Howling Around the Christmas Tree by M L Briers

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

~

 

“Oh my goddess, oh my goddess, oh my goddess!” Joy exclaimed the moment she turned the corner into Maple Street and saw the restaurant in flames.

The fire trucks were in attendance, the crews were doing their best to put out the flames, and the owner, Geoffrey Davenport, was watching from a safe distance with the rest of the staff.

A crowd had gathered in some sort of macabre trance to watch the sad events of a man’s life’s work going up in flames, and Joy resented their presence. Entertainment for some was a cruel twist of fate for others, and she could only imagine what Geoffrey was going through.

Joy picked her way through the crowd, tripped on a discarded hose, and bit down on a couple of curses by the time she got to where the staff was standing. “Mr Davenport, what happened?” she asked.

“There was a spark, there was a flash,” the older man said with a slight, sad shake of his head. “Old wiring.”

“I’m so sorry,” Joy said as she tried to offer the man the only comfort she could.

Strangely, Geoffrey didn’t look all that perturbed. “What’s done is done,” he said and looked to the flames once more. She must be mistaken because she was sure she saw a twitch of a smile. “Nobody got hurt; it’s just a building and may be a sign that I should just retire.”

“Retire?” Joy asked. She’d been right; there was a strange, far off look in the man’s eyes and a tiny smile on his lips. “You aren’t going to rebuild?”

For one small moment, Geoffrey looked at her as if she was insane, but then it was gone, and she wondered if she’d imagined it. But she decided probably not, considering his attitude. “Rebuild? That’s a young man’s game, as my wife keeps telling me, I’m not getting any younger.”

No, but then he was only in his early fifties, although his new bride was in her thirties. Joy had the distinct feeling that Geoffrey Davenport didn’t have one tiny bit of regret that the restaurant was going up in flames.

She was a pretty good judge of character, and he had been a good boss once he’d learned to keep his hands to himself, but she did have to wonder if that spark and that flash that had set the restaurant on fire hadn’t been an inside job.

If only he’d said something after the lunch rush, she wouldn’t have done all that hard work to prep for dinner. To add to her woes, Christmas was fast approaching, and she was out of a job.

Joy had just started to make a name for herself as one of the hottest new chef’s in town. Where was she going to find a job this close to Christmas?

Being a hot new chef didn’t pay the bills if you didn’t have a restaurant to cook in, and she’d turned down a good offer from a great restaurant only two weeks ago out of loyalty to Geoffrey Davenport.

Was that irony? She could never tell.

She did know one thing, instead of sweating it out in the kitchens tonight, she’d be pawing through the want ads for a new job and having a pity party at her own expense.

 

 

~

 

 

Joy gathered her long brown hair in her hands, twirled it around her fingers, and clipped it into a loose bun. Sitting at the kitchen table, with a glass of wine beside her and the want ads open — she scanned the slim pickings.

“No.” She drew a line through the first, then the second, and the third, and kept going down the line crossing them off as she went. “Oh boy!” She reached for the wine, brought the glass to her lips, and savoured what would probably be the last taste of decadence for a while.

In a way, Joy regretted not taking the job at Fab-licious, it was a hot and upcoming place that was just what she needed, but loyalty had come first. It was just a shame that Geoffrey Davenport didn’t see things the same way where his staff were concerned.

“Oh boy! Jobless the Christmas.” She winced. “And homeless for New Year,” she said, feeling the start of the pity party going on inside her head and knowing that was no way to pick herself up and get back on the career bus.

“You know, I can help you with that?”

Joy jumped in place, grimaced and ground her teeth at the sound of his voice. He was a party pooper that just wouldn’t give up. “No,” she ground out and turned in her seat to find him standing by the doorway.

As genies go, he looked nothing like the one from the Disney movie. Tousled brown hair, medium height, an expanded waste, and the kind of mischief in his eyes that you would expect from a trickster, but he wasn’t blue - unfortunately. That would have served him right.

Regrettably, she’d picked him up in a junk store - literally. His bottle was blue, it looked like sea glass, and it had intrigued her and called to her in a way that she didn’t understand at the time. Of course, now she knew that call as magic, and who was she to blame magic for this.

Nope, she blamed him – and the fact that she’d rubbed her hand over the bottle. How thoughtless could one witch be?

“And if I find out that you anything to do with this,” she said, wagging her finger in his direction.

“Me?” Glen pointed to his chest and tried to look surprised, but that aura of glee hung around him, and there was a smug smile plastered across his face. “All’s fair in love and war.”

“And we’re at war, now?”

“Unless you have a crush on me that I’m not aware of,” he teased.

“Ugh! Don’t make me feel sick when I’m drinking my favourite wine; that’s evil, and genies aren’t evil, just tricksters.”

“And you want me gone?”

“Desperately,” she whined before turning back to the want ads.

“Just three little wishes, and I’m out of your very glossy hair,” he reminded her in a sing-song tone.

“Three little trickster wishes that will land me in the poop, and the bonus is, you get to go free,” she replied in the same sing-song tone that he’d used on her.

“Where’s the harm?” he asked.

“Ha!” Joy snorted a chuckle. “Where you’re concerned, everywhere, and everything you do.”

“Fine, but you summoned me from the bottle, and you know I’m not going back until you’ve made all three wishes, so expect the unexpected,” he replied.

“Is that a threat?” she asked and swivelled in her chair to eye him with a hard glare.

“I never make threats I can’t keep,” he said and grinned like he’d won something.

Joy pulled on her magic and zapped him. “And I never give in.”

Glen rolled his eyes back in his head and groaned. “Witches,” he bit out, and with a snap of his fingers, he was gone.

“Ugh! Genies,” she said to herself as she turned in the chair and slapped her palms down on the paper.

That was when she saw it, and she had to wonder how she’d missed it, an advertisement for a chef that seemed perfect for her. At least, for now.

Sure, it was out of town; it was a holiday destination, but they urgently needed someone, and she urgently needed a job. She’d call them in the morning.

The mobile on the table buzzed and lit up, and she craned her neck to see the message that had come in.

‘Ho-ho-ho, and don’t forget to make your payment

before the Christmas shut-down.’

“Wow, talk about ruining Christmas,” she sniped at the phone and drummed her fingertips against the table top. “I’ll call them now,” she said and reached for the phone. “Who knows how many calls they’ve had already?”

 

 

~

 

 

“Where’s the list?” Frank asked as he strolled into the office and shucked out of his jacket and work gloves.

He’d been on the road all day. First, he’d helped to dig out the snow blocking the only road that led up to the mountain lodge from the town below before he helped the drivers that were stuck to scale the mountain in the snow and wind that had blown in from nowhere.

It was the busiest time of the year for them and when they made a big chunk of money from the wealthy guests that wanted the whole remote winter experience to play in the snow, hiking, skiing, snowmobiles, and all that involved.

Last year they had even started to do the whole Husky experience with a sleigh, but instead of dogs, they used pack wolves, and that ensured nothing went wrong.

Now more than ever, Frank needed things to run smoothly, but Mother Nature didn’t seem to want to play ball this year, and things kept going wrong. Even his chef had kicked up a fuss and walked out, and he never expected to be called away on the day he’d placed the advert for a new one.

Frank had given his brother, Noel, the task of operating the phone line to take the names and get the resumes of interested applicants. He knew better, but his mother had insisted Noel could handle it, and it would be a good experience for him.

Frank gave his brother an expectant look when the man didn’t move as fast as he liked.

“List?” Noel repeated and narrowed his eyes on the desk.

Frank felt a growl start to take hold in his chest, but he bit down on it. This was why he never gave his brother any responsibility because the man was a fully-fledged nightmare waiting to happen. “Applicants for the job?”

Noel snapped into life as he reacted to his alpha’s request. How could he forget the most boring part of his day, talking to egotistical chefs as they bragged about their resumes?

He’d eaten his way through so many snacks; it could already have been Christmas. “It’s…” He circled the desk and sorted through the mess of paperwork and wrappers that he’d left strewn across the usually tidy top. “Somewhere here.”

“I’m sure it’ll be nice and sticky,” Frank replied, fast losing what little patience he had. “Come on, man, I left you in charge, and you know how important this is.”

“I’ve got it; calm down,” Noel said, but it was a lie, and they both knew it. He didn’t have it at all, at least not that he could put his sticky little fingers on. “There were like eight, maybe twelve names.”

“Big difference,” Frank said. He folded his arms and absently tapped his foot as he waited.

All Frank wanted was to grab a bite to eat, sit in his comfortable chair in the cabin in front of a roaring fire to thaw out his bones, and go through the list before taking a shower and bed.

“And numbers, and references, and everything,” Noel said as he went back through all the paperwork again. “It’s here somewhere; I can just taste it.”

“You probably ate it with your snacks,” Frank said, eyeing the wrappers mixed in with the paperwork. It would take him an hour or so tomorrow to tidy his desk, and that was an hour that could have been put to better use.

The phone rang, and Noel reached for it, but Frank slapped his hand away. “I’ve got this,” he sneered. “Find the list.”

Frank reached for the phone, lifted the handset just as Noel knocked the large paperweight from the desk, and it bounced off Frank’s foot and still hit the ground with a loud thud. “Dumbass!” Frank bit out, hopping on the spot and grinding his teeth at the pain. “Out,” he demanded and pointed the way, so his brother knew he meant business.

Noel held his hands up to his chest in mock surrender and backed out of the door. Frank could see the light of amusement dancing in his younger brother’s eyes, and still, he held onto his temper and the growl that was brewing.

“Mountain top lodge and resort,” he managed to grind out between clenched teeth, but it wasn’t about the pain that made his toes throb; it was also about his sibling that made his head throb. “How may I help you?”

“Not calling me dumbass would be a start,” Joy said down the line and grimaced. Was this really a five-star hotel and resort, because she didn’t think so?