Howling Around the Christmas Tree by M L Briers

 

 

CHAPTER FIVE

 

 

~

 

Joy had discovered a winter wonderland where the rich and probably famous played. The lodge was huge and the dominant feature on the mountain.

With the lights blazing a warm welcome, it lit up the mountainside, but dotted around it were big, medium and small cabins, and with most of the lights ablaze, it was truly something to behold.

It reminded Joy what a picture-perfect postcard of Santa’s North Pole village would look like if there was such a thing.

Joy was riding on the back of a snowmobile, trying not to cling to the big bad wolf, who was driving like her life depended on it and trying to ignore him at the same time. Her predicament did little to stop her from being bewitched by the scene in front of her.

When they stopped in front of a cabin, lights blazing from inside, she suddenly felt another rush of adrenaline and wondered why they were there.

“Your home for as long as you’re here,” Frank informed her over his shoulder.

You could have knocked her down with a feather. It wasn’t because she felt frozen solid from the trip up the mountain, but because she’d expected a small box room in some dusty corner of the lodge.

“My home?” she said to herself as she turned to look at the candy cane perfect little cabin. “Wow!”

Frank heard every word, and something about her surprise and delight pleased him, and for the life of him, he couldn’t figure out why. Upon seeing the cabin, the last chef had demanded a luxury room inside the lodge. From their phone conversation, he’d thought that Joy would prefer this. He’d been right, and he guessed that was why he felt a sense of pride in his choices.

Of course, he hadn’t known she was a witch then, and he should have been more careful to check her out, but what was done was done, and they were all going to have to live with it – at least, for the holiday season – or maybe longer, he couldn’t tell yet.

“Noel will be bringing your things up, and tomorrow, we’ll recover your car, and someone will take a look at it for you,” he informed her.

Joy tried to push up from the bike, but it felt as if her limbs were frozen solid. She rubbed her mittened hands against her legs to try to warm them and shimmied and squirmed in place. “Why won’t my legs work?” she hissed, more to herself than to him.

Frank looked back over his shoulder and grimaced. She wasn’t dressed for a trip up the mountain on the back of a snowmobile; he should have considered that. He kicked himself for being distracted by other matters.

However, now, he was being distracted by her lap dance against the seat, and his mind was elsewhere. “It’s the cold,” he said and climbed off, but she moved at the same time, and his foot caught her on the arm and knocked her sideways.

“Whoa!” she squealed as she pitched down towards the snow.

Frank moved fast and caught her. He stopped her from falling, and for one long moment, their gazes locked and held as they stared at each other through slightly snowy goggles.

Frank cleared his throat. If he hadn’t known better, he’d say that someone pelted him on the back of the head and snapped him back to reality. He set her back on the seat and stepped back. “My bad. Let’s get you inside so we can warm you up.”

“We?”

“The heat,” he rushed out and pushed the goggles up onto his head.

Joy brightened. “Oooo, heat sounds good,” she replied. “Unless there’s a stake and burning witches involved, then, not so much.”

Frank couldn’t help but smile. There was the sense of humour that had drawn him in on the phone, but there had been no talk of witches, at least none he could remember. “Come on,” he said and reached for her.

Usually, Joy wouldn’t allow a guy she didn’t know that close to her. But when he placed his hands around her waist and lifted her from the seat, it felt like her legs were stuck in that position, and she was sitting on an invisible chair. Slowly they uncurled.

Joy wanted to push the goggles he’d given her up onto her woolly hat, but she didn’t know if her arms would snap off if she reached up. “Heat good!” she said, and took a step, then another, and felt the blood start to circulate in her limbs again. “I’m kind of hoping there is booze in there to get the internal thaw started,” she muttered and heard him chuckle.

“Sure, laugh,” she said. “You’ve got that whole male internal radiator thing going for you, and being a shifter, that’s probably two-fold.”

“It helps to have winter clothing,” he informed her as they took a slow walk to the cabin door.

Joy reminded him of a comedy movie he’d seen once where the cowboy had spent all day on a horse and couldn’t walk properly when he’d climbed off. If nothing else, she was going to bring some humour into his life.

“I’m wearing winter clothing,” she tossed back and looked down at the thick jeans, fashionable ankle boots with fake fur trim, and the padded jacket that she wore over a thick-knitted sweater.

“No, you’re wearing city clothes,” he replied.

“What’s wrong with city clothes?” she asked.

“Nothing, when you’re in the city. Out here, you might just as well be naked.”

Frank stopped and turned back when he got to the door. She had the kind of wide-eyed look on her face that made him rethink what he’d said.

Naked, that word had certainly conjured up something in his mind, and he could see that reflected in her eyes.

“Nah,” she said and playfully swiped the air with a mitten. “I don’t think I’ll be practising any midnight naked rituals out here.”

Frank’s lips flapped aimlessly. He didn’t have the words that went with what he was imagining. The sound of her gentle chuckle snapped him out of it. He rushed to turn back to the door and flung it wide open. “Home!” he snapped and felt her brush by him.

“Heat!” Joy said, rejoicing as the warm air rushed out of the cabin to greet her.

She took it all in, the blazing fire in the hearth, the Christmas decorations carefully hung around, the real tree in the corner of the room with the fairy lights flashing a greeting, and the scent of pine and vanilla in the air, and breathed it all in.

Talk about picture perfect. All Joy needed was a gingerbread man to greet her, and she’d know the true meaning of Christmas, all wrapped up in a homely cabin on a snowy mountainside that she’d been lucky enough to stumble into via some dodgy dealings from her old boss.

“Wow-za,” she whispered as she stood in the main room and looked around. Her childhood self would have killed for a Christmas like this. “When does Santa get home?”

“Too much?” Frank asked, trying to envisage the room as she did. “Being a witch and all?”

“What?” Joy turned back to him as he stood blocking the doorway and keeping the cold chill out. “No! I love Christmas; it’s so pretty.”

“Christmas, or the cabin?” he asked, confused.

“Both,” she replied and chuckled again.

Frank was bewitched by the sight of her taking it all in and the shared enjoyment of watching her discover her new home. He didn’t hear the truck roll up or the boots on the snow behind him.

“Drop off here, or is she going to demand a room at the lodge?” Noel asked and broke Frank’s enjoyment at her wonder.

“A room at the lodge?” Joy asked. “Are you nuts?”

Noel looked to his brother and alpha, and the man seemed somewhat embarrassed to be there like he’d been caught with his hand in the cookie jar when they were kids. He leaned in and whispered. “Wait until Ma gets a load of this; you’re so in trouble,” he said, repeating his mantra from when they were kids.

Frank took the opportunity to elbow his brother in the ribs, and the satisfaction at hearing the breath forced out of his lungs was worth it. “Get her things,” he replied. “And don’t run off and tell Ma anything.”

“What do you take me for?” Noel asked, rubbing his sore ribs as his brother turned to eye him with suspicion. He snapped on a mocking grin. “I want to be there when you tell Ma what you’ve done. This messenger isn’t getting shot on your behalf. This is your mess; own it, brother.” He turned and went back to the truck before Frank could come up with an answer.

Frank felt a wave of dread within him at the thought of telling his mother anything, but it wasn’t as if he could keep his mother away from Joy for the whole holiday season. And it wasn’t as if the woman wouldn’t find out she had a witch for a chef.

But when he turned back into the cabin once more, he felt a blast of excitement at watching her take it all in and liked the goofy smile on Joy’s face as she found something new to admire, and he didn’t much care what his mother thought.

They needed a chef; they had a chef; everything else was window dressing.

 

 

~

 

 

“Greetings and salutations, on this holiday of holidays,” Titus announced as he breezed through the lobby with a wink for Chelsea behind the reception desk and an air of ownership about him.

Frank had almost made a clean getaway out back to the offices, but he turned in place and eyed the vampire with curiosity. “Not the holidays yet,” he said in greeting as Titus strolled up to him and offered him a curious look.

“You have the tree and decorations up, ergo, holidays,” Titus informed him. “Think of it as the eve of the eve, of the eve, of the eve, of the so on and so forth.”

Frank ignored that comment and got to the meat and potatoes part. “And what brings the king down from his mountain castle?”

Titus offered him a smirk, and Frank had a bad feeling in his gut. “Not dead yet, I see,” he said.

“I don’t know what that means,” Frank replied.

Titus leant in just a little and lowered his voice. “A little wolfy told me you hired a witch.”

“Noel,” Frank growled and turned on his heels to head for his office. In truth, he considered going the other way, finding his brother, and knocking some sense into him.

“Does your mother know – yet?” Titus asked as he followed on the alpha’s heels down the hallway. “Wait, silly question; you’re still breathing.”

“She’ll be fine with it,” Frank said, but even he didn’t believe the tone of his voice.

“Of course,” Titus said and followed Frank into the office. “What could go wrong, Maggie and a witch working side by side in a room full of boiling things and sharp knives?”

Frank turned at the desk and eyed the vampire with annoyance. The alpha’s top lip twitched, and that should have been a warning sign for a man who’d known him since birth, but Titus was having too much fun. “You know where the door is; use it,” Frank growled.