BESTSELLING author Martha Sweeney presents her first paranormal romance/fantasy series (Sleigh Riders) that features bikers, swearing, spiked hot chocolate, magic, innuendos and so much more.
A feud has ensued for many generations, leaving most from both the Frost Clan and the Klaus Clan unaware of its origin. What happens when Noelle Frost and Nikolaus Klaus find themselves drawn to each other? Will their worlds collide, destroying everything in their wake? Or, do they have the power to bridge the ancient chasm and restore balance to the world?
This is NOT your average holiday story and NOT for the faint of heart.
The bitter fault of one causes the magic from within to wither and die.
It lays dormant until it listens to the beat of the soul to determine all the binds.
The magic, ignited by a new love, revives and awakens the chance for others to rise.
Release date: June 6, 2023
Publisher: WWN Publishing Group
Print pages: 865
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Sleigh Riders Series Box Set
The door of the Jagged Tavern in the small town of Frore kicks inward with force from the gust of a sharp wind outside. In the entryway appears a handsome, young man. The attention of the folks inside the building is directed to him. Sneers from the men slip across their faces as a twinkle gleams in the stranger’s eye. The few women who are present look away abruptly—except one who’s intrigued by his presence.
The stranger walks toward the bar and lowers himself onto a stool. “Do—”
“Your kind ain’t welcome here,” an older man replies gruffly. He has long, salt and pepper hair that’s pulled back in a ponytail with a matching beard. Tattoos are visible on his forearms from his rolled sleeves. He’s tall and lean yet has broad shoulders and a muscular form. His dark blue eyes shine with a hint of gray.
“Grandpa Jack,” Noelle scolds, approaching him behind the bar. “What has gotten into you?” She places the two plates of food she was carrying in front of the customers who are just beyond the stranger.
“Ain’t nothing gotten into me,” he remarks. “I—”
“Then, take a break,” she encourages, placing herself between him and the new customer. “I’ll handle it from here.”
He doesn’t budge as he stares the man down from over Noelle’s shoulder.
“Go!” she says more sternly.
Grandpa Jack mutters to himself as he exits the bar.
“Apologies for that,” she says, keeping her attention on her grandfather. “I’ve never seen him be—”
“No apology necessary,” the man replies.
“What can I….” Noelle’s voice trails when her gaze falls upon his face and the twinkle in his eye returns.
“I know it’s an odd question for a bar,” he states.
“Odd is the norm here in town,” she replies. “What’ll it be?”
“Do you have any hot chocolate?” he inquires.
Noelle’s lips twitch. “A hot chocolate?” she repeats with a raised brow.
“I know it’s not common for—”
“We have plenty of hot chocolate.” She giggles. “I’m sorry.”
“What are you apologizing for now?” His eyes scan the snowflakes tattooed up her right arm that extend from her wrist to her shoulder. His gaze gets stuck on her luscious, natural lips before rising to reconnect with her sparkling blue eyes.
“I don’t mean to laugh,” she states. “I…I wasn’t making fun. It’s just—”
“Not many ask for hot chocolate?” he inquires, rolling up his sleeves.
Noelle’s head sways as a giddy feeling continues to bubble inside her. Her eyes drop and catch a glimpse of the ink covering his forearms. “No. Not that.”
He lifts a questioning brow.
“Sorry,” she says, looking away bashfully. Noelle grabs a cloth and wipes down the counter in front of him. “Would you like marshmallows?”
His lips tick up to the side.
When he doesn’t reply, Noelle looks at him. A warmth surges through her body. A sensation she’s never experienced before. Sure, any girl gets flurries in her stomach when a handsome man pays even a little bit of attention to her, but this is different and Noelle hasn’t figured out why. She’s met plenty of men who look nothing like those in Frore, especially those with dirty blonde hair like the stranger, but there’s something about him that mesmerizes her.
“You have marshmallows in a tavern?” he quips.
“It wouldn’t be hot chocolate without them,” she states with her mouth feeling dry.
Noelle takes a chug of her glass of milk, tucking it back below. The stranger glances around and notices that most of the patrons are drinking coffee, tea, or something else in their mugs based on the steam rising from them. He turns back to Noel and leans toward her. “Do they spike it with something?”
An invigorating smell rushes through Noelle’s nostrils. She can’t place each of the scents, but the combination makes her feel at ease and excited at the same time. There’s a hint of cinnamon with the dominant pine scent and two other smells she can’t quite put her finger on.
“Some do,” she admits.
“Do you?” he asks nervously.
Noelle shrugs, leaning on the edge of the bar. “Only if they ask me to. We have three ways of—”
He chuckles. “I meant, do you prefer it spiked?”
The warmth Noelle was experiencing rises to her cheeks, making them burn slightly, especially when she catches the stranger's attention on her cleavage. She pulls back her shoulders to lift her chest slightly. “It…it depends on the mood, intent, and all.”
“I’m intrigued,” he declares, leaning closer. “What would be—”
“Noelle!” Grandpa Jack calls from the kitchen doorway. “Food’s up.”
She offers the stranger an apologetic smile. “I’ll be right back.” A second later, Noelle rus
hes to the kitchen.
With a smile on her face, Noelle grabs the dishes and delivers them, unaware of the increased scowls on everyone’s faces. By the time she gets back behind the bar, she notices that the man is gone. She scans the tavern but doesn’t see him. Noelle suspects he went to the restroom until she realizes that her grandfather and three cousins are missing.
Rushing outside, she shrugs on her cardigan. “What’s going on?” Noelle stares intensely at her family, knowing they’re up to something.
“Nothing, Elle,” Jeremiah declares. “Go back inside.”
Her eyes narrow in reply. “Why?”
Her cousins turn sharply toward her, squaring their shoulders while her grandfather keeps his attention on the stranger. Noelle’s posture straightens, offering a challenging stance. She hates when they deliberately peacock.
The night air is cold enough for everyone’s breath to be seen, but the warmth of their bodies keeps the chill at bay.
“They’re just offering assistance,” the stranger claims.
Noelle’s head tilts to the side to peer between her cousins’ bodies. “What kind of assistance?”
“Just a small challenge with my truck,” he replies, still unseen by Noelle.
She steps forward, but her cousins close the gap. “If anyone can help, I—”
“Go back inside, Elle,” Jorah instructs.
Noelle’s eyes narrow as she shifts toward him, warning them to tread carefully.
A sharp gust of wind with a bite brushes past all of them, yet none of them shiver in reply—not even the unnamed man.
“A spiked hot chocolate would be great,” the stranger declares. “I think it’ll warm me up just fine.”
“Would you like anything else?” she asks, keeping her attention on her family.
“That should be good,” he replies. “I’ll be about ten minutes. Thanks.”
Noelle nods, though she knows he can’t see her. “Ten,” she confirms.
The wind rushes through the parking lot once more, kicking up some powdered snow that coated the already snowed-covered ground earlier that day. Truth be told, all of Frore has always been covered by thick, heavy snow.
“Mind your manners,” she scolds, making eye contact with her cousins and grandfather.
None of them reply.
Noelle turns on her heels, mumbling to herself about the odd behavior of her family. They have never been so cold or callous to a stranger before. They’ve always been friendly when someone passes through or stops in town.
Noelle stares at the clock, watching the secondhand tick. She places the cup of hot chocolate in the spot where the stranger sat, giving him extra marshmallows and an extra shot of whiskey to apologize for her family’s rudeness.
Her cousins reenter the bar not long after her grandfather. However, the stranger has yet to return.
“Thanks,” Jorah says, reaching for the mug.
Noelle slaps his hand. “That’s not yours.”
Josiah, her other cousin, gets a hold of it. He gulps half of it, chugs the whiskey, and then pounds the last of the hot drink. After he slams the mug and glass on the bar, he says, “Thanks.”
“What the hell is your problem?” Noelle scoffs.
Josiah shrugs. “He ain’t coming back.”
“Since when do we treat customers like—“]”
“He ain’t a customer,” Jeremiah claims.
“He walked into the bar looking for—”
“Not anymore,” Jorah states.
She carefully studies the men before her who have almost a foot over her, though Noelle is five-foot-seven. “You should be ashamed of yourselves.”
The brothers laugh.
“Why?” Jorah asks sarcastically.
“That is not how anyone in this town treats out-of-towners,” Noelle says.
“I didn’t like the way he was looking at ya,” Jeremiah claims.
Noelle places her hand on her hip and asks, “How was he looking at me, huh?”
None of them comment.
“You are not my brothers,” Noelle reminds.
“He’d be dead as ice if we were,” Jorah chuckles.
“Dead in the ice is more like it,” Jeremiah snickers under his breath.
“And, you wonder why I never introduced my boyfriends,” she huffs.
“Boyfriends?” Grandpa Jack quips, approaching them. “You ain’t got no boyfriends.”
“I may have a boyfriend,” she counters. “But, you wouldn’t know.”
“We’d know,” Jeremiah says with a snort.
Noelle clicks her tongue. “Really?”
They nod in reply.
Noelle bites her tongue and smirks deviously as she considers her options. “Logan Wallace.”
Grandpa Jack’s and h
er cousins’ eyes narrow.
“Logan Wallace is a dead man,” Josiah declares.
She snickers. “He was the first boy I ever kissed.”
“Definitely a dead man,” Jorah agrees.
“I kissed him,” she admits, “when we were ten.”
Their nostrils flare.
Noelle’s smirk grows, enjoying their reaction. “Asher Hudson.”
“You makin' a list, Jorah?” Jeremiah asks, keeping his attention on his cousin.
Jorah nods as if they can read each other’s minds.
Noelle leans close. “Asher was my favorite.”
Josiah storms toward the door without a word.
“He doesn’t live in town anymore,” Noelle hollers. “He’s been gone for eleven years.”
Josiah exits the tavern only to return a few seconds later.
She snickers in reply, enjoying their irritation. It’s been some time since she’s been able to piss off her cousins with such ease.
Noelle has always been the good granddaughter, the good cousin, the good whatever you want to call it, despite doing it with some sass once she became a teenager. She never questioned adults or authority growing up, but did defend herself when needed—especially with the boys. As she got older, she did explore life without them knowing. Having three devious cousins who lived across the street, Noelle learned quickly how to sneak out of the house and return without ever being caught. She wasn’t a naughty child. She just needed a break from her overbearing family. Noelle knew they loved her and meant well, but she felt suffocated at times.
“Anyone else?” Jeremiah inquires.
Noelle bites her lip as she retrieves her bag from a hidden spot. “I wouldn’t tell you even if there were.”
“Who?” Jorah asks, pushing for more information.
Her shoulders bounce as she makes her way out from the bar.
“Who, Elle?” Jeremiah says insistently.
“I’m going home,” she declares, shrugging on her leather jacket.
“Your shift ain’t over,” Grandpa Jack states.
Noelle lets out a huff, kisses his cheek, and then smiles. “It is now.”
“Where do you think you’re going?” Jeremiah asks.
“Goodnight,” she replies without looking over her shoulder. Her hand shoves the door open, allowing it to slam behind her.
“What in the hell got into Elle?” Josiah inquires.
“You made sure he’s gone, right?” Grandpa Jack asks.
The three brothers nod.
“He won’t be coming back,” Jorah states.
“Made sure his truck will at least get him out of town.” Jeremiah tosses something in his hand.
The boys snicker.
“Good,” Grandpa Jack grunts. “Don’t need his kind in our town.”
“You sure he was one of them?” Jeremiah asks.
Grandpa Jack nods. “Once you’ve seen one eye twinkle, it’s easy to spot them from a mile away.”
“Fucking Twinklers,” Jeremiah grunts.
“Thought they knew to stay away?” Josiah states more than questions.
“Must’ve gotten lost,” Grandpa Jack replies, staring at the main door. “He’s young for one of them.”
“Seen a few in the past,” Jorah states. “Always in another town and never close to Frore."
They grunt and nod in reply.
“You think she’s following him?” Josiah asks.
Jeremiah cracks his knuckles. “Elle ain’t stupid, but we’ll make sure just in case.”
Jorah snorts his agreement.
“Don’t mention this to your Grandma or Mother,” Grandpa Jack commands. “No need to upset them.”
Noelle turns left out of the parking lot to head home. Once her bike is secure in the barn, she makes her way up to her snowmobile that she has hidden far back from the house to a path that continues up the mountainside. Noelle cuts through the uneven terrain to circle above the main part of town. She is suspicious because of her family’s behavior and knows it’ll be easy to spy on them since they’ll think she’s home.
She hides the vehicle and takes a few back paths down toward the street. Before she gets her binoculars out, Jeremiah and Jorah jump on their bikes and head in the opposite direction of their home which is where just Noelle came. Quickly returning to her ride, she trails them; keeping enough of a distance to not be seen or heard. About thirty minutes later, they slow when they see a truck on the side of the road.
“I knew it,” Noelle huffs when they stop. She doesn’t move from her perch to see what will happen.
Jorah remains on his bike with it running while Jeremiah dismounts his. He strides over to the person who’s got the vehicle’s hood popped up. With her binoculars, Noelle’s suspicion is confirmed. It’s the stranger from the bar.
Jeremiah and he exchange a few words but Noelle can’t hear what they’re saying. A second later, Jeremiah shoves the man in the shoulder. Instead of swinging, the stranger takes a step back and raises his hands.
Two thoughts flutter into Noelle’s mind about the man’s reply. Either the stranger is staying calm and choosing not to encourage a fight that Jeremiah is most likely trying to start or he’s scared. Judging by the size of the man, and how he handled himself at the bar, she concludes the former. The stranger’s stature and physique would give him a fighting chance against Jeremiah’s muscular form, which is more swollen than most—even his brothers.
Noelle rolls her eyes when Jeremiah does his classic peacocking stance which includes his fist colliding with the man’s truck. The dent is rather large even in the metal frame. A moment later, Jeremiah returns to his bike. He and Jorah turn their bikes around and head back in the direction they came from.
Once they’re out of sight, Noelle shifts the snowmobile closer. Keeping it behind some brush, she quickly gets down the steep slope through the snow about a quarter of a mile from the stranger.
“Everything alright?” she asks, rounding the hood.
The stranger halts his movements.
Noelle peers into the truck. “Doesn’t look like my family gave you much assistance.” She scans the section that her cousin punched and is surprised to see it gone.
“You should head back,” he states coldly.
“Why?” she quips.
“It’s late and dark.”
“I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself,” she replies.
“Didn’t say you weren’t.”
“The change in attitude isn’t needed,” she states. “I’m just trying to help.”
“You were flirting wit
h me back at the tavern,” she reminds.
“That wasn’t flirting,” he claims.
“Then, what would you call it, huh?” She leans against his truck and puts her hand on her hip.
“Chivalry. Respect toward—”
“Bullshit,” she scoffs.
He snorts and cracks a smile.
Noelle’s chest tightens at the sight of dimples barely visible under his short beard.
“I was just checking it again to make sure it’s fine,” he claims.
“If you checked it at the tavern, why check it again?” she asks insistently.
“There was something in the road and—”
Noelle shrugs out of her jacket and removes her sweater, placing them on the edge of his truck. She’s left wearing her white, loose tank top, black jeans, and shine-high boots.
“What are you do—”
Noelle squats down and shimmies under the engine. “Unless your hood was up, there’s no way a rock or any object would do damage to the top part of the engine. To the hood, a light, or windshield, sure, but not up there.” She retrieves her phone and shines the light on the undercarriage.
“Get up,” he directs.
“I’m a better mechanic than my cousins,” she informs, reaching and tugging on a connection.
Noelle is well versed in what it means for her cousins to help someone and this time is much different. They’ve always lent a helping hand unless it was for someone they did not like.
“Get up,” he repeats.
Noelle takes her time
as it becomes evident that her family and the stranger were lying. She takes a few more seconds, wanting to drag out the situation. Finally, she returns her phone to her pocket, takes a hold of the truck, and pulls herself toward the front. Once her head is free, the stranger offers her a hand. Noelle contemplates rejecting him but doesn’t. They both freeze for a moment upon contact. As they stare into each other’s eyes, he tugs her up. The force of his pull catches her off guard, causing Noelle to take a step and lose her footing.
“You good?” he asks once she’s righted.
Noelle’s head barely bobs forward when she catches another dose of his scent. Plus, the stranger is still holding her wrist with his other hand on her hip which is distracting.
“Nothing is wrong with your engine…and, your undercarriage is dirty.”
His mouth curls up to the side. “Never had complaints before.”
Noelle bites her tongue, considering if she should call him out for the blatant innuendo.
He swipes his thumb along her cheek, dragging it slowly. A second later, he reveals the grease stain before wiping it on his pants.
“How’d that get there?” she says with a flirtatious tone.
“Well, according to you, my undercarriage is filthy.” He shifts his hand to her elbow and directs her to turn. He’s tempted to rub the dirt and rubble from her back and rear. “You might want to—“
“Dirt is the least of my worries,” she announces.
His eyes dart up to Noelle’s face which is plastered with a devious grin.
“Like what you see?” she teases, shaking her ass.
He grabs his rag and wipes her down.
“You missed out on some great hot chocolate,” she states.
“I’ll have two the next time I’m in town.”
“Who says I’ll serve you,” she snickers, turning back to face him.
He steps into her, close enough that Noelle thinks he might try to kiss her. When his lips are about an inch from hers, his head turns and he reaches for her sweater. Holding it up, he says, “You should put this on.”
“Said no guy ever to a woman,” she snorts.
“I do enjoy the view of the mighty, rocky peeks,” he states.
“They’re great to climb,” she returns, taking her garment. She doesn’t put it on right away.
His eyes lower, lingering on her cleavage that is easily visible from her plunging tank.
“When’s the best time of year to hike them?” When she doesn’t reply, he glances up at her.
“Any time of the year,” she states. “But, you’ll need a good, strong, stiff walking stick.”
His grin widens, catching her innuendo. When he realizes that she’s not going to put on her cardigan, he drapes it over her shoulders. “As much as I want to keep enjoying the view. You—”
“Don’t tell me what to do,” she instructs with attitude. Noelle slips her arms into her sleeves and shifts to step away.
He gently takes a hold of her wrist. “I wasn’t.”
Noelle purposefully waits a few seconds before turning her head to look at him. “No?”
His head shakes. “I’m sure with family like yours, you get plenty of that shit.”
She turns back toward him, considering how observant and direct he is. To Noelle, it’s refreshing and enticing as well as the fact that he’s enjoyable to look at.
His chest brushes against hers as he reaches for her jacket. He breathes her in and his arousal heightens.
“What did Jeremiah say to you?”
“What do you mean?” He covers her shoulders with the jacket.
“You know what I mean,” she quips with a hand on her hip.
“Don’t remember,” he claims.
“Really,” she snickers. “I doubt that.”
“He’s not that pretty to keep my attention beyond a second.”
Noelle raises a brow. Most men wouldn’t comment about others’ looks unless he was into the same sex, yet his response is not what she expected. All women, and a good number of men, have stared at the three brothers—in a
nd out of Frore. They share the same jet black hair color, though Jeremiah and Jorah have shorter hair and Josiah’s reaches his shoulders. They each share a similar build, but Jeremiah is the tallest and with the most swollen muscles of the three of them. Jorah is only a few inches shorter. Josiah is an inch shorter than Jorah and his shoulders are more prominent. Jeremiah and Jorah look almost identical with their dark gray eyes. Josiah has slightly softer facial features that aren’t easily seen behind his blue eyes and bearded face.
“You, on the other hand, I’d listen to anything that comes out of that sweet mouth of yours,” he states.
“It ain’t that cute,” she scoffs. “I curse like a—”
“I’m sure it tastes just as good if not better than the way you smell,” he admits.
“Laying on the charm pretty thick, huh?”
She snorts. “Flattery nor innuendos won’t distract me from getting an answer.”
“We only just meet, sweetheart,” he chuckles. “Though I’m enjoying the banter, I like to take a girl to a meal before I—”
Noelle purposefully crosses her arms in a way that lifts her breasts. “Are you asking me out now, hoping that I’ll pine over you and forget about my cousin punching your truck?”
His jaw tenses.
“Or the fact that the dent is gone?”
“Means you were seeing things,” he states.
“I know what I saw,” Noelle declares.
He sidesteps her and lowers the hood, pushing it down so it clicks in place. “Thank you for your concern. It won’t go unnoticed.”
“Concern?” she snickers. Noelle turns and starts walking away. “Next time I’ll let my cousins do as they please…which they do anyway…but it won’t be—”
“Where are you going?” He catches her by the wrist.
“Home,” she reveals,
spinning to face him.
“Do you need a ride?”
She regards him. “No.”
He looks past her down the road. “Did you walk here?”
“A girl never reveals her secrets.”
His eyes narrow. “Get in.”
“One, I don’t like being told what to do,” she explains. “And two, I don’t take rides from strangers.”
“I highly doubt we’re strangers since you thoroughly inspected my undercarriage.”
Noelle bites back a smile. “I have my own way to get home.”
“Thank you for your concern,” she muses, taking two steps back. “It won’t go—”
His grip tightens around her wrist. “Don’t go.”
Noelle bites the inside of her cheek, resisting the urge to give him the satisfaction that she’s pleased or hoped for this reaction. “It’s late,” she reminds.
He nods as he pulls her closer, spinning Noelle so she’s pinned between him and the truck. “Can I offer you a ride?”
Noelle snickers at the dirty thoughts in her head. “I’ve got one.” She gestures up the side of the mountain above the road.
The man barely glances back. “How often do you take alternate means of travel?”
She shrugs. “When I don’t want to be followed by family.”
“Why would they follow you?” He sweeps a few strands of her hair out of her face.
“Because they like to meddle,” she states dryly.
“So, taking you home would make them meddle,” he assumes.
She nods. “Something like that.”
He lets out a grunt as he considers his options. After glancing up at the sky, he says, “Too
bad the moon isn’t out tonight.”
A sexy smirk spreads across his face. “Because…you’d look even more beautiful under it.”
“Does that honestly work with women?” she scoffs playfully.
His shoulders bounce. “Never met someone worth saying it to.”
Noelle regards him for a second. “I’m sure many women have dropped their panties just for that twinkle in your eye, let alone your smile,” she states.
The twinkle presents itself as his grin grows. “Is it working?”
“No,” she lies.
He shifts his weight and leans closer.
Right as his lips are about to taste hers, Noelle jerks her head to the side. “A guy’s got to take me out for at least a meal before I let him kiss me,” she informs.
He steps closer, gliding his nose against her chin. With a deep breath in, he fills his nostrils with her scent. Now his suspicion is confirmed that she isn’t just any woman. She’s meant for him.
Keeping his lips close to her ear, he trails his index finger down Noelle’s neck and into her cleavage. “Looks like I’ll be back, then, to ensure that I get my kiss.”
Noelle giggles. “I didn’t say that you’d get a kiss.”
His jaw tenses as he takes another inhale. “You will.” He chuckles and takes a step back and watches her face. “You’ll be the one kissing me first.”
“In your dreams,” she scoffs.
He grunts, enjoying their banter. “There will be much more than just us kissing in my dreams.” A second later, he climbs into his truck. Once it turns over, he lowers the window. “I’ll see you soon, Noelle.”
The truck takes off, leaving her standing in the middle of the road. He checks the rearview mirror every few seconds, needing to see as much of her as possible until she’s no longer in sight.
“Where are you going, sugar?” Grandma Sapphria asks.
Noelle shrugs on her jacket. “Out.”
“Out where?” Grandpa Jack inquires.
“I’m an adult,” Noelle reminds. “I—”
“You live in this house,” Grandpa Jack reminds. “You will—”
“I do just as much for this house and the town,” she reminds.
“Don’t you sass me,” he warns.
“Never,” Noelle giggles, kissing his cheek. “Why are you still acting like this?”
Overbearing and controlling for Grandpa Jack is one thing, but not cracking a smile at some point is uncommon. Noelle suspects that it continues to have something to do with the other night and the stranger.
“Like what?” Grandma Sapphria inquires.
“Nothing,” he says, waving a hand dismissively.
“Like a grumpy old man. It all started when—”
“I’m old,” he interrupts. “I’m allowed to be grumpy.”
Noelle lets out a heavy breath and regards him, offering him a doubtful expression. Though he has white strands mixed in with his jet-black hair, Grandpa Jack has never called himself old.
“What am I missing?” Grandma Sapphria asks, looking back and forth between her granddaughter and mate.
“Nothing,” he claims.
“Fine.” Noelle huffs. “But, don’t expect me to stick around.”
“Where you going?” he asks.
“I do have a life other than this house, the tavern, and—”
“One of your boyfriends?” Grandpa Jack states more than questions with his eye twitching.
“Boyfriend?” Grandma Sapphria repeats excitedly. “Who? Is it that Asher boy? I really liked him.”
Noelle chuckles. “I don’t have a boyfriend.”
Her grandmother pouts and looks at her mate. “What did you do?”
“I ain’t done nothing,” he retorts.
“He, nor the twins, nor Josiah knew of Asher until two nights ago,” Noelle assures.
“Well, he’ll be seriously injured now if they find him,” Grandma Sapphria declares.
Grandpa Jack grunts in agreement. He’s overtly protective of family.
“I’m allowed to date,” Noelle states.
“No, yah ain’t,” Grandpa Jack quips.
“I’m twenty-six,” Noelle reminds. “I’m not a little girl anymore.”
“If we’re gonna get grandbabies and keep the family line going, you and the boys need to leave Elle be,” Grandma Sapphria states. “She ain’t dumb. She’s smart.”
“Thank you,” Noelle replies.
“How did you know about that Asher boy?” Grandpa Jack asks, redirecting the subject. “W
hy didn’t you tell me?”
Grandma Sapphria shrugs. “There are many things women know that men do not.”
“Like what?” he balks.
Noelle kisses their cheeks. “Love you. I’ll be back late…if not tomorrow. Don’t wait up for me.”
“Be back by eleven,” he declares.
Grandma Sapphria smacks him on the arm. “Come back whenever you’re ready to come back.” She glowers at her mate. “She’s an adult, Jack. She doesn’t need to be told what to do.”
“I got my eye on you,” he warns.
“Ignore him,” her grandmother suggests, offering a warning expression to her mate. “Your grandfather didn’t—“
“Yes, he did,” Noelle replies, grabbing her helmet. “His eyes are Jeremiah, Jorah, and Josiah…aside from all the others.”
“Empty threats,” Grandma Sapphria suggests.
“They ain’t empty,” he refutes.
“Love you both,” she calls, closing the door behind her before they get the chance to delay her further.
Noelle lets out a sigh as she makes her way to her snowmobile. After securing her overnight bag, she scans her surroundings, making sure her cousins, nor anyone else, are around. Knowing there’s a good chance she’s being watched, Noelle travels deeper into the forest for several reasons. One, she wants to ditch anyone who would try to follow and their suspicion by going in one direction only to double back at another. Two, cutting through the forest is relaxing as well as a shortcut to Everspring.
“Hey, Hope,” Noelle greets when she sees her friend in the cafe.
“Oh, my God, Elle!” Hope shouts, jumping up from her seat. “You made it.” She rushes forward for a hug.
“Why wouldn’t I?” Noelle returns the embrace.
“Uh, really?” Hope giggles, lowering to her chair. “Aside from the stories, I’ve met two of your cousins in passing. Though they’re cute, they are scary as hel
“They’re all bark and no bite,” Noelle says, lowering to a chair. “I could officially introduce—”
“No!” Hope replies more loudly than she meant. She bashfully looks around the cafe patrons and smiles, mouthing sorry to all of them.
“Okay,” Noelle giggles.
“I mean…no, thank you.” She fidgets with her napkin.
“I know you’ve got a crush on Josiah.”
Hope’s jaw tightens as she looks up. “I don’t want to ruin our friendship.”
“Honestly,” Noelle sighs. “It might be good for Josiah…and you.”
“We wouldn’t be able to hang out as much,” Hope reminds. “And…and, I’m not willing to jeopardize our friendship.”
Noelle shrugs. “I don’t think anything would jeopardize us. Josiah…he’s a whole different story.”
“But, he’s family,” Hope reminds. “I’m not.”
Noelle reaches over and takes her friend’s hand. “You are more family than family.”
“Don’t say that,” she scoffs.
“Why not?” Noelle leans back in her seat. “They’ve never acted like family half the time with me.”
“They’re protective of their cousin,” Hope says, trying to justify their actions over the years.
“Please, don’t defend them,” she replies. “I haven’t told you half of the shit they’ve done.”
“So,” Hope says, changing the mood instantly. “I’m so glad you made it. Are you sure none of them followed you?”
“Yep.” Noelle chuckles. “Took the not-so-short shortcut.”
Hope’s face beams. "
Good.” She takes a sip of her drink and makes a disgusted expression. “No one makes hot chocolate like you do, Elle.”
Noelle smiles proudly. “Thanks.”
“I’m serious. You should have your own shop and not be working at the tavern. You need to leave Frore and be your own woman.”
“Grandpa and Grandma need me,” Noelle reminds.
Despite how long they’ve been friends, Hope isn’t aware of exactly how things operate in Frore. Noelle has shared little bits here and there, but not enough for Hope to understand the entire scope of the clan. The people of Frore have old ways that they like to adhere to.
Hope’s head sways. “They all need you more than you need them. Besides, they have your cousins who are more than capable of handling things.”
Noelle snickers. “If any one of them handle things as they did a few nights ago, the tavern would be closed for good and the town would turn into a mess.”
Noelle lets out a huff. “They acted weirder than normal.”
Hope giggles. “That’s not saying much.”
As her head bobs from side to side, Noelle states, “Yes, it is.”
“They were rude to a customer,” she explains. “I’ve never seen any of them be like that. Sure, they’re all assholes, but they know better. Even Grandpa Jack was rude.”
“In what way?”
“I…I don’t want to get into it. I don’t want it to detract from the day,” Noelle says. “I’ll tell you later once it settles in my head. I’d much rather know what’s going on with you and I’m eager to help any way I can today.”
Hope smiles. “They seriously don’t celebrate Christmas in your town? Not even one person.”
“Just the Solstices and Equinoxes with a heavy focus on the Winter Solstice,” Noelle says. “Don’t get me wrong. I like the traditions and everything, b
“But, it’s fun to experience something new,” Hope declares.
“Exactly,” Noelle agrees. She snickers to herself.
“I got them the other night a little,” she states. “They never knew about any of my boyfriends.”
Hope’s eyes inflate and her jaw slackens. “Really?”
Noelle smiles proudly. “They were ready to confront Logan Wallace.”
“Which one was he again?”
“My first kiss,” Noelle reminds.
“Oh, right.” Hope giggles. “Men can be so funny about things…even things that happened so long ago.”
“Right?” Noelle balks. “Okay, so what’s first on the agenda?”
“We’ve got baking with mom right after this. She already started prepping at five,” Hope informs. She checks her watch. “Shoot. We’ll be late if we—”
“Let’s go then,” Noelle says encouragingly. “What else?”
“Well,” Hope sighs, shrugging on her jacket. “There’s decorating inside the house a little while listening to and singing along to Christmas songs. Dad and Myles will work on the outside lights before lunch in town so we can see part of the setup of the big tree. After that, we’ll decorate our tree and then see the tree lighting ceremony for the town tonight.”
“Can’t wait,” Noelle replies excitedly.
“It can be overwhelming,” Hope warns. “Some people take Christmas very seriously. Some, not so much, and some—“
“Not at all,” Noelle replies. “I know. It’s not like I haven’t seen Christmas decorations or other things. I haven’t been confined to one little town most of my life.”
“It’s one thing to see it,” Hope states. “It’s another to be a part of it all.”
“What do you mean?”
Hope shrugs. “It’s
just…something you have to experience. Either you’ll love it or loathe it.”
“That sounds horrible,” Noelle says with a giggle.
“Ce la vie,” Hope sighs. “Ce la vie.”
The two of them met when they were teenagers. It all happened when Grandma Sapphria took Noelle to Everspring, where Hope resides, for deliveries. It was one of her ways of helping Noelle escape their small town and experience a different way of life. It also helped her overcome many of the prejudices the Blade clan has developed over several generations. Though both towns are the closest compared to most others, Frore is at the top of rolling hills and mountains whereas Everspring is in one of the lower valleys to the East.
Hope and Noelle got along instantly and have written many letters to each other over the years when they weren’t able to meet in person. Once Grandma Sapphria got Noelle a phone, they would call regularly. Noelle is always eager to visit Hope in her town, grateful for the time away from her family.
“We won’t have time today, but the next time you visit, we should hit the Hot Springs Spa,” Hope suggests. “Unless you want to try and fit it in tomorrow?”
Noelle shrugs. “Let’s see how today goes.”
Hope raises a brow. “I don’t blame you. You might flee back to Frore from the craziness here.”
“It can’t be that bad.”
“Give it a few hours,” Hope suggests. “We’ll go from there.”
They walk along the sidewalk, making their way to Hope’s family home. When they arrive, Noelle happily greets the rest of the family: Ruby, Hope’s younger sister, and Myles, her older brother, along with Myles’ wife and new child, her parents, and her grandparents. Noelle watches for a few moments as boxes continue to be brought up from the basement or down from the attic.
“There’s more,” Hope whispers in Noelle’s ear. She giggles when she sees Noelle’s eyes inflate.
“You weren’t kidding,” she sighs.
“Too much?” Hope asks.
“No.” Noelle steps toward a box and carefully opens it.
Over the years, she’s seen the final presentation of Hope’s home and town, but seeing it
all unfold is something completely different. She’s aware of some similarities in symbols that are used, but these are more colorful. Some things, Noelle considers, have too much color—particularly the strings of rainbow lights many people use. Other things, Noelle enjoys—solid white lights and the smell of fresh pine from the trees and wreaths.
By the time they make it to the town tree lighting, Noelle feels as if she’s gotten into the groove of the day. She’s enjoying the happiness and joy that surrounds her and notices that there’s a difference between her family and town compared to Hope’s. It’s not bad—just different. Then, a feeling surfaces inside Noelle. She feels out of place. Looking around at the people, it doesn’t take her long to grasp why. Their attire is much different than her own. She snickers to herself for never noticing it before. Everyone is wearing a combination of bright colors: reds, greens, browns, yellows, gold, and white. There are some pinks and purples, but mostly on little girls. There is some blue, but the other colors stand out more.
She glances down at her clothing and realizes the difference. Aside from her tattoos and leather boots, there is another major distinction between her and everyone else. Noelle and everyone from Frore only wear blues, blacks, silver, and white.
The clouds above shift, thickening and darkening a little.
“Everything okay?” Hope inquires.
“Yeah,” Noelle huffs, trying to understand why it took so long for this simple and obvious difference to be noticed.
Small snowflakes begin to trickle from the sky. Many of the people take note of the weather shift, smiling at the moment. Five seconds later, the lights flicker on the fifty-foot tree. The crowd ooh and ahh at the sight before a hush spreads throughout them.
“Isn’t it pretty?” Hope asks, beaming with excitement.
“It is,” Noelle agrees, studying the mammoth of a tree before her as her eyes barely blink. Though she hates the rainbow-colored lights, it somehow works on the monstrosity before her.
The snowflakes thicken, but continue their slow, steady pace, coating the ground slightly. The crowd huddles more closely to each other as they zip up their jackets and tighten their scarves. Noelle breathes in deeply, eagar
for the coolness of the air in her lungs.
As she looks around at the smiling faces, Noelle’s grin grows. She bites it back when she catches sight of the stranger she met the other night at the tavern staring right at her. Noelle snaps her head back around, looking for Hope to avoid him.
“What else is—“
“Hey,” the stranger greets as he approaches Noelle.
Hope shifts and smirks when she sees him. “Who’s your friend, Elle?”
“Hi,” he says, offering his hand to Hope. “I’m Nikolaus.”
“Hope,” she mutters, taking a hold of his hand. Her tongue quickly darts out to coat her suddenly chapped lips. “How do you know—”
“We just met the other night,” Noelle states. She gestures toward Nikolaus with her head.
It takes Hope a second. “Oh. Oh!” She giggles to herself. “Now I know why your family was acting odd.”
“Odd?” Nikolaus replies.
“Nothing,” Noelle states curtly.
“They don't like it when men talk to her,” Hope shares.
Noelle’s cheeks redden as she purses her lips.
Nikolaus doesn’t comment.
“You don’t look familiar,” Hope declares. “Are you new in town?”
“Just passing through towards Alyona,” he admits.
“Business?” Hope inquires.
“Yes,” he replies. “The weather suddenly changed when I was cutting through the mountain to bypass the long way back around.”
“It tends to do that,” Noelle mumbles, rocking back on her heels and looking down at the ground.
“Please accept my apology for the other night?” he requests.
Noelle’s eyes bounce up to his face.
“What happened?” Hope asks excitedly.
“Nothing,” Noelle l
Hope studies her friend for a moment. “Why don’t I get us some eggnog, hm?” She takes a few steps back. “For all three of us?”
“You’ll love it,” Hope assures. “Trust me, Elle.” She’s gone the next moment.
Noelle’s gaze drops back to the ground. “If anyone should apologize, it’s me.”
“Why is that?” Nikolaus inquires, moving closer.
Noelle chews on her bottom lip. “My grandfather and cousins were—”
“Protective,” he replies.
“Rude and overbearing, to say the least.”
Nikolaus’ head tilts slightly. “Among other things.”
“What did my grandfather mean by your kind isn’t welcome?” she inquires.
Noelle studies the man, knowing that he’s refraining, yet again, from mentioning what occurred. Something reflects in his eye and it causes Noelle to take an unconscious step toward him. The aroma from the night they met returns, enticing her once more.
“Here ya go,” Hope says, shoving two cups toward them.
Noelle barely processes what’s happening as Nikolaus happily takes his, offering gratitude and the promise of returning the favor in the future. Hope makes herself disappear once more, though she stands off in the distance, watching and waiting for her friend to finish.
Nikolaus takes a sip of his warm drink. “Hm. Not bad.”
Noelle’s jaw remains
open as it takes her several more moments to realize what’s happening. “Where’s Hope?” She looks around, eager to spot her.
“Behind the light pole,” Nikolaus says, nodding in the direction.
Noelle lets out a sigh the second she sees her. Her attention snaps back around. “I should go.”
“It was nice to see you again,” Nikolaus states.
Noelle nods as her body remains motionless.
“And, not just in my dreams.”
She blushes and takes a sip to hide it.
“It would be nice to try the hot chocolate sometime,” he adds.
The corner of Noelle’s mouth ticks up. “If you’re willing to chance more weirdness from my family, you know where to find me.”
“Are you there every day?” he asks.
“Not today,” she muses.
He grins, enjoying her playfulness.
“Most days,” she confirms.
Nikolaus reaches forward and gently takes a snowflake off of her long, wavy, chestnut hair. The heat from his hand is inviting and Noelle unknowingly steps toward him again.
“You have beautiful eyes,” he declares.
Right as Noelle glances down, the snow falls a little faster.
“A sparkling blue,” he adds.
Noelle’s gaze returns to his.
“Like….” His head tilts slightly to the right and his voice becomes deep and husky. “Like a frozen glacier.”
Noelle sense the same pull between them that was evident the other day. The color of his eyes catches her attention next when one sparkles in its own way. Noelle’s lips turn into a smirk when she catches the sight of something on his neck.
“How many tats?”
Nikolaus’ grin spreads from ear to ear. “You first.”
Her head sways. “I asked first.”
Nikolaus raises his cup to his lips. “Another time.” He takes a step back.
“Another time?” she balks.
“Then, perhaps I won’t be at the tavern,” she goads.
“You will be,” he replies confidently. “See you later, Noelle.”
The way Nikolaus says her name stirs flurries in her belly.
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