Shifting Through the Snow Collection
Hated by his family for simply existing, Rudy never thought a blind date mix-up would change his future and possibly save his life in this modern retelling of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer.
Hated by his family for being a living reminder of his father's infidelity, Rudy never expected that a blind date mix-up would change his life in this modern retelling of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer.
Clay, an engineer fresh out of the military, is the answer to Rudy's dreams, becoming Rudy's co-worker, protector, and lover all rolled into one gorgeous package.
Not only do they mesh well together to bring Rudy's vision to life, neither can deny the overwhelming attraction that sizzles between them. An attraction that almost ends before it can begin because of a misunderstanding that leads to Clay being in jail for assault.
Filled with hate, Donny, Rudy's older half-brother, tries to destroy him and stop Rudy from saving his grandfather's toy factory.
Only Clay can save Rudy's life and the toy factory, if he's not too late.
It was late afternoon or early evening, depending upon how you looked at it. Rudy sat at the darkened bar, nursing his drink. He liked Tony’s Bar and Grill. The food was good, the atmosphere pleasant even for shifter senses and Tony didn’t put up with anybody’s shit. Rudy knew he could come here, and relax in relative safety before the nighttime pub crawlers started to make their rounds.
The place was only partially full this time of day, a pretty even mix of shifters and humans. He perched sideways on his stool so he could periodically glance over the area for the approach of his brothers or rather, half-brothers. Although he kind of understood the hatred his half-brothers felt for him, he would never fully comprehend why Donny, the eldest, loathed him to the point of violence.
Donny hated him, despised him with a passion and never let him forget it. Rudy knew his father’s family considered him a ‘blight’ to their name, trying hard to pretend he didn’t exist, but why Donny took it to such extremes baffled him. It was kind of psychotic, really. Daniel and Louis, two other half-brothers, or rather minions, followed Donny like adoring sheep, doing whatever the big man wanted. Rudy hadn’t asked to be born but here he was and Donny made no secret that he would change that if he could get away with it.
Glancing to his right, Rudy noted a man at the far end of the bar, hitting on the buxom waitress. He snorted at the six empty shot glasses before the man. With similarly colored light brown shoulder length hair, and maybe a smidge taller than Rudy’s own five-foot-eight-inch height, the man could almost pass for one of his half-brothers. He had eight of them and considering Rudy was the byproduct of an affair, it was no stretch of the imagination to believe there could be others kicking around. Hopefully, if they existed, they would stay hidden and safe from Donny.
The waitress, whose massive breasts threatened to burst from her low slung top, giggled at something the man said. Her voice was high and her fake laugh grated on Rudy’s nerves. Talk about fingernails on a chalkboard. Damn.
Shaking his head, Rudy took a sip of his drink before scanning the room once more. His eyes widened at the sight of the man who had just entered, as he paused, still standing in the entranceway. Damn, he was hot. Muscles upon muscles, jet black hair and startling pale, amber-colored eyes. The man was sex personified, and he pushed every one of Rudy’s buttons, all his fantasies rolled into one sexy-as-hell package. And speaking of package, that was one drool-worthy bulge between the man’s legs, promising a very good time.
Rudy sighed. With his luck, Mister I’ll-fuck-you-until-you-scream-my-name, was probably straight. Tearing his gaze away from the hunk, Rudy looked around the room again but his attention was drawn back like a magnet to the walking wet dream still lingering at the door.
The man’s gaze met his, slid to the other man at the bar, the one hitting on the waitress, before coming back to settle on Rudy. Straightening, the man made a bee-line for Rudy, who was unable to tear his eyes away from him. Suddenly gasping for air, Rudy hadn’t realized he’d been holding his breath. He hoped the man chose him, and not the tool chugging back another shot.
Damn, he’s big, Rudy thought as he approached. Rudy could spend hours, days, weeks, exploring all those muscles that were making the seams of the man’s T-shirt scream for mercy. The rumbling chuckle that vibrated up from that broad chest almost made Rudy come in his pants.
“Thank you,” Mr. Sexy said, stepping up close enough to Rudy to brush his chest against Rudy’s shoulder.
The deep baritone was the icing on the cake, completely fulfilling Rudy’s fantasy. Okay, maybe the hunk wasn’t so straight. He didn’t seem too terribly upset with Rudy’s words and how his tongue practically hung out of his mouth in obvious lust.
Wait. Thank you? “I said that out loud, didn’t I?” Rudy could feel his face flame in embarrassment.
There went that rumbling chuckle again. “Can’t take it back.”
The man briefly glanced to the end of the bar before he looked back at Rudy uncertainly. “I’m supposed to meet a friend of a friend’s cousin here. You wouldn’t happen to be Randy, by any chance?”
The man frowned for a second. “I guess I made a mistake on the name,” he said, more to himself than Rudy before shrugging, and smiling brightly at Rudy. “Please tell me you’re my blind date, and not him.” He indicated the other end of the bar with his thumb.
Rudy didn’t have to think twice. “Why, yes. Yes, I am.” The man sat down beside him with a relieved sound. “Thank God.”
“Not that I’m not flattered, ’cause I am, but why thank God?”
“Well, judging from the number of empty glasses in front of him, that guy has already had several shots and is definitely ‘three sheets to the wind’. Add to that, the fact that he is flirting hard with the waitress.”
Rudy snorted. “You aren’t kidding.”
“Right?” The man gave Rudy a devastating smile. “I certainly would not be impressed with my ‘would be’ date hitting on the owner of big boobs. The last thing I need in my life right now is some closeted dude, someone who would get bored with cock or someone who would want a change and go looking for pussy.”
There is a story there, Rudy thought sadly.
“I’m not looking for a one-nighter either,” he continued. “I’m done with that scene.”
Rudy’s own smile grew wider. “Aren’t you in luck then? I’m not looking for a quick fuck or any of those other things either.”
“Good.” The man gave a satisfied nod.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Rudy Klaus.” Rudy held out his hand to the other man.
The big man enveloped Rudy’s hand in his large grip. “Pleased to meet you, Rudy Klaus. I’m Clarence Barnet but you can call me Clay.”
The warmth of Clay’s calloused skin against Rudy’s sent tingles up his arm. The man’s eyes widened and he gripped Rudy’s hand tighter as his nostrils flared. Just for a second, the man’s eyes flashed a glowing yellow like shimmering citrine gemstones before returning to their normal amber.
Clay stared intently into Rudy’s face, his smile frozen. “You have the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen,” Clay murmured, still holding onto Rudy’s hand like a lifeline. “I can’t tell if they are copper, brown or both.”
Heat flushed Rudy’s body as Clay’s low growling voice rolled over him. Deep and sexy, it sent shivers running through him. His dick swelled uncomfortably in his jeans and he wiggled slightly, trying to move it away from the teeth of his zipper.
“I was just thinking the same thing about yours. Not that they were copper or brown, I mean. They’re like honey amber, and they are just really pretty especially with your long lashes. And I’ll just shut up now, and stop embarrassing myself.” Rudy wanted to smack his own forehead to stop his verbal diarrhea.
Clay grinned and Rudy thought he was going to faint. “Oh my God, you have dimples,” he whispered, not noticing them earlier.
Clay’s grin broadened, making the dimples in his cheeks more prominent. “Would you like to go somewhere else for a bite to eat?”
“Yes, please.” So long as it’s you biting me, or licking me, or sucking on any part of me.
Rising with his hand still in Clay’s, fingers entwined, Rudy’s gaze went up and then up some more. Clay had to be at least a full head taller than him. Not watching where he was going, Rudy stumbled forward into Clay, who caught him, pressing their bodies together. All that wonderful hardness against him and Rudy couldn’t help licking his lips as he swallowed hard.
Clay’s eyes followed the movement of Rudy’s tongue across his lips and the big man groaned. Although they had both admitted they didn’t want a quick fuck, the arousal, the instant attraction, boiling off each of them was almost overwhelming to Rudy’s senses.
Rudy’s cock had barely had a chance to deflate from when Clay had first made his appearance in the bar. Then it went from half hard to fully erect and aching in seconds. Judging from the feel of the impressive bulge in Clay’s pants, he wanted Rudy just as much as Rudy wanted him. It was hard to fight the impulse to grind against Clay, to rub their erections together to find release.
“Damn it, guys. Take that somewhere else.” The busty waitress stood nearby waving a hand before her face. “The pheromones you two are pumping out are making everyone in the place horny.”
Feeling his cheeks heat, Rudy smiled sheepishly up at Clay who tucked him under his arm, and close to his body. Only having eyes for the gorgeous man that he was cuddled up against, Rudy never registered his danger until it was too late.
A large hand wrapped painfully around his bicep, wrenching his shoulder as he was roughly hauled away from Clay’s side.
“And just where do you think you’re going, runt?”
Shit. Donny had found him and with the tight hold of his arm, Rudy couldn’t blink away. He squeezed his eyes shut waiting for the first blow to land. Blinking, as he liked to call it, was a gift from his mysterious mother. Rudy had the ability to transport himself from place to place provided he had seen or been to it before. That ability had kept him ahead of his brothers, and many times had saved him from a beating. But his life depended on not using it in public.
None of them registered the low rumbling sound that was steadily growing louder, a whining buzz saw. Rudy was too scared to turn, and investigate. He didn’t need to be psychic to know that pain was in his near future.
“Donny.” Daniel’s voice sounded nervous, and Rudy slightly opened one of his eyes.
“Donny.” Daniel shook Donny’s shoulder. Louis stood beside him, face pale.
“What?” he snapped at Daniel without looking at him.
The sound had increased in volume to where it was a cross between a growl and a shriek. It was a sound Rudy had never heard before.
“Donny!” Daniel yelled. “Watch out!”
Donny twisted with Rudy still in his clutches. “Wha—” And froze.
Clay stood there snarling at them, his body tense like he was preparing to attack. Vicious claws tipped his fingers as he held his hands at the ready. His face was partially transformed, half human. His blazing citrine eyes were filled with fury. Black markings decorated his skin but most notable were the massive fangs flashing in his open mouth. He appeared to be some sort of cat, a stunningly beautiful one.
Donny, Daniel and Louis moved back in unison, leaving Rudy standing between them and Clay. The cowards were not about to mess with the huge predator in their midst.
“What’s going on here?” A large man stepped in front of Clay. Rudy recognized him as Andy, the bouncer and a grizzly shifter.
“Nothing,” Louis stammered. “A misunderstanding, that’s all.”
His half-brothers fidgeted under Andy’s glare. Yeah. He knew them all right. Knew what kind of troublemakers the three of them were.
Rudy saw his chance, and took it, sliding around behind the bouncer, and into Clay’s waiting arms. Even though Clay, in his half-shifted form was fierce and scary in appearance, easily able to take his half-brothers, Rudy felt no fear of him. Instead, he felt safe, sheltered within Clay’s thick arms. That was an odd sensation for him.
Although few predators dared to hunt his kind, Rudy was small, a runt, and that screamed prey animal to others. Not with Clay, however. One of his half-brothers made a threatening move towards them and Clay yowled a loud warning at him, waving a clawed hand in the air, forcing Daniel back.
“It’s alright, big guy, I’m safe now.”
Rudy rubbed the big man’s chest in a soothing manner. The noises coming from Clay settled into a low rumble, not quite a purr, but calming all the same.
“I think you guys need to take this outside.”
“No problem, Andy. My date and I were just leaving.”
Rudy gently steered Clay towards the door. Clay threw one last angry scowl and hiss at Rudy’s three half-brothers before turning. Rudy, being the little shit that he was, stuck his tongue out at them before tucking himself securely into Clay’s body, as he and Clay left the bar.
Clay kept his arm around Rudy’s shoulders and squeezed him. “You’re trouble with a capital T, aren’t you?” He sighed.
Rudy looked up at Clay in concern, his good mood evaporating. Did his damn half-brothers blow it for him already? He had barely had a chance with Clay. Head down, and feeling like shit, he started to pull away but Clay held him close, not allowing him to escape.
He lifted his head and Clay gave him a toothy grin. Rudy felt himself flush and pushed his face into Clay’s pec, too embarrassed that he had taken the man’s obvious teasing seriously. Despite his mortification, Rudy was doing fist pumps in his mind. Clay didn’t mind his lack of a brain to mouth filter. Yes!
Out on the street, Clay leaned down. “So, where to? I’m new to the city.”
“Really? New to the city, and already going out on a blind date?”
“My sister thought it would get me acclimated faster.”
“Oh. That makes sense, I guess. Any preferences?”
“Nope. I’m in your hands.”
“That generates a lot of pictures in my mind and tons of ideas.” Rudy gave Clay a playful leer.
“You really are incorrigible.”
“Oooh, big words. I like big words.”
Clay laughed and Rudy’s heart melted. The man laughed not just with his face but his whole body. He had his head thrown back, completely enjoying the experience. It was refreshing. Clay’s stomach chose that moment to interrupt with a large growl.
“Easy boy.” Rudy rubbed Clay’s belly, enjoying the hard planes beneath his hand. “I know a nice family restaurant about a block from here. They have a wide variety of items on the menu, and the food is always really good.”
“Terrific.” Clay grabbed Rudy’s hand and held it tight. “Lead on.”
It meant a lot to Rudy that Clay didn’t have a problem holding hands in public as Rudy led him to the restaurant. They walked in silence but it was a comfortable silence. Rudy didn’t feel as if he had to say something, anything to break it. He realized, walking with Clay, hand in hand, made him happy. There hadn’t been a lot of times in his life that made him feel truly content like he did right now.
“This is the place,” Rudy said, stopping before the door to the restaurant he had in mind.
Clay released his hand and opened the door for him.
“Wow, a gentleman. Thank you.” Rudy smiled brightly up at Clay, and the man grinned back at him. Clay had the most amazing smile that lit his yellow gold eyes right up. Rudy couldn’t believe he felt himself teetering on the edge of falling for Clay all ready. He didn’t even know Clay, but…
Rudy turned towards the familiar voice. “Hey, Candace.” Rudy greeted her.
She glanced at Clay before asking Rudy. “Booth or table?”
Rudy looked at Clay, silently asking for his preference, and Clay lifted a shoulder. “Okay, booth then please.”
“All right. Follow me, gentlemen.”
She guided them deep into the heart of the restaurant. The place was fairly busy, but the booth Candace showed them to was tucked back and away from most of the noise and fuss.
“Thanks, Candace.” Rudy showed his appreciation by slipping her a twenty.
“Thank you, Rudy. You really are a sweetheart.”
“Naw,” he scoffed good-naturedly at her as he slid into the booth. “We all know I’m a little shit.”
Candace leaned down and kissed his cheek. “Well, you’re a little shit with a heart of gold.” She placed a menu before him and in front of Clay’s spot, patted Rudy’s shoulder and winked as she walked away.
Rudy smiled at her retreating form before noticing a soft look on Clay’s face as he settled into the booth across from him. He damned his fair skin. His hair was a soft brown but the red highlights that ran through it, his pale complexion and freckles gave away his Celtic heritage.
He cleared his throat. “So, um, what brings you to our fair city?” Rudy tried to be as nonchalant as possible as he opened the menu. He didn’t need to read it. The contents were very familiar. The tall menu did, however, serve as an excellent shield.
Clay unfolded his own menu. “I just recently got out of the military and my sister, her husband’s family and various cousins live here. It seemed like a good idea so I’m staying with her until I get a job, and place of my own.”
“The military? Wow. How long were you in service?”
“Man, you have my utmost respect. You are a hero.”
Clay’s skin pinked, creating an adorable expression on the big man. “No, I’m not. I’m just a man doing what I think is right.”
Rudy reached across the table and clasped Clay’s hand. “Not everyone is cut out for that life. You are a hero, at least to me,” he said firmly. “Is it okay if I ask you what you did?”
“I was an engineer but saw my fair share of combat. I’m a snow leopard so I was regularly sent into the mountains on missions.”
“I thought you were some sort of cat, the partial shift with fangs and claws kind of gave it away.” Partial shifts were something unique to large cat shifters. No one knew why.
“Yeah, I supposed it did at that. Everyone thinks of the Middle East as just a great big desert but that’s far from the truth. There are mountains, lots of them. Cold and treacherous.”
“But not for someone like you, right? Thick fur, big paws, long tail for balance, you’re at home in mountains and cold.”
Clay laughed. “True, it’s not a problem for someone like me.”
He stroked Rudy’s hand with his thumb and the feel of the power in Clay’s larger hand didn’t frighten Rudy, far from it. He marveled once again at how simply being in Clay’s presence made him feel safe and secure. But most importantly, the way he was being touched, and the look on Clay’s face, made him feel like he was wanted. It was exhilarating.
“What about yourself?”
“Sorry?” Rudy realized that he had been staring, mesmerized by Clay’s warm eyes.
Smiling at him, Clay asked, “What about yourself? No offence but I can’t figure out what you are.” Clay’s nostrils flared. “Mmm, you smell like warm sugar cookies. I love warm sugar cookies.”
His whisky smooth voice was almost a purr. Rudy felt it sweep across his skin like a physical caress and he sucked in a gasp as he shivered in response. Clay gave him an evil grin like he knew the effect he was having upon Rudy. The look on his face promised more, and then he licked his lips, the monster. Rudy groaned, shifting in his seat.
A clatter of dishes reminded Rudy that they were in a restaurant, and as much as he wanted to climb over the table and onto Clay’s lap to be totally ravished by him, this wasn’t the place.
“N-no one has ever said I smell like that before.” He swallowed as Clay continued to stroke his hand. “I’m a northern caribou or reindeer.”
Clay chuckled. “You and I would have a lot of fun in the snow together.”
“Yeah, I guess we would at that. I love the snow in both forms,” Rudy replied eagerly.
Rudy glanced over to the waitress standing beside their booth. “Hi, Iris. How are you doing?”
“Good. Brett lost his first tooth today, and he’s already figured out how to use the gap as a whistle.”
Rudy laughed at the image that generated of a seven-year-old little boy whistling through a hole in his teeth.
“How’s school going?” he asked once he could catch his breath.
“I’m graduating in six months, and I can hardly wait. I already have a job lined up.” She straightened up proudly.
“Nice!” Rudy held up his hand for a high five, and Iris smacked his palm with hers. “Congratulations!”
“Iris is training to be a trauma nurse,” he explained to Clay.
“Wow. That is impressive. Congratulations,” Clay said to her.
“Thanks. I’m pretty stoked. It hasn’t been easy going to school and raising a child by myself, but it’s all I’ve ever wanted to be.” She pointed to the menus. “Do you know what you gentlemen would like yet?”
“Yes, please,” Rudy answered. “I’ll have the pot roast special and a cola.” He snapped the menu closed and handed it to her.
“All right. Salad with blue cheese dressing?”
She turned to Clay. “And how about you?”
“Actually, that sounds pretty good. I’ll have the same. Cola sounds good.”
“Soup or salad?”
“What’s the soup?”
“Minestrone or the house specialty, Borscht.”
“Borscht? I haven’t had that in years.”
Rudy leaned over. “It’s really good here.”
“Thanks, gentlemen.” Iris gathered up the menus. “I’ll be back with your soup, salad and drinks in a jiffy.”
“She seems really nice,” Clay commented.
Rudy nodded. “Yeah, she is. Iris hasn’t had a good time of it. Her boyfriend dumped her when she got pregnant and her parents threw her out when they found out.”
“Seriously? Poor kid.”
“Yeah. We were friends in high school. She used to help me out whenever other kids picked on me because I was small. She disappeared in grade twelve. Found out years later that Iris ended up at a shelter. She’s really come a long way since then.”
“She took her GED and won a scholarship to attend university. She’s done well, not just with her training but in raising an awesome kid all by herself.”
“Iris is one amazing lady.”
“That she is.”
“So, what kind of job are you looking for?” Rudy asked him, trying to pretend that it didn’t sound like he was fishing.
“I’m an engineer, research and development. I’ve got a job interview tomorrow that I really hope I get.”
“Oh, yeah? With who?”
“It’s a tech company called—and don’t laugh—Imatech. I’m. A. Tech. Isn’t it great?” Clay practically vibrated with his enthusiasm. “I love the name but more than that, the company is responsible for some amazing computer programs and innovations. The owner is some kind of software wunderkind and I absolutely love his work.”
Rudy couldn’t keep the grin from his face. “Why, thank you.”
Clay’s eyebrows drew together and Rudy could almost see the gears turning in the man’s brain. “Rudy Klaus. Rudolph N. Klaus.”
Rudy extended his hand to Clay. “The one and only. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
The shock on Clay’s face was adorable. He slowly reached across the table, moving like he was on remote control, and took Rudy’s hand in his large one. He gave it a shake, before slowly giving a laugh. “Well played.”
“Thank you.” Reluctantly releasing Clay, Rudy clasped his hands in front of him on the table, acting like he was holding a job interview. “And what exactly are you hoping to do for me?”
“Well,” Clay launched into his military engineering training and what he was hoping to accomplish at Imatech.
“Not bad,” Rudy responded, impressed with Clay’s abilities and eagerness. They continued to talk shop as the food arrived and they tucked in.
“I’m going to let you in on a secret.” Rudy waved his fork in the air.
Rudy peered around the room in an exaggerated way as if he were searching for spies, and then leaned forward. “I’ve been working on a three-dimensional video game.”
Clay stopped eating. “Really?”
“It’s my hobby.”
“Designing video games?”
The conversation turned to which games they each liked to play and Rudy was pleased that they had similar interests.
At some point during dinner, Clay had captured Rudy’s hand once more, and Rudy was quite happy to leave his hand in its large warm cage. Rudy wasn’t sure if Clay realized he was stroking Rudy’s knuckles but Rudy wasn’t going to say anything to make Clay stop what he was doing.
They continued to talk long after the food was gone. Iris eventually brought them the bill, awkwardly standing there for a minute trying to get their attention.
Rudy finally noticed that she wasn’t leaving, and looked up at her. “Is there a problem, Iris?”
“I hate to do this, but its closing time, and I have to go home.”
“Shit.” Rudy exchanged a wide-eyed glance with Clay. “I am so sorry. I had such a good time that I never paid attention to the clock.”
“Same here,” Clay responded.
Rudy rose to his feet, and pulled out his wallet. He put five twenties into Iris’s hand. She frowned at the money.
“Rudy, your bill is only thirty-eight dollars.”
Rudy closed her fingers over the money. “It’s yours for keeping us in coffee all night.”
“Consider it an early Christmas gift.”
“But, Christmas isn’t for months.”
Rudy tapped his chin before grinning wildly. “How about Happy Hanukah? Happy Thanksgiving? Happy Halloween? Oh, wait. I know.”
He threw his arms out wide. “Happy Birthday!” he yelled loudly.
Giggling, Iris tried to cover his mouth. “Stop. Get out of here, you lovable nut.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Rudy pressed a kiss to her cheek before heading for the door, trusting Clay to follow him.