A reunion of friends leads Clevelly to a magical revelation.
Rudy makes a surprise visit to an old friend, Casey. Rudy, and his friends Nic and Jack haven't seen Casey since he and Jared admitted their love. But all doesn't go smoothly.
A misunderstanding by Jared needs addressing, and Rudy's just the one to put things straight.
At the offer of attending reindeer games with Rudy, and seeing Nic, and Jack again, the couple quickly agree, and Jared arranges to be met at the airport by his cousin Clevelly.
When Rudy meets Clevelly, he immediately recognizes the man as his mate. But since Rudy is a reindeer shifter, and Clevelly a human, courtship proceeds slowly.
When danger strikes, will Clevelly accept Rudy for who, and what he is, will he don Rudolph's reins?
There were still a few months to go before the magical date and Casey rolled the snowball decoration in his hand with great care. Christmas was an odd time of year for Casey. He stared at the figures of Santa, Jack Frost and Rudolph, a strangely human looking reindeer, in the globe. Only to Casey, these weren’t just imaginary childhood figures.
Not only had Casey met them, fought alongside them, and rescued his husband, Jared from an ice witch. He’d also met Santa’s elf warriors and reindeer shifters. Sometimes Casey wished Jared remembered what had happened.
But as far as Jared, and the friends they’d holidayed with at the time, was concerned no one had ever gone missing. Nic had used his magic to make sure Casey and Jared returned as if nothing had ever happened.
And because Jared didn’t remember anything, he couldn’t understand the affection Casey felt for this particular decoration. Sometimes, Casey was almost sure the figures smiled at him. Maybe. It is magical after all.
That morning, Casey was a little late leaving for work, as he intended to stay back that evening doing some paperwork. Casey texted a message to Jared to let him know he was leaving. Then settling the decoration away, Casey headed to the garage and drove into town. Parking the car in his designated space under his salon, Casey joined the rest of his team.
The salon had a full day booked. Not a single one of Casey’s stylists had a gap in their schedule. Even Casey himself had a few clients dotted throughout the day. But the thing on Casey’s mind was a big wedding he’d been booked for. Which was now just four short weeks away.
Not only was it a society wedding, which meant coverage by the press, but the very demanding bride-to-be had chosen six bridesmaids. Casey and his team would be doing their hair, both bride and groom’s mothers’ hair, and even a grandmother’s. It was a huge amount of work, and it had to be his best.
For some reason Casey found himself concentrating on the upcoming wedding less, and on Rudy more. Deciding to clear his mind, rather than risk making an error, Casey cleared the rest of his schedule and left the salon. His most experienced stylist could cover for him.
His thoughts still whirling around, Casey headed for his favorite coffee shop. Although it was a little off the beaten track, they served excellent coffee, good food, and had attentive staff. He’d treat himself to a café latte and do some people watching.
Inside the café, Casey ordered his drink and chose a fruit tart to accompany it. Selecting a table with a good view of the street, Casey sat and waited for the waitress to bring his order. When a shadow flickered over the table, Casey looked up, expecting his drink and cake.
Instead, his heart felt as though it stopped for a second. “Rudy!”
“Good to see you, Casey.” Rudy grinned at him, before plonking himself unceremoniously opposite him.
“It’s good to see you, too.” Casey knew he was staring, but he’d never expected to see Rudy again. He dropped his voice. “Are Nic and Jack here?”
Before Rudy could reply, a waitress brought Casey’s order, along with a carafe of water and two glasses.
“Can I get you anything, sir?” The waitress smiled at Rudy.
“Hot chocolate, please, with plenty of chocolate sprinkled on top, and some marshmallows.”
Waiting a moment for her to walk away, Casey picked up his latte and took a sip, then set the cup back down. When Rudy didn’t speak, Casey frowned.
“Not here.” Rudy pointed down as if at the ground. “They’re on South Island. That’s where the games are.”
“Games? What games?” Casey picked up his latte, sipped, and almost choked at Rudy’s deadpan reply.
“Well, the reindeer games, of course.”
Quickly setting his mug down, Casey grabbed at the glass of water as he coughed and spluttered.
“Are you all right, sir?” One of the waitresses hurried over, hovering at his side as if unsure whether to bang his back or leave well alone.
“He’s fine.” Rudy gave her a brilliant smile. “Just went the wrong way.”
Casey glowered at Rudy as he got himself under control. “Reindeer games. You having me on?”
“Me?” Rudy’s hands flew upward to his chest, his voice rose a full octave, and Casey winced.
“Not so loud. People are looking.”
“At me?” Rudy openly looked around as if counting the faces turned in their direction. Most people quickly glanced away.
“At us. And I don’t want to be stared at, thanks. I live and work here, remember?”
“Hmm. Boring human stuff.” Rudy sighed, but dropped the timbre of his voice. “Not like our games.”
“Okay. Reindeer games. I’ll bite.”
“Really? Does Jared know?” Rudy snickered, then turned serious. “Well, you know it’s not all fun and frolics for Nic and Jack. Same goes for us, the reindeer shifters. My team and I are still the original reindeer that power Nic’s sleigh. But we’ve had injuries, and of course, the occasional pregnancy. But we’re not the only reindeer shifters in the world. There are a few herds of us living around the globe. Every five years, we hold games. They start here, move to Europe, and end in Canada.”
“What kind of games?” Casey leaned forward, curious to learn more.
“Well, although Nic has magic of his own, flying isn’t one of his talents. Jack’s frost tracks are useful, but not essential for us. Flying is our talent, but it takes all of us to power the sleigh and enable it to travel so fast. There’s always a risk that one or more of us could get hurt, so we have back-up. So, reindeer shifters meet for games to determine the best. Never less than seven, no more than fourteen shifters between the ages of twenty-two and twenty-seven are selected. They come to stay with us, we teach them how to fight, how to power the sleigh, how to give Nic the support he needs. It’s a big responsibility, so it can only be the best of the best.”
“You must get a lot of contestants.” Casey sipped his coffee, then grimaced as his phone went off. He gave it a quick glance. It was Jared, but nothing important. His husband knew that there were times when dealing with a client Casey wouldn’t answer straight away, so he didn’t have to worry.
“All those of eligible age participate. It’s seen as a great honor. I mean, you’d have to be pretty amazing to stand in for me, right?” Rudy winked as he reached to pat Casey’s hand, and Casey laughed out loud.
“Oh, definitely.” Casey snorted. “I’m sure you have the gold medal for modesty, too.”
“You know I’m fabulous. You saw first-hand.” Rudy’s smile softened, then turned feral, revealing a little of the intelligent and lethal, warrior Casey knew Rudy to be.
“Yes. Yes, I did. I still owe you for saving Jared and me.” Casey covered Rudy’s hand with his own. In the deadly battle against the ice queen, Rudy had been impaled by an ice stalactite in his efforts to save them.
“I’m just glad you got your happy ending.” Rudy’s eyes narrowed. “You and Jared are still happy?”
“Absolutely. A little excitement wouldn’t go amiss, though.” Casey leaned forward. “Or meeting up with Nic and Jack again.”
“Hmm.” Rudy pursed his lips. “They did think of you and Jared when coming here. You get the first winter games, then we head north and west. It’s a shame Jared doesn’t remember us. Kinda puts a spoke in things. But I’ll see what Nic says. I know he’d like to see you both. Not sure how we can work around Jared, though.”
A sigh escaped Casey. “I know. The times I’ve gone to say something and stopped myself. You wouldn’t believe.”
“Look, I’ll talk to them. I can’t promise anything, but I’ll be close by and get back to you soon. How’s that?” Rudy looked as serious as he sounded.
“Fine. I can’t ask for more.” Casey nodded. After all, it wasn’t Jared’s fault he didn’t remember what happened. The Ice Bitch had frozen his memories to keep him under her control—even those memories of Casey himself—thankfully most of them had returned. A few lost memories were a small price to pay.
When they stood, Rudy enveloped Casey in a tight hug and kissed his cheek. At a prickling sensation at the back of his neck, Casey glanced toward the coffee shop window, but there was nothing there. Casey shrugged. Maybe it’s just remembering how close I came to losing Jared.