For once, Julie is going to have a perfect holiday season. She knows it. She’s got it all planned -- Christmas with her boyfriend, and dancing on New Year’s Eve. But that’s before she discovers him in bed with another woman.
Now her holidays are totally ruined. Or are they? When she drops a handful of coins in a street-corner Santa’s pot, Julie finds herself whirled away into the arms of a stunningly handsome, shapeshifting reindeer for one perfect night of erotic bliss.
Sometimes the magic of Christmas doesn’t end at midnight. Sometimes that’s when it’s just getting started!
Breathing a soft "Oh!" of delight, Julie slid from the reindeer's back. She craned her neck, gazing up at the snow-capped towers that reared against a star-strewn sky, ending in spires as delicate as icicles.
"It's like a fairy castle." She spun back to the reindeer, throwing her arms around his neck in rapture. "It's beautiful!"
Then she gasped as the warm brown fur under her cheek moved, sliding like liquid metal into a different shape entirely. Stumbling backward, she watched in shock as he tossed his head back, rearing above her. A second later the reindeer was gone, and in his place stood a man, looking down at her with eyes that were the warmest, most luminous brown she'd ever seen.
"Thank you," he said, his voice rumbling deep in his chest. She knew that voice. It was the same one she'd heard in her head. His face was as pale as if carved from marble, and as perfectly formed -- strong, pronounced cheekbones, a firm jaw that even had a shallow cleft in the chin, lips that quirked in amusement as her eyes widened, drinking him in. His hair, like his eyes, was a deep chestnut brown, falling back from a high forehead that wrinkled slightly as he lifted an eyebrow. "Well?"
"God you're gorgeous." The words came out in a rush as Julie, who'd forgotten for a moment she was supposed to breathe, let out the involuntary gasp she'd dragged in. Then she clapped her hands over her mouth. "Oh, my God. I so didn't mean to say that."
He chuckled. "Thank you again."
"But what... how..." Julie's blush deepened as her gaze traveled below his neck and she realized he was standing there entirely naked, moonlight gleaming on his shoulders, the swell of his pecs, his rippled abs... Dropping her gaze quickly, she saw that his long, graceful feet were half-buried in the snow. "Aren't you freezing?"
He cocked his head, considering. "Now that you mention it..." Striding to her, he swung her up easily into his arms. "Let's go inside, Julie."
She goggled. "How do you know my name?"
At that, he smiled, a teasing light dancing in his eyes. "I'm your Christmas present."
Cold and heartless, thoughtless boy
Who's never felt that which you destroy...
Cursed by a witch over a practical joke, Cupid is doomed to centuries of life as a reindeer, unable to be freed until he falls in love. But how likely is that to ever happen, when all anyone sees when they look at him is a reindeer?
For Mercy Devers, all anyone sees when they look at her is the scar marring half her face, left by the fire which claimed her parents' life. Ashamed of her disfigurement, she lives as a recluse, only creeping out at night to wander the town where she grew up.
Until one Christmas Eve when she spies an ice sculpture in the town square. An ice sculpture of a reindeer so beautiful it takes her breath away...
“Ho, Dasher! Ho, Dancer! Ho!”
Cupid felt the traces tug, and the bells on his harness jingled as the rumbling hoofbeats slowed to a stop. In the pristine silence, he heard the creak of the sleigh as Santa climbed out, and his heart sank as heavy footsteps came toward him, crunching lightly on snow.
He didn’t want to do this. Not again.
“All right, Cupid. Let’s get you unhitched.”
What’s the point? he asked sullenly. It’s the same every year. No one ever sees me. “None so blind as those who won’t see, eh, lad?” Santa’s chuckle was soft rather than mocking, but still his words made Cupid’s stomach knot.
It had been Santa who’d found him, running with the reindeer in the mountains of Scandinavia, moving blindly with the herds, clinging to them through the long centuries of silence and self-recrimination. It was Santa who’d taken him in, given him a home and companionship and some degree of understanding.
And it was Santa who, every year, gave him a chance once again to break the curse that had been laid on him...for all the good it had done so far.
It had been a joke, that’s all. Just a stupid joke. The sight of that hag-faced crone wooing a comely young peasant nearly half her age... It had been too much for his sense of the ridiculous, and he’d notched an arrow to the string, grinning. He remembered the way she’d looked up at him, her eyes wide and horrified as she’d felt the bite of his arrow. Whatever yearnings she’d felt for the peasant boy she’d been pursuing, with one deft shot Cupid had turned toward a nearby pig instead. Of course, the punchline might have funnier if she hadn’t turned out to be a witch.
How many centuries ago had that been? He couldn’t count them any more. Centuries spent in the cold wastelands of the north with only the thin comfort of the dumb beasts around him for company, his fury fading slowly into miserable acceptance.
Cold and heartless, thoughtless boy
Who’s never felt that which you destroy,
Go earthbound and blind, a voiceless beast
Until by mercy’s touch you be released.
Never again fly on pinioned wing
Until even you, Cupid, have felt love’s sting.
Cupid sighed. He’d deserved it. He was everything she’d called him -- cold and heartless. Thoughtless. For a moment’s entertainment, he’d obliterated whatever emotions had driven her and redirected them...onto a pig. And what was worse -- what was infinitely worse -- was the memory of the handsome youth’s crestfallen face as the ill-featured witch had turned away from him.
It was as inexplicable as it was damning. For all the long, silent years he’d spent pondering it, he couldn’t figure it out. Could the boy actually have cared for her? It was unfathomable.
At last he’d finally admitted that he, Cupid, had no understanding of love at all.
Nor was ever like to, despite Santa’s attempts. Until by mercy’s touch you be released -- how likely was that, really, to ever happen? Not once in all the centuries had a human, merciful or otherwise, so much as tried to touch him.
He stood, head lowered dejectedly as Santa unbuckled his harness, leaving him standing free of the other seven. The air seemed suddenly colder without the solid warmth of Comet along his left side. Then a breath scented with mint and apple cider touched his face as Santa bent close and spoke softly in his ear.
“Have patience, lad. Things come when they come.”
But for him, Cupid suspected, love would never come. And even if it did, would he even recognize it? How could he, when he didn’t even know what love was?
Santa patted his shoulder reassuringly, but Cupid didn’t even raise his head. It was hopeless, all of it, and yet he had to go through it again and again, stupidly, pointlessly, over and over.
Go ahead, Santa. Let’s get this over with.