For an overview of the spectacular anthology, CLICK HERE. Following is an excerpt from author Sotia Lazu’s story, “The Reluctant Gift”:
“What the hell is going on here?” Aherin hadn’t expected to find anyone other than Salina waiting for him when he kicked his door open. Hers had been the only scent to reach his nostrils, as he approached the tomb that had become his home.
But of course, Santa and his elves only smelled faintly of candy.
“Care to explain?” He arched an eyebrow at Saint Nicholas, and was about to go on a tirade about property law, when he took in Salina sitting on the ground. Forgetting his questions, he rushed to her. “Salina? What happened to you?”
He was kneeling down next to her, when she turned and punched him in the nose. The momentum of her whole body fortifying her left hook landed him on his ass.
“Like you don’t know them.” She hopped to her feet, and assumed the fighting stance that always made his desire for her soar. Legs spread at shoulder width, knees slightly bent, her weight perfectly balanced. She held up her fists, emerald eyes sparkling dangerously.
Finding his footing just as gracefully as she had, he raised his hands, palms facing her, to show he posed no threat. “I know them. Well, him.” He pointed at Santa, who apparently saw that as his cue to cut in.
“Are you one”—he pushed his glasses a bit further up the bridge of his nose—“Aherin the Resurrected?”
So he had a nickname now? Cool. Still… “Oh, cut the fancy formalities, Nicholas. You know full well who I am. You wouldn’t have met the Missus, if it weren’t for me doing the introd…”
He trailed off at Salina’s stunned look.
“I’m a romantic,” he said to her. “They were both jolly and both single. It was an obvious match.”
Her eyes remained wide as saucers, but she waved at him impatiently. “Just tell me what is going on here. Who is he?”
Santa answered before Aherin could. “I am the Santa Claus, Ms. Crest. Feel free to call me Santa.” He glared at Aherin. “Both of you.”
Salina looked at Aherin, and appeared to believe him when he nodded his confirmation. “And what do you want?” she asked Nicky—sorry, Santa. “Is it another curse thing? Did a reindeer go missing or something? ’Cause I’m supposed to be on vacation on this plane, and I’m not even the Balancers’ favorite. Maybe you wanna check in with my sister? She’s the one who usually takes on the hero stuff.”
Even as she spoke, Aherin could see her assessing her surroundings. He’d seen her fight her way out of a couple extremely sticky situations, and knew she was about to wipe the floor with red velvet.
“Nothing like that, child.” Santa’s tone was casual now. “I’m here on my usual business, delivering Christmas presents. You”—he turned to Aherin—“were a very good boy-mpire this year!”
“Boy-mpire?” Salina snorted. “That’s not even a word.”
“I would not throw stones, dear. We have all heard your vocabulary, and I do not mean back when you were a cub.” The playful glint in his eyes belied the stern voice. “As I was saying, because of your being a very good boy-mpire, and helping avert the destruction of all universes, the Balancers have decided you deserve a present. I am here to deliver you that present: Salina Crest, if you will have her.”
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