Saturday, December 12, 2015

Saturday's Series Spotlight: North Pole City Tales by Charlie Cochet


Loving Blitz #4
Summary:
From North Pole City to Winter Wonderland, preparations are underway after a royal announcement sweeps everyone into a frenzy of festivity. At the heart of the celebration are the city’s most beloved elf pilots, the Rein Dears. Once the Big Flight is behind them, the pilots prepare for the royal event. Assigned a special task of finding an Elska rose, Cupid and Blitzen are unaware of how their friendship is about to change forever.

Yet not all that glitters is gold. The sweet, angelic Cupid hides a dark secret, one that threatens to destroy his Rein Dear status, his friends, and the elf who’s captured his heart. It’s up to Blitzen to help Cupid see the light in the darkness and show him that together they can mend broken hearts.

Mending Noel #1
Summary:
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
Summary:
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
Summary:
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.



Loving Blitz #4
Chapter One
THE SILVER Bells Christmas Ball was truly a sight to behold. Its splendor never ceased to enchant Cupid. This year it was even more magnificent due to it being held at the King of Frost’s palace in Winter Wonderland, rather than Santa’s Grotto in the heart of North Pole City. Cupid had been to the king’s palace on previous occasions with his fellow Rein Dear, but never for anything as illustrious as this. Festivities were held in the smaller ballrooms, with only the most prestigious of events appointed to the grand ballroom.

The room seemed infinite, a never-ending stretch of gilded ivory columns, grandiose arches, and gleaming marble floors. The rows of diamond chandeliers hanging from the ceiling sparkled like a sea of stars. It was as regal and elegant as the king himself. At one end of the room, the orchestra’s musicians were dressed in white from head to toe as they played sweeping waltzes and holiday carols on their white instruments. On the opposite end of the room, tucked in an alcove atop several steps, sat the king’s white-and-silver throne. It was magnificent and befitting its king, with armrests carved into fierce polar bears. The back fanned out in twisting and swirling branches, and the seat was of tufted blue velvet. It was intricately carved and decorated from clawed feet to the tip of each branch.

Cupid was mesmerized from the moment he stepped foot inside the ballroom. There was certainly something different about this year’s Silver Bells Christmas Ball besides the change in venue. Something in the air made it feel… especially important. There were far more guests than usual, many whom Cupid didn’t recognize.

“Here you go.” Blitz handed Cupid a glass of bubbly pink strawberry champagne, Cupid’s favorite. Blitz was always so thoughtful. Cupid didn’t know what he would do without him. They were as different as night and day, yet their differences seemed to complement each other. Cupid couldn’t think of anyone whose company he preferred more than Blitzen’s.

“Thank you,” Cupid replied sweetly. “You look wonderfully dashing, as usual.” Blitz always looked handsome, but in the auburn frock coat with gold braiding and matching vest, he looked even more fetching. His broad shoulders, tapered waist, and muscular legs had more than one sugarplum faery taking notice. Elves too, for that matter. “I see you’ve yet to set fire to your cravat.”

Blitz tugged at the offending article of clothing. “I feel like this blasted thing is trying to strangle me.”

“I know it’s uncomfortable, but it’s only for one night.” Cupid chuckled at Blitz’s pout. Blitz didn’t enjoy dressing up as much as Cupid did. Actually Blitz hated it. He was far more content in his everyday Rein Dear garb of wine-red shirt and black vest. Whatever Blitz wore, he always looked large and imposing. Especially when he stood next to Cupid, which was more often than not. Blitz was taller and larger than the rest of the Rein Dears. Wherever they went, he stood out. Some elves were intimidated by Blitz and his somber expression, but few knew the burly elf the way Cupid did. He was really just a big softie, and he gave the most wonderful hugs.

The two of them stood to one side of the ballroom, sipping their drinks and watching the crowd as they danced or chatted. To think another year was almost gone. In a few days it would be time for the Big Flight. Cupid could barely contain his excitement. It was his favorite time of year.

All at once the guests around them broke off into applause. Cupid’s drink frosted over and he smiled brightly. Rudy and Jack had arrived.

“Fashionably late as usual, I see,” Blitz muttered. He turned his glass upside down and cursed under his breath. His champagne was frozen solid. “For the love of holly. Jack and his blasted games. I thought he’d outgrown them by now.” He placed his frozen drink on a nearby silver service cart.

“I thought so too. I’m glad to see he hasn’t. It’s obviously Rudy’s influence.” It saddened Cupid to know Jack had lost himself for so long. He’d always been a playful and mischievous winter spirit. After the queen’s death, Winter Wonderland lost its heart to the ice, much like its prince. Thanks to Rudy and his love for Jack, the Prince of Frost was becoming the winter spirit he’d once been. “I’ve never seen him so happy.”

“You’re right,” Blitz conceded. “He doesn’t seem as grumpy. Sometimes. On leap year.”

Cupid laughed and teasingly nudged Blitz with his elbow. “Admit it, you think they’re adorable together.”

Blitz huffed and folded his arms over his chest. “I’ll admit to no such thing. Adorable is not a word I would ever associate with Jack Frost. I can think of a few choice words, but I assure you none are remotely close to adorable.”

Despite Blitz’s cranky demeanor, Cupid could see the humor in his gray eyes. The orchestra broke off into a cheerful melody Cupid instantly recognized. Oh! It was his favorite dance. He swiftly handed his glass to a passing waiter and grabbed Blitz’s wrist. “Dance with me.”

Blitz looked uncertain. “But this dance is for sweethearts.”

“Well, we’re best friends. That’s kind of like a couple.”

“I, uh….” Blitz’s uncertainty melted into a warm smile. “Okay.”

They headed to the circle of sweethearts forming in the center of the dance floor, among them Jack and Rudy, and Lieutenant Vale and Vixen, who’d emerged from out of the snowy blue. Those two were like a couple of snow bunnies, always scurrying off to do who knew what together. Cupid hadn’t seen them since they arrived together over an hour ago. Vixen seemed to draw out the more mischievous side of the bashful lieutenant, while the lieutenant had the oddest calming effect on Vixen.

Blitz was right, this dance was for sweethearts, but it was so much fun. Besides, there was no one he wanted to dance it with other than Blitz. It was an odd sentiment to have toward his friend, but he enjoyed dancing with Blitz too much to care or give it any more thought. And seeing as how Blitz was currently without a beau, there was no reason for them not to dance together.

Everyone held hands and they danced in a loop. They stopped so Vixen could break from the group and take Cupid’s hand. The two of them danced in a circle before parting. Vixen took Vale’s hand while Cupid took Blitz’s. They whirled, then switched partners again.

Jack was in especially good spirits, twirling Rudy at the end of his turn and making Rudy laugh before they switched partners. The circle continued, this time with small lifts instead of taking hands. Cupid couldn’t help his giggle when Blitz took hold of his waist and lifted him off his feet. The lifts were really meant to be hops, but Blitz could lift Cupid without the least bit of effort. The pairs broke off into a scandalous version of a waltz where they were all but pressed up against each other. As always, Cupid was forced to look up to meet Blitz’s eyes.

“I can see why you enjoy this. It’s fun and very sweet.” Blitz’s hand pressed ever so subtly against Cupid’s lower back when they turned, and the strangest tingle went up Cupid’s spine. That was… unusual.

“Are you all right?” Blitz asked so only Cupid could hear.

“Yes, of course. Why wouldn’t I be?” Cupid smiled. Was his face red? It felt a little hot.

“Your cheeks are flushed. More than usual. Are you tired? Would you like to stop?”

“I’m fine,” Cupid reassured him. He hated that he made Blitz worry. Maybe it was the champagne. He wasn’t very good at all the bubbly stuff. Two glasses was usually his limit. Though now that he thought about it, he’d only had one, and not even a full glass at that.

“All right. But you’ll tell me if you’re feeling unwell?”

“I promise.” Cupid gave Blitz’s arm a gentle squeeze in assurance.

“Good.”

They finished the waltz when Cupid noticed everyone moving on to the next part. Plum pudding! “I forgot about this part.” The very last dance included giving your sweetheart a kiss. That was all very well and good for the other elves in the circle, but…. Cupid turned to Blitz, who shrugged.

“It’s just a small kiss.” Blitz gave him a wink. “I’m sure I’ll survive.”

Cupid nodded. He wasn’t quite certain he would survive. This evening was taking a somewhat unexpected turn. The two of them were very close. They’d snuggled together on the love seat at the White Hart or at the Rein Dear Estates in the lobby. Usually with cups of hot cocoa, and sometimes in front of the fire. It was Cupid’s favorite spot. At times they’d even fallen asleep together. But kiss?

Everyone leaned forward and puckered up. Cupid did the same. Sort of. He stood on his toes and Blitz bent at the waist to meet him. The kiss was a small, quick press of the lips. A spark unlike Cupid had ever felt spread through him when Blitz’s lips touched his own. It took Cupid by surprise and he jerked back, his fingers going to his lips. Blitz’s eyes were wide, and it was clear he was as startled as Cupid. The circle broke off into applause, drawing their attention and snapping them out of whatever trance they had been in.

“There you are, cutie. I’ve been looking everywhere for you.” Dasher ruffled Cupid’s hair, and Cupid swatted his hand.

“Stop it.” Cupid smoothed down his hair and glared at Dasher.

“Can’t help it. You’re so adorable.”

“I’m three hundred and sixty-five years old. Nearly as old as you.”

“Don’t remind me. Are you sure you and Blitz didn’t swap birthdays? Because you look more like two ninety-eight than he does.”

“Hey, watch it, old timer.” Blitz narrowed his eyes at Dasher. Uh-oh. Here we go.

“Old? I’m slightly older than Jack. Slightly. I’d like to see you call him old to his face,” Dasher muttered.

“What do you suppose is going on?” Cupid’s question was aimed at no one in particular, but if he didn’t intervene, these two would get into an argument over something silly like they always did. The last thing he needed was to break up another of their roughhousing sessions. Not an easy task considering both elves were so much bigger than him.

“Why would you think something was going on?” Blitz asked.

“There are more dignitaries in attendance than usual. There are even a few monarchs from other kingdoms. Also, when has the king ever attended the Silver Bells Christmas Ball?” Did the king never get lonely in this huge palace all by himself? His only company appeared to be the help, his brother who often visited him, or Jack. It was common knowledge the king rarely left his home. It had been that way since the queen’s death. So very sad.

Dasher shrugged. “It’s rather hard for him not to attend when it’s in his own palace.” He took a peppermint julep from a waiter’s tray with a wink. Ever the flirt.

“You know what I mean,” Cupid said. “Jack’s often mentioned how his father is somewhat of a recluse. He hates parties. Why would he host the Silver Bells Christmas Ball at his home? And why so many distinguished monarchs?”

“It’s a shame he doesn’t leave this place more often. He’s quite something to look at, isn’t he?”

Cupid gaped at Dasher. “Are you mad? It’s the King of Frost.”

“What?” Dasher looked genuinely perplexed. “It’s a simple observation.”

Simple observation? Did the elf have any idea of who he was discussing, as if he were some heartthrob elf from the magazines?

“We all know your ‘observations’ too well by now,” Blitzen scoffed.

“How can you not see?” Dasher motioned across the floor to the throne where the king had taken a seat, his royal white-and-ice-blue robe flowing around him. He certainly was a sight to behold, and Cupid supposed the king was rather handsome. But Cupid would never dare to look at the King of Frost in such a fashion. Dasher must have slipped on some oil in his hangar while tuning up his biplane and hit his head. “He’s… incredible,” Dasher added.

Cupid and Blitz exchanged glances. Oh my. This didn’t bode well. Blitz was the first to speak up.

“I hope you’re kidding.”

“I’m not kidding. I mean, I have no idea how old he is. No one does, but he barely looks any older than Jack, yet more distinguished and regal. He’s not as immature.”

“Well, he is ancient.”

“Blitz!” Cupid gasped. “For holly’s sake, have you forgotten where we stand? What if someone overhears you two?”

Blitz gave him an apologetic smile. Dasher, on the other hand, continued as if Cupid hadn’t said a word.

“He’s fascinating.”

“And powerful,” Blitz added. “And unobtainable for a vast number of reasons. Setting your sights on the King of Frost is like wishing for the stars. Everyone knows he’s not loved anyone since his queen, who was a faery, by the way. You’re an elf.”

Dasher looked down at himself and frowned. “Is that what I am? I hadn’t noticed.” He raised his head, his expression unimpressed. “Thank you, Blitzen. I wouldn’t have known otherwise.”

“Suit yourself, but don’t come complaining to me when he turns you into an icicle or banishes you to the Mountain Fortress. While you’re at it, why not court his brother?”

Cupid sighed. Now would probably be a good time for that second glass of strawberry champagne. If these two continued the path they were on, he might even need a third glass.

“Don’t be absurd. Malachi Frost is handsome, I suppose, but he’s not my type. He’s also not into elves.”

“Neither is the king,” Blitz reminded Dasher. Again.

“You don’t know that.”

“And you’re going to be the one to find out?” Blitz shook his head in disbelief. Seeing he wasn’t about to dissuade Dasher from whatever madness had struck him, he gave in. “Just wait until after the Big Flight. It’ll be difficult to find a replacement so close to the day.”

Dasher arched an eyebrow at Blitz. “Your faith in me is underwhelming.”

“Perhaps if you weren’t discussing getting under the robes of one of the most powerful seasonal spirits in existence, I might have more confidence in your ability to charm. You’re going to end up an ice cube.”

“And why is that?” A deep, throaty voice brought them all to still.

“Your majesty.” Cupid bowed along with Blitzen. He almost choked when he noticed Dasher just standing there. “Dasher!” Cupid whispered hoarsely. Had the elf gone mad?

Dasher tilted his head to one side, seeming to study the king, who was staring at Dasher as if he were some strange, otherworldly creature. Several awkward seconds ticked by before Dasher bowed gracefully. “Your majesty.”

“So you do have manners,” the king said, arching an eyebrow at Dasher.

Cupid straightened and remained silently beside Blitz. It was quite possible they’d be down one Rein Dear for the Big Flight. With Dasher there was no telling what might come out of his mouth.

“My apologies, your majesty. I was momentarily distracted by your beauty.”

Cupid suppressed a groan, and beside him, Blitz coughed. The king’s eyes widened in shock before his expression darkened. “You’re far too bold, elfling.”

Dasher’s lips lifted on one side, as he met the king’s pitch-black eyes. “With all due respect, your majesty, I may be young in your eyes, but what I lack in years, I make up for in experience.”

Holy holly, it was worse than Cupid could have imagined. Was Dasher actually discussing his sexual prowess with the bloody King of Frost? Should Cupid say something? Intervene? What if the king had them all arrested? Judging by the indignant look on the king’s face, they’d be getting off lucky with imprisonment. Where was Rudy when you needed him? He would know what to do. Most likely give Dasher a good kick in the backside.

“I should have you thrown out into the snow for your insubordination,” the king growled. A chill swept around them, and Blitz gingerly wrapped his arm around Cupid, holding him close against him. A few guests had taken notice, and Cupid prayed Dasher wasn’t about to start an incident. Mayor Kringle only held so much sway with the King of Frost. They were in Winter Wonderland, not North Pole City. Here the Frost monarchy ruled unconditionally.

“Then throw me out.” Dasher took a step toward the king, who remained where he stood. The king lifted his chin and straightened to his full height. He was at least a foot taller than Dasher and far more imposing. His eyes frosted over, and to Cupid’s astonishment, Dasher remained unmoved.

“You insolent, impetuous elfling. You dare defy me as if I were some common elf? I could crush you without lifting a finger.”

“I hear a lot of what you could do, and yet….”

Cupid held on to Blitz. This was it. They were all doomed. How could Dasher put the whole of Christmas in jeopardy simply to flirt? Was his head full of pinecones?

The king’s eyes returned to their usual darkness. “Tonight is a special occasion. Consider yourself fortunate I am feeling merciful.” He closed the distance between him and Dasher, and Cupid watched with slacked jaw as the king took hold of Dasher’s chin. His voice was grave when he spoke. “Cross me again, elfling, and you shall know the true power of winter. I am no one’s conquest, least of all some puny little Christmas elf.” With that the king spun on his heels and stormed off, his long robe swirling in haste to catch up to his brisk pace.

The silence stretched until it was broken by Dasher’s somewhat shaky laugh. “I think he likes me.”

“Have you lost your berries?” Blitz hissed. “What the holly was that?” He put his fingers out as if he were about to strangle Dasher, but somehow restrained himself.

“Didn’t you see? He likes me.”

“Likes you? He was seconds away from causing a blizzard in here!” Cupid turned to Blitz. He was genuinely concerned for their friend. “Perhaps all the excitement has gone to his head.”

Blitz scoffed. “Maybe he’s just a loon.”

“The both of you can go roll down a snowy hill.” Dasher stomped off, and Cupid watched him go.

“Plum pudding. What’s gotten into him? Since when has he been so interested in the king?” He turned to Blitz, who was attempting to look indifferent, but Cupid could see in his eyes how worried he was for Dasher. Their friend had been lucky this time, but what about the next? Perhaps Cupid should have a word with Rudy. Dasher was behaving odd, even for him.

“I think he’s just in need of a good romp in the snow.”

“Blitz!” Why must his friends be so scandalous? Vixen was always telling him he was a prude. Was he? He was rather certain he wasn’t. He was just a little more reserved with that sort of thing than the other Rein Dears. Honestly it was always romp in the snow this, sugarplum faery that. His brethren needed to find themselves a good hobby that didn’t include jingling someone’s bells.

“What? It’s obviously been a while.”

“I really don’t want to discuss Dasher’s love life,” Cupid muttered. He needed to find the nearest waiter and have some more champagne. He couldn’t even recall the last time he had a good frolic. Maybe that’s what was making him so grumpy. Hmm.

“Or in Dasher’s case, lack thereof.”

“Oh? And when did you last have a good romp in the snow?” Did he really want to know? Why the holly had he asked such an inane question?

Blitz took a step back. “Uh, well, I, um. Hey, look. Cake!”

“Where?” The moment Cupid turned his head, he realized his mistake. Why, that sneak! Cupid darted after Blitz, who dashed off with a laugh. For all of Blitz’s speed and strength, Cupid had the advantage. Whereas Blitz could easily be seen among the crowd because of his height, Cupid was able to get lost among the taller elves. Blitz would have trouble spotting him, and that’s when Cupid would launch his silent attack.

Darting behind a pillar, Cupid peeked out and spotted Blitz attempting to conceal himself behind a large flower arrangement. He might as well have been trying to hide behind a twig. Cupid crept out from behind his hiding place and dashed behind a guest’s expansive silk ball gown. Goodness, it was like a small hut. It could easily house several elflings. Turning his attention back to Blitz, he frowned. Plum pudding! Where had he gone?

Cupid cautiously left his hiding spot and headed for the flower arrangement where Blitz was moments ago. Just as he ducked behind it—as if Blitz had somehow shrunk himself in order to fully conceal himself—someone wrapped a strong arm around his waist, and Blitz’s hot breath tickled his skin as he whispered in Cupid’s ear.

“Gotcha.”

The butterflies returned to Cupid’s stomach and he remained very still. A tiny voice in his head told him he didn’t want to be let go, but good sense prevailed. Cupid pulled away with a smile. He pretended not to notice Blitz’s puzzled expression. Cupid had never pulled away from him before. He had no idea why he was doing it now, but he had to.

Blitz opened his mouth to say whatever was on his mind, when the room broke out into applause. The king stood before his throne, ready to address his guests. Whatever it was, it had the king smiling, which was an occasion in itself.

“Thank you all for joining us on this most festive occasion. I’m sure you’re wondering why the change in venue this year. You’ll find out very soon. But first I’d like to thank you, the illustrious citizens of our great kingdom. The Frost monarchy owes so much to you. When the time comes, my son will become king. At one time the thought filled me with uncertainty. The war took so much from us all, especially my son.” The king turned to the end of the stage and held a hand out. “But in the last few years, I’ve seen how wrong I was to doubt him.”

Jack joined the king at his side and embraced him. It was good to see the two close once again. For so long there had been a rift between them. Rudy would often confess his worries to Cupid, his fear the king would never approve of his love for Jack. At first the king was furious, but over the last few years, he’d come to see what Rudy meant to Jack, and how he’d underestimated the fiery Christmas elf.

Jack turned to the quiet room. “As my father said, thank you all for coming. Our great kingdom would be lost without you. The last few centuries have been difficult. Losing my mother—your queen—was a fierce blow, one I didn’t believe I would ever recover from. Although my heart still mourns the loss, it remains beating with warmth, all thanks to one very special elf.” Jack smiled down at Rudy. “Will you join me up here, sweetheart?”

Rudy smiled and took Jack’s hand, allowing him to help him up to the stage beside him. The ballroom was in complete silence as Jack spoke to Rudy for all to hear. “For years you’ve been a beacon in the snowstorm. The warm, bright red light guiding me home. I lost my heart to the ice all those years ago, and thanks to you, it was thawed. I never knew how much I needed that heart until the day I gave it to you.”

Jack lowered himself onto one knee, and the room collectively gasped. He drew a small gilded box from his ceremonial military uniform and opened it before Rudy.

“Rudy, will you do me the great honor of being my husband, and one day ruling at my side as prince of the Frost kingdom?”

Tears welled in Rudy’s eyes, and he nodded fervently. “Yes!”

The ballroom erupted into cheers and applause as Jack slipped a ring onto Rudy’s finger. Without hesitation, Rudy threw himself at Jack, and the two nearly toppled over, causing the guests to laugh. Cupid gave a sniff and did his best not to shed a tear, but what the holly, it was just the sort of occasion for it. He was so happy for Rudy. Perhaps the rumors circulating last Christmas regarding Jack proposing hadn’t been rumors after all. Jack stood and drew Rudy into his arms before kissing him. A roar of cheers and catcalls swept through the room. The excitement was palpable. There hadn’t been a royal wedding in centuries, much less one directly connected to the Frost monarchy.

Rudy and Jack thanked everyone and left the stage. The room was buzzing with talk of the wedding. When would it be, where would it be held, what would the couple wear…. It went on and on. Cupid and Blitz joined the rest of their Rein Dear brethren as they circled Rudy to offer their congratulations.

Cupid gave his dear friend a big hug. “Congratulations, Rudy! I’m so happy for you!”

“Thank you. I was wondering why the Silver Bells Christmas Ball was being held here. Jack said his father wished to be present when he asked for my hand in marriage.” Rudy wiped a tear from his eye. “I still can’t believe it.”

“Really? Jack adores you. I’m not surprised at all. And who better to rule at his side?” His friend and captain was always too modest. Rudy deserved all the wonderful gifts he received in life. He was the most selfless elf Cupid knew.

“Thank you.”

A crowd gathered around them, all eager to talk to the happy groom-to-be. Everyone wanted to know what type of wedding Rudy wanted. While poor Rudy was ambushed on all sides with questions on everything from wardrobe to menus, Jack’s cousin Vale turned to Blitz with a smile. “Will you be bringing your family?”

Blitz beamed proudly. “Of course. My parents would love it.”

“Also, Ruse would be very displeased with you if you didn’t bring her,” Cupid teased.

Blitz let out a snort. “Displeased? My sister would have my baubles if I allowed her to miss a royal wedding. I think Sage might enjoy himself. Plenty of sugarplum faeries for him to court.” He shook his head in amusement. “That elfling. I swear, one of these days a sugarplum faery is going to sweep him off his feet, and then we’ll see who’s feeling brash.”

Vale chuckled and turned his attention to Cupid. “What about you, Cupid? Will you be bringing your family to the wedding?”

“Oh, um, my mother passed quite some time ago. She was my only family.” A lump formed in Cupid’s throat, but he did his best to keep smiling. Vale’s expression became sympathetic.

“I’m so terribly sorry.”

“It’s all right. Will you excuse me?” Cupid bowed graciously before turning and walking off at a brisk pace. He needed some air, and all of a sudden, it felt rather stuffy in here.

“Are you all right?” Blitz’s hand landed gently on Cupid’s shoulder to stop him.

“Yes. Just being silly.” Breathe. Everything’s all right.

“About what?”

“Everyone’s families will be in attendance. Even Vixen will have Vale at his side.” Cupid swallowed hard. It still hurt terribly even all these years later. “I’ll be alone.”

“That’s not true.” Blitz cupped Cupid’s cheek. “You’ll have me. I’ll be at your side.”

Cupid couldn’t help the way his heart swelled. “You’re too sweet.”

“Humbug. I’m not being sweet. When have I ever not been at your side?”

It was true. Ever since their days at Claus College and then the Rein Dear Academy, Blitz had been at Cupid’s side. They’d been like two peas in a pod. Still were.

Blitz drew Cupid into a warm embrace. “Besides, Ruse loves you. So does the rest of my family. My parents have all but adopted you.”

Cupid smiled at the thought of Blitz’s sweet mother. She was always fussing over Cupid, even more than she did over Blitz. Whenever they visited Blitz’s family, she’d feed him far more than he could ever hope to eat, insisting he be well rested, and the slightest sniffle was cause for a healthy broth. Cupid stood on his toes and kissed Blitz’s cheek. Blitz’s dopey smile made him chuckle.

“What was that for?” Blitz asked softly.

“For being you. Thank you.” The music kicked off in a sweeping waltz. Blitz bowed and held his hand out.

“May I have this dance?”

Cupid smiled brightly and nodded. “I would love to.” He was so very lucky to have a dear friend like Blitz. He hoped things never changed.

Mending Noel #1
Chapter One
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?

Filing invoices.

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.

“Hey, Tim.”

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 #2
Chapter One
“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.

Vixen's Valor #3
Chapter One
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.”

“And?”

“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.

“Hiding?”

“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.

“He’s adorable.”


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.

Author Bio:
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!


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Loving Blitz #4(December 16, 2015)
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Conflict of Interest by Allyson Lindt

Title: Conflict of Interest
Author: Allyson Lindt
Series: Version 2.0 #2
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: September 25, 2015
Publisher: Acelette Press
Summary:
Scott McAllister's attitude is as much a part of his software empire's public image as its bestselling video games—there's no way he's letting his board of directors force him to behave just because someone might be watching.

Then he meets his new publicity manager. Kenzie Carter is gorgeous, intelligent, and order driven to a fault. Having her around is the perfect excuse to get down and dirty during business hours, show her the appeal of embracing chaos, and still claim he's complying with the board's edict.

And as long as he doesn't fall for the woman who's supposed to make over his geeky exterior, he can pretend screwing around with her isn't a conflict of interest.


His hands slid down her sides, past the edge of her skirt, and he pushed the hem up, fabric biting into her skin and burning with friction as it rose over her hips. He let out a short laugh and grazed her neck with his teeth. “Knowing that you’re wearing these thigh-highs makes it so hard to behave myself.”

She leaned her head back, gasping as he sucked on the skin between her neck and shoulder. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

“Not even close.” He lifted her leg and hooked it around his hip, stepping back close enough to the bench to let her rest her foot on it. His hand glided up the back of her thigh, his skin rough against hers. His fingers brushed the edge of her butt and slid forward.

“You know.” His whisper caressed the outside of her ear, his voice low and full of want. “I still fantasize about your moans that morning on the beach. What are the odds I can make you that loud again?”

The power and aggression in his question heightened her arousal. “Not likely. Not here.” Her voice was barely audible even to her own ears. The thrill of being someplace public raced through her, but she wasn’t interested even for a moment in getting caught.

His chuckle rumbled through the base of her throat as he slid his lips up her collarbone. “That sounds like a challenge.”

His hand crept around her thigh, brushing the outside of the already damp white cotton that was the only thing keeping him from Kenzie’s ache. She knew what he could do with those fingers.

Author Bio:
Allyson Lindt is a full-time geek and a fuller-time contemporary romance author. She prefers that her geeky heroes come with the alpha expansion pack and adores a heroine who can hold her own in a boardroom. She loves a sexy happily-ever-after and helping deserving cubicle dwellers find their futures together.


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