg, and Vixen did his best not to laugh at the way the elf’s eyes widened.
“Um, yes, of course. Forgive me. I shouldn’t have assumed.”
“That’s all right. How about you make it up to me?” Vixen said, his tone low and sultry as he ran a finger up Vale’s leg.
“Would you… would you join me on a sleigh ride sometime?”
Well, Vixen certainly hadn’t been expecting that. How very… quaint. Admittedly, he’d been hoping the lieutenant would have offered something a little more glamorous, but if a sleigh ride is what it took for Vixen to capture his quarry, then…. “I’d love to. How about you pick me up tomorrow after my test flight at the Claus Causeway?”
“I’ll be there,” Vale replied with a broad smile.
“In the meantime, how about you offer a thirsty elf a drink?”
“Oh!” Vale blinked and jumped to his feet so quickly, he gave Vixen a start. “How very rude of me. Of course. What can I get you?”
“Something bubbly.” Vixen gave him a wink and was forced to bite down on his bottom lip as Vale backed up and turned, colliding with the loveseat’s armrest. Embarrassed, he motioned awkwardly to the seat.
“I didn’t see it. Excuse me.” With a bow, he quickly strode off toward the bar. Dasher’s voice whispered hoarsely in his ear.
Vixen looked up at his Rein Dear brother and gave him a wicked grin. “He’s completely smitten. Just you wait. By the time the Big Flight comes around, I’ll have him wrapped around my finger.” He could just see the headlines now. For once, he’d be on the front page instead of Rudy. Finally, he was about to get what he’d always wanted.
M/M romance author by day, artist by night, Charlie Cochet is quick to succumb to the whispers of her wayward muse. From Historical to Fantasy, Contemporary to Science Fiction, no star is out of reach when following her passion. From hardboiled detectives and society gentleman, to angels and elves, there’s bound to be plenty of mischief for her heroes to find themselves in, and plenty of romance, too!
THE HEART OF FROST