The pups were sleeping. Was there a better sound? If there was, Owen hadn’t heard it yet. His aunts had kicked him out of Mona and Chris’ house hours before, so the new family could get some rest, but there was no damn way he was leaving his alphas unprotected with new pups in the house. Chris and Mona needed to be parents for the night, not worry about assholes. That’s where Owen, as head enforcer for the Haven Pack came in. He not only enjoyed dealing with assholes, he also took great pleasure in ripping said assholes new ones.
He turned over on the sofa, watching the fire as it burned down. He was going to have to grab more wood before long. The house didn’t rely solely on the blaze’s heat, but it sure as hell took the edge off on nights like this. It was bitter outside, but he wasn’t going to let his new nieces feel that cold. No sir. There might not be a whole lot he could do for them at the moment, but safe and warm, those were things he could do.
Owen perked up to attention. One of the babies had sighed. Maybe they needed him. He jumped to his feet and headed to the bedroom. From the door, he could see Chris and Mona beneath their blanket with the babies between them. He crept out of the room. The last thing he wanted to do was fluster either new parent. They knew he was there—there was no question of that—but knowing he was there and actually having to acknowledge his presence were different things.
Checking the fire again and turning on the Christmas tree lights for fun, Owen headed past the kitchen and toward the porch. The woodpile on the porch was half depleted, and with a whole night ahead of him, Owen decided a good Christmas gift for the family would be to replenish the wood. He could keep an eye on things and still be useful. He grabbed Chris’ work coat and headed out into the cold.
It was freezing, but when Owen took a deep breath, he enjoyed the bite. Winter in Pennsylvania was supposed to be cold, and this year was living up to expectations. In the dead of night the blankets of snow made the surroundings relatively silent. It was nearly eery how quiet the surrounding space was, but Owen liked it. Peace and quiet wasn’t usually his thing. In fact, he had a pile of new, loud and violent video games waiting for him at his house. They would wait, though, until Mona was feeling better and Chris had a chance to bond with his daughters. Then Owen would hole up with a couple of cousins and play games until their eyes burned.
He was on his third trip when he heard it. The sound was nearly tinkling, but that didn’t make it any less of a threat. He tossed aside the wood and tried to pinpoint exactly where the sound was coming from. There were other Weres in the area, he knew, but none of them were sending up any alerts. He wasn’t about to cause a stir and chance alerting Mona or Chris until he knew what the threat was. The sound came again, just a whisper of a tinkle and this time, he knew where it was coming from.
“No fucking way,” he muttered. Visions of baddies trying to come down through the chimney filled his head, and Owen ran inside.
He kept his feet silent upon approach. After the last few weeks of added surveillance and the actual fight with Mona’s family, he was more than ready to kick ass again. Fighting was like sex: the more a guy had, the more he wanted. When he turned the corner, the scent of the spices Mona used baking the day before messing with his nose, he was ready to attack.
The red suit was odd, but the bent over ass made a target Owen wasn’t about to pass up. He couldn’t risk changing and alerting the intruder to his presence so Owen jumped instead, crossing the distance of the living room with a single bound. If he’d have been a wolf, Owen would have bit the guy in the ass—instead he booted him straight in the backside, knocking the intruder into the mantle of the fireplace.
“What the hell? Owen Myters, don’t you have enough sense not to attack Santa Clause on Christmas Eve?”
Owen froze, getting a full look and finally smell of the intruder lying on the floor. He wasn’t human, not wolf, and sure as hell wasn’t anything else Owen had ever encountered. The guy actually smelled like gingerbread and the tinkle Owen thought he’d heard before actually came directly from the man.
The red covered man pushed to his feet, holding his hand up toward the bedroom as he moved. “Shut up, will ya? I’ve got Mona and Chris in a sleep, but with new pups they could break my magic pretty easily.”
“Oh yeah.” That made sense. “Sure, no problem. What are you doing here?”
Santa rolled his eyes and gathered a sack Owen hadn’t noticed. “There are two children in this house. What do you think I’m doing here?”
“Cool. What did you bring the girls? I got them dollies and stuffed squirrels. Beat that.”
Santa chuckled, and Owen felt momentarily drawn in by the sound. The man in red wasn’t exactly like the books and songs said. He was younger, slimmer and didn’t have a beard either. Those things could have been off putting, but there was something about Santa that brought out all the feelings Owen had always expected if he ever met Santa.
“Don’t worry. The little ones are going to adore you much more than they ever will the likes of me,” Santa said. “And the trinkets I brought are only the start of teaching goodwill and selfless love. I only have one night to show those things, but you and the rest of the pack will reinforce the lessons for the other three hundred and sixty four days a year.”
Owen watched the not-chubby man place two small packages under the Christmas tree. The first time he remembered a gift from Santa, he’d been maybe four. It had been a hard year for all the Weres, the crops failing and no one doing well, but there had been blocks and other little toys under the tree for all the pups. In the years following, the simple, but usually most fun toys always came without a ‘from’ tag. He’d always known the man in red had something to do with it. The gifts stopped when he was seventeen and he’d missed them.
“You didn’t need them anymore, Owen,” Santa said, tossing the now empty sack over his shoulder. “Some kids need gifts for years, others not so much. I was happy to bring you the toys you asked for. Visiting pack pups has always been one of my very favorite things. I look forward to years of visiting these two little ones and their brothers and sisters to come. Now, if you’d get busy finding a mate, I could visit your place again too. I hear you’ve got some good video games.”
“You could always bring me a mate,” Owen offered with a grin. “You know, like the old days.”
The soft red glow from the fireplace partially lit Santa’s face as he added a few treats to the stockings hanging there. A quiet change overtook him, and Owen froze, not only sensing the difference, but understanding that it was important. “She’s out there for you, Owen Myters, looking for you every day. She won’t find you in Haven. You’ll find her in the West—not what you expect, but exactly who you need.”
The air in the room dropped in temperature, and the fire flickered before Santa came back to himself. His words had been prophetic and interesting, but the whole ambiance had made them excessively creepy. The mystery girl could wait.
“She will wait,” Santa said, the clandestine aura gone, replaced with the affable elf once more. “I’d say she’s a bit young now, anyway, but what the hell do I know about love? I’m head over heels for a succubus stripper librarian so I sure as heck know better than to cast stones. But maybe wait a year or two, and take a long road trip to the West Coast. It wouldn’t hurt anything.”
Owen nodded. He could do that.
“But in the meantime, do me a favor and don’t mention kicking me in the ass,” Santa said, standing directly in front of the fire. “I get enough shit from my friends in New York, adding a booting from a werewolf isn’t something I’d like to do at this point.”
“Sure Santa,” Owen replied. “No problem.”
Santa sighed, and Owen figured the sainted guy had seen through the lie. Of course Owen was going to tell everyone he knew and probably a few strangers about getting the drop on Santa and booting him in the ass.
“At least I tried.” Santa shrugged. “Take care of those little nieces of yours. See you next year—or rather, I hope I don’t see you next year—sneaky, damn Weres.”
In a blink, Santa was gone, and Owen was left in the living room surrounded by the scent of cinnamon and gingerbread. He opened and closed his eyes a few times, trying to get his bearings, and when he did, he noticed a third gift under the tree. It was smaller than the other two he’d seen Santa deposit, and when he crouched closer, he saw his name was scrawled in perfect script across the tag.
The clock struck midnight, announcing the beginning moments of a new Christmas. The tinkling was gone and Owen knew Santa had passed by, probably off to the neighbor’s house where several pups were waiting.
Owen sat beside the tree and pulled out the little gift. In the morning he’d go to his mom’s place and exchange a few gifts with his siblings, but this was something different, something completely special he’d never thought he’d get again.
He opened the sides of the gift carefully, the thick paper holding its shape even after Owen pulled the small box out of its confines. His hands quivered a little, and he shook his head. A mighty werewolf, brought low by a little paper and a bow.
Inside the box was tissue paper, but below that was a picture. The woman in it was small to the point of being impish. Even her ears were slightly pointed, but her eyes were all werewolf. Was this the one who was already looking for him? He tilted the picture toward the fire to get a better look. Santa was right about the age thing. If the picture was recent, she was pretty young. Still, she was mighty cute. He tucked the picture in the breast pocket of his shirt, and smiled when he realized he’d put her close to his heart. She could stay there until he was good and ready to find her.
Find Stephanie Beck at her website, StephanieBeck.net
Find Stephanie Beck at her website, StephanieBeck.net
Mona is an assassin. Since her fifteenth birthday her life has been nothing but hunting and killing. That changes when she realizes she needs more to her life and decides to start her family. In quitting her job, Mona finds herself also fleeing from her pack mates, dead set on keeping her at her post.
Her journey leads her to Pennsylvania where another pack of werewolves resides. Pregnant and due soon, Mona is out of places to run, and Haven Pack Alpha, Chris Myters, is all too happy to to have her land in the comfort and support of his pack.
Between baking, surveillance and falling in love, Mona and Chris get ready for the approaching holiday with the Pack. When Mona's past comes back to haunt her, she will have to trust her new pack.