Prudence Berry was engaged to Gavin. Her obsession with climbing to the top of her union (Elves' Local #101) wasn't as much to blame for their breakup as Gavin's philandering.
When the two of them are forced to work together on Christmas Eve, they discover that the spirit of the holiday doesn't just work on children. There's magic afoot! Gavin and Pru are about to discover the real meaning of the season...in each other's arms.
Rating: holiday sweet
Release date: December 13, 2019
Publisher: Candace Sams
Print pages: 159
Content advisory: Very little sexual content. Rated PG
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Behind the book
Santa's sleigh maker is ordered to work with his ex - a rigid, overworked union Elf - on Christmas Eve.
It's all fun and games until the pair realizes that they don't hate each other as much as they thought.
The Sleigh Maker: Yule Magic 2
The Sleigh Maker
At the North Pole…
Gavin Frost threw down the polishing cloth and looked over his latest creation one last time. Santa would have no reason to doubt the stability of his newest sleigh. Every year Gav—as his friends sometimes called him—did his best to make sure the great man’s ride would be a conveyance of luxury and splendor. This time, however, even Santa would be impressed.
“I’ve outdone myself,” he whispered. He grinned when the reindeer in the nearby stalls pawed in approval. “You like it too, eh ladies? I think Santa will bust a seam.”
In celebration of having completed his yearly project, he picked up a bottle of fine Irish whiskey and proceeded to pour himself a good measure. For such beverage, nothing but a sparkling crystal glass would do. “A toast, my beauties.” He lifted the glass to the reindeer, and then swallowed down the entire contents of the glass in one gulp.
“Oh, how perfect!” A soft voice filtered through the arched ceiling of the barn.
He quickly turned and bowed his head at the benevolent and kind presence before him. “Hello, Mrs. Claus. I wasn’t expecting you.” He cleared a chair of some loose straw and offered her the seat.
Clarinda Claus walked forward with her hands outstretched, ignoring Gavin’s kind offer of a place to sit.
Her blue-eyed gaze lingered on the immense sleigh just inside the door of the reindeer barn. The bright, candy apple red paint sparkled. On its sides and back were golden inlays of crystal, mistletoe, and bows of swirling embellishments. He held his breath as Mrs. Claus stretched out her fingers and touched the lovely pine greenery decorating the top of the sides, the front seat where her husband would sit, and the top of the high rear where the packages would be safely stored. The runners were a bright, burnished gold to match the inlays. They gleamed from the light of the stable lanterns. All in all, the sleigh was magnificent; a creation of fine craftsmanship and love.
“I can see how much of your soul you poured into this year’s sleigh, Gavin. It’s a testament to your loyalty and to the spirit of the season,” she murmured as she turned to face him. “You’ve really done a most wondrous job, my good fellow. Santa will be so proud to fly this sleigh on Christmas Eve. It’s simply the most stunning piece of equipment he’ll have ever seen. I don’t know how you do it. Every year, for the past ten, you’ve designed the most extraordinary conveyances. Your father was right to recommend that you fill his shoes. No one else could have represented Jack Frost’s work at this time of year but his eldest son.”
Feeling his chest expand with the great praise, Gavin humbly bowed his head. “I pulled out all the stops on this one, Mrs. Claus. You’re the very first to see it.”
“And the harness?” she quietly asked.
Gavin nodded toward the back wall of the barn. “Reworked, polished, fitted and ready to go. Just as you ordered.”
Gavin couldn’t help but respond to the wide smile she bestowed. While Mrs. Claus was the kindest of souls, she was the one person every worker at the North Pole most tried to please. Santa delivered no toy, made no ride or any significant decision without her knowledge and approval. The rest of the world might think it was the great man himself who oversaw all the preparations leading up to the season, but it was the First Lady of the Pole who had the final word.
Everyone admired her while being mindful of her status. She was slow to anger but, once she was pissed, Creator help the man or woman who’d got ‘er that way! She was fair but firm when it came to officiating the holiday season. Gavin knew that as well as everyone else. That was why meeting her high standard was always gratifying. He felt warmth creeping through him at the look of joy in her eyes now.
Mrs. Claus slowly walked toward him. “I should say you deserve a most substantial reward for your efforts, Gavin.” She laid a motherly hand on his cheek. “What would Christmas be without a gift bestowed by one of the Frosts?”
He placed his hand over hers, pinning it to his face. “And what would life be like without you and Mr. Claus? The least I can do is give Santa my best effort.”
“With your work done, what were you planning on doing this Christmas Eve, my young rogue? Will you be flailing away in some snow bank with one of those Snow Fairies you’re so fond of?”
He pasted on a smile. “No rumor gets by you, does it?”
She lowered her hand from his cheek as he released it. “At least you have the good grace to drop your gaze in embarrassment, you broad-shouldered young rascal.” She paused before speaking again. “You’re a good man, but wild as the wind. Just as most of the men of your family have been, down through the generations,” she softly observed. “You need to settle down and quit gallivanting with those Fairies. I daresay Santa won’t have the runners on this new sleigh warm before you’ll be neck deep in women. Indeed, none of us will see you again until after the first of January.” She lifted a hand to quell his protest. “It’s like that every year. Don’t think I haven’t heard the tales.”
Gavin cleared his throat, actually uncomfortable now. “Um, would you like to see the wreaths I’ve made for the deer to wear? I’ve also put in a work order for a new front seat throw rug. The Elves should have it ready any time. It’s supposed to match the embellishment, and I ordered it extra thick so that Santa―”
“Stop trying to change the subject, Gavin. Your work will be spectacular and all the paraphernalia will be in perfect order. It always is. We’re talking about your personal life.” She walked by him and sat in the chair she’d previously ignored.
With his back to her, Gavin rolled his eyes, took a deep breath, and slowly turned to face a force of nature with which no man should be inflicted. He felt a long lecture coming concerning his personal life and saw no way around it. Clarinda Claus looked like someone’s loving, matronly aunt. Especially when she had her white hair coiled around her head, and was wearing her red barn jacket, black pants, and tall black leather boots. She was, as she wished to appear―the bookend of her mate’s image. But her loving, amicable countenance belied her strength of character.
“May I?” Clarinda pointed to the large bottle of whiskey sitting on the barrel top before her.
Gavin quickly reached for another glass, poured her a small amount and then handed the shining crystal container to her. He wasn’t really astonished when she picked up the bottle and poured double the amount of amber fluid into her glass before settling back to slowly sip it. She had the constitution of a musk ox and was said to be able to hold her liquor with the stoutest of men, including her esteemed spouse. Even though she could drink like a sailor, the lady always maintained the dignity of an ambassador.
Gavin sat down in the wooden chair opposite her and waited. Every year the same subject came up in this similar fashion. This time, however, Mrs. C had a decidedly intense expression chiseled into her motherly features.
“Okay. Let’s shoot from the hip. What do you want from me?” he somberly asked.
Something about the way her left brow arched made him nervous. “Can I hear it first?”
“You know that every year we suffer a shortage of personnel, even down to the last minute.”
He nodded. “Of course. It wouldn’t be normal without a rush. It has always been that way.”
She sipped some more whiskey before continuing. “I’m afraid the deficit of workers this year is really more than just an inconvenience. It’s a damned nuisance. I’ve kept it from Santa so he can keep his mind on checking his lists twice. But the unions are reporting they’re in a serious bind. I’ve had to pull Elves away from their homes in the middle of the night to boost production. The Forest Fairies are busy constructing ornaments by the thousands, and the Sprites, Gnomes, and Imps are crafting toys until their hands are numb. Everyone will have to work, down to the wire. There’ll be no slacking or partying until Santa leaves with his sleigh, and all the accompanying smaller sleighs follow.”
Gavin sighed in remembrance. “I can remember when Mr. C was able to deliver everything by himself and in one evening, without using Elves to pull extra sleighs. The world really is getting larger, isn’t it?”
“And more and more children are being so good. We can’t disappoint them. Not a single one.”
Gavin saluted with his glass. “I agree. In a world where chaos seems to rule, the most innocent among us should be rewarded for keeping the faith. Here’s to them.”
Clarinda lifted her glass and clinked it against his. “I can’t tell you how glad I am to hear you say that because…we’ll need every single butt in a sleigh this year,” she quickly finished.
Gavin almost choked on the whiskey he’d just swallowed. Surely, he’d misunderstood that last remark, and was misinterpreting the accompanying look of sincerity pasted on her face like a stop sign. “Uh, you were speaking metaphorically when you said, ‘every single butt’ weren’t you?”
“Have you ever known me to beat around the bush?”
He swallowed hard. “Look, Mrs. C, my job is in the forge and the barn. I’m a sleigh and harness maker. I help take care of the reindeer. I don’t know diddly squat about delivering packages to thousands of homes on Christmas Eve. That’s Santa’s domain and always has been. He’s got hundreds of very well trained Elves helping him.”
“You can drive a team, can’t you?”
“Of course, I can. What kind of sleigh maker would I be if I couldn’t test what I built?”
“That’s the main requirement, and one of the toughest jobs out of the way.” Clarinda sat back and lifted her black-booted feet up to prop them on the top of the barrel. “As to the actual delivery, I’ll put you with one of my top workers. Someone who’s skilled in getting in and out of houses without a hitch. Indeed…she’s one of the best in the business. With two package deliverers in each sleigh, the work will go that much faster.”
Gavin leaned forward as a nasty suspicion planted itself in his brain. “She?” he croaked.
“Well, it stands to reason I’d put you with someone you know. However disagreeable your former relationship might have been, I expect cooperation from the both of you.”
“Not her!” Gavin blurted. “Mrs. C…you wouldn’t do that to me. Not on Christmas Eve,” he pleaded while trying to stem the anxiety in his voice.
“Expect Prudence to make a visit here sometime tomorrow. She’ll fill you in on your route and when you’ll be leaving.”
“She actually agreed to this?” Gavin asked.
“No. She’s as shocked by the idea as you seem to be. But she’s a responsible, capable employee who will obey my command.” Clarinda glared at him. “Just as I expect you’ll do. And without any argument. Is that clear?”
The last three words were spoken with such force that Gavin simply nodded. In her own right, Mrs. Claus had powers that outweighed any of the magical beings living within the secret domain of the North Pole. Though his sire was Jack Frost— controller of the weather and overseer of all things frigid—and his mother was the Sprite Sorceress Dyana Twilight—the summoning spirit of northern lights and the entity from whom he had obtained his own gifts of creativity—he wasn’t stupid enough to force a standoff with Clarinda Claus. Stifling his comments was a matter of self-preservation. Being mystically whisked away to spend an entire year on an isolated, ocean snowdrift wasn’t his idea of a good time. And Clarinda could accomplish such a thing with a wave of one hand. The fact that he, like all the denizens of the North, loved the older woman wholeheartedly was another reason for reigning in his sudden ire.
“You will be a gentleman, won’t you? Promise me, Gavin. If I get any complaints from Prudence, I’ll have another sleigh maker in your place by New Year’s Eve.”
There wasn’t a doubt in his mind that she’d make good on that threat. “I’ll…I’ll do whatever it takes to deliver the packages, Mrs. C.”
“As far as I’m concerned, you’ve always been a man of your word. I’ll hold you to it, Gavin.” She put her glass down and stood. “Now, I’ve got work to oversee. Be prepared to meet with Prudence sometime tomorrow. You’ll be using one of the utility sleighs. I know you have them ready so there should be no problem,” she told him. “Pick yourself a good team from the spare herd. I won’t have time to see you until after the deliveries, so…have a very Merry Christmas, Gavin.”
Gavin watched her walk through the barn doors in solemn silence. As far as Mrs. Claus was concerned, his word was good. But Prudence Berry certainly wouldn’t agree with that opinion.
He couldn’t imagine how Clarinda had got the high-and-mighty Miss Berry to ride with him for a full night of delivering toys all over the world. Even a threat of being marooned in a snowy cave for a year wouldn’t faze Pru. At least not if she still harbored the same anger she’d exhibited on their last meeting.
That last time he’d seen her was seven years ago, on New Year’s Eve. Her words back then assured him that she never wanted to see him again, and he was equally sure she’d gone to great lengths to see their paths never crossed. He recalled their last meeting and her oath with crystal clarity. Her words haunted him still.
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