THOSE BLOODY CHRISTMAS ELVES
holiday adventure/gay romance
Come to where the elves steal children, the snowmen stand guard and the gingerbread man never, ever runs away…
Taylor Yeristan has been at war with Santa’s nefarious helpers for over a decade. To him, kindergartner Mandy Westmill is merely one more kidnapped child in need of his help, and her father, Greg, just one more distraught parent to comfort and cajole into heading off to the police, far from the real battle.
Only, Taylor doesn’t reckon with Greg’s unflinching determination or his refusal to leave Taylor’s side until Mandy is safe. Nor does Taylor anticipate the fierce desire Greg’s intensity sparks. For he’s been battling the lies of Christmas alone for so long that opening himself to a potential partner is a vastly seductive idea.
Yet, allowing Greg to help comes with a risk, for he has a stake in this war now, one that compromises him heavily. But it will be Taylor who pays the ultimate price for their desires.
The holidays brought sparkling rainbow lights and faded nativity scenes. Sky-high prices and Christmas hats that shed red and white fuzz everywhere. People who suddenly suffered through uncontrollable urges to shout greetings to strangers and, worst of all, visits from Santa and his elves.
It astounded Taylor to see how blasé the culture had become about the dangers. As if children-stealing elvish murderers no longer existed. As if they didn’t come down once a year to stock up, trading toys and candy for access to their hearts’ desire. And yet somehow, despite the increase in kidnappings every December, people turned a blind eye toward the dangers, holiday cheer and glitter enough to distract them from reality.
Take this moron with his daughter.
She was a cute child, black-haired beauty with her hair done up in two pigtails off the sides of her head. She had a dimple in one cheek and a smear of chocolate on her chin and the widest smile as she clutched her illegible list close to her chest with two tiny fists.
Her father, wearing a beat-up peacoat and faded jeans, laid his hand against her back and coaxed her closer to the large man who’d been volunteered by his wife to be Santa Claus again this year. As the little girl climbed onto Santa’s lap, the father dropped to a knee to take a picture.
Look at him, all high-class, using a real camera rather than his phone to help perpetrate the notion that his precious child had nothing to be afraid of. Oh, no, he had to get one on his phone too, holding up the line as Santa and the girl retained frozen, glazed smiles as if silently telling him to hurry it up. Got to get those holiday memories of the most wonderful time of the year.
Idiot. If only parents would listen. Too many sickly sweet movies celebrating goodwill and cheer to all men. Would that it was true.
Taylor sighed into his coffee and stared for another few moments because the angle allowed him a good view of the father’s backside now that the peacoat had ridden up slightly. What a sight. Plus the man’s smile, a sexy as hell, half-cocked twist of his lips, popped that same dimple his daughter must have inherited. When the man went to stand and collect his daughter, Taylor turned away to avoid getting caught.
As he left the gymnasium, he snagged a cookie off the table by the door, spilling green sprinkles across the tiles when he went to bite into it. Outside, he popped the last of the cookie into his mouth and leaned against one of the brick pillars furthest away from the door to the school. He hadn’t seen any signs of elvish infiltration yet, but he knew they’d be here. They always were.
Taylor believed it was because Reynald Elementary was located less than an acre away from a wooded lot perfect for hiding those damn flying reindeer. He’d already scattered poisoned sugar oats along the tree line, but it was more of a warning now than a danger since he’d been doing it like clockwork every holiday season. They kept trying and he kept thwarting their efforts, forcing them to head elsewhere for their victims.
He scanned that tree line, eyes narrowed so he could attempt to see something other than the prickles of grass poking through the snow. Nothing yet, but it was early still. No suspicious elves had jumped in to help the long line of kids and parents inside either. They would probably bide their time, wait until he’d grown complacent. Either that or try and nab a kid when the crowd was at its thickest a little later.
He started to walk around the edge of the school, intending to get a look at the side door where the playground was located, when a sob caught his ear. Taylor paused and glanced back as the thick glass door to the front of the school slammed shut. That same little girl he’d just seen on Santa’s lap pushed out her lip in a pout, fat tears streaking her face as her handsome father carried her down the sidewalk. Then she opened her mouth and screamed again, causing both her father and Taylor to flinch.
“Mandy, it’s okay, it’s okay,” the father said in a tired, yet cajoling voice. “We’ll go home and have a snack.”
“No! I want—”
Taylor honestly had no idea what she wanted because her voice had become so distorted through her screaming the words no longer resembled words. The father must have had a lot of practice deciphering Mandy-screams though because he answered.
“I know. We’ll put the reindeer movie on and set up the tree. Sound good? Otherwise, if you keep this up, the only thing you’re getting is a nap.”
His gaze cut toward Taylor as he carried the little girl past, but he quickly looked away, obviously embarrassed over his kid’s tantrum. In light of his feelings, Taylor politely averted his eyes. Yet he couldn’t help shooting Mandy a glare when her voice became a high-pitched shriek that threatened to make his eardrums explode.
And then he saw it.
A twinkle in her eyes. A shimmer at her hairline. That beautiful glitter of snowy elvish Christmas magic that told him they’d already struck.
He nearly dropped his coffee.
“Shit,” Taylor cursed under his breath. This wasn’t going to go over very well. Not well at all.
He glanced left and right down the empty sidewalk, rushed the couple of steps to catch up to the not-Mandy and her father, gripped the little girl by the back of her neck and ripped her out of his arms. Or, tried to, at any rate.
“What the fuck!”
The man lashed out while twisting his body to protect the girl who was most decidedly not his daughter. He managed to rip Taylor’s grip away with the move and they staggered against each other, the man’s body harder than Taylor would have imagined. Then Taylor dodged the man’s follow-up punch, but didn’t move quite far enough away because the man’s elbow caught the top of the coffee, sending the cup and its contents flying through the air.
Before it had a chance to land, Taylor stepped around the man, grabbed the not-Mandy by her pretty head and thrust downward, using the man’s own grip against him, going with his strength rather than against it. She slipped sideways and the man bent to catch her, but Taylor smacked the back of his head and kicked at his elbow. The man’s arm went wide and the not-Mandy hit the ground in a roll far too calculated for a child as young as she was pretending to be.
“Get away from her, you fucking psycho!”
The man lurched forward, but his balance was off and his attention on the girl, so it was easy pickings giving him a shove that sent him sprawling against the concrete toward one of the brick pillars, camera smacking hard on the ground.
Taylor yanked a knife from his belt and went for the kill, but the not-Mandy moved faster. She rolled, her eyes twinkling again before she blew a cloud of shimmering snow into his face. He staggered backward, rising the knife in defense as he blocked the worst of the cloud with his arm. Blinking rapidly to clear the fireworks in his gaze, Taylor ducked another blow, this one a snowflake throwing star that hit with a crunch somewhere behind him.
Taylor grimaced. That man would be a problem. Parents always were, no matter how good their intentions, how deep their unconditional love…or how attractive their smiles.
Ringing laughter, high-pitched and filled with sadistic delight, faded toward the wood line. He scraped more of the sparkling snow from his eyes and rushed forward, angry with himself for ruining his chance so horribly. The not-Mandy was nothing but a blur of black hair as she shot across the parking lot, weaving between and under the cars in a way no real child could ever do.
The man yelled again, but didn’t advance. He stood, one hand pressed against the brick pillar and his eyes open so wide Taylor thought they’d spill right out of his head.
“What…. What the… Mandy?”
He swung his head back and forth wildly, as if searching for his daughter, but his gaze kept returning to that blur that was now sprinting past the snow-laden curb on the other side of the parking lot.
Taylor glanced behind him at the cracked glass where the sharpened snowflake throwing star began to melt its way down the window in streaks of messy white-blue Christmas cheer. The snow that had caught along the sill sparked and jumped the same way it had done in his gaze. He sighed, cast his spilled coffee a morose look, then started to run after the not-Mandy, thinking he might have enough time to stop the children from behind loaded onto the reindeer.
But the father had other plans, whirling into the way, his tone aghast and his expression furious. “What the fuck did you just do to my daughter, you sick fuck!”
Oh, how Taylor hated when parents got involved. Things were always easier when he managed to catch the elves at their game long before they captured anyone.
“Nothing,” he insisted, trying in vain hide the knife. “That wasn’t your daughter.”
The man’s phone came out. “I’m calling the police. Don’t fucking move.”
“The police can’t save her.” Taylor dodged around the man while he was busy and set off for the tree line at a brisk jog.
He could hear the phone beeping even under the heavy tread of their footsteps pounding against the pavement of the parking lot. He picked up speed, thighs pumping as he took a route that led him straight between the cars rather than in a zigzag as the not-Mandy had done. Snow, this time real snow, kicked up behind Taylor after he leapt the small piles of it mounded along the curb.
“Wait!” shouted the man.
Taylor ignored him, crunching through the snow in sneakers, wet patches growing along the calves of his jeans. He kept his gaze trained on that tree line, where the pines grew in triangle patches within the forest of naked beeches and maples. The not-Mandy left a stream of glitter in her wake, a shimmer where her tiny footsteps had danced through the snow. That sheen was quickly disappearing, the squished grass and melted snow of her footprints lifting as if some force rewound the moments her feet had pressed against the ground.
Chilly air burned his lungs and sweat gathered under his coat as he burst past the first trees. Bare branches could not hide much within the wooded lot, but even still, he stalled a few feet in, casting about for the bulky reindeer.
That was his mistake, for Mandy’s father caught up with him then, not even huffing, that peacoat obviously hiding a perfect bulk of muscle underneath and those boots crunching through the snow with an authority-minded stride. This was no office worker grown lazy and overweight from stress and bills. Taylor spun and held up his free hand to forestall whatever rant the man had planned.
“Listen,” he urged in a raspy whisper. “The deer never wander too far in. They hate being closed off from the sky.”
His order preempted any response from the man, shocking him into a hesitant silence for a few seconds. Taylor scanned the woods, searching for that hint of pale brown, that shift between the barren trees. He cocked his head, straining to hear that tingle of a harness, the bells’ subtle power only ringing for the believer, just as all the stories claimed. One of the few details people got right.
“What are you talking about?”
Taylor could hear the fear in the man’s voice despite its steadiness, as if he’d steeled himself. Around them, this close to the edge of the forest, the beeches stood tall and the handful of loblollies swayed in the breeze, their needles sticky and sharp when they grazed Taylor’s arm.
“Their deer,” he repeated as he pushed aside a needle-heavy branch. “They load the kids on the deer. Usually sugar-drugged.”
“Are you high?”
Taylor rolled internal eyes. “Can’t you go back and wait for the police or something?”
“I’m not letting you out of my sight.”
“There,” Taylor said in a sharp mutter, and pushed past. In his haste, Taylor nearly knocked the phone from the man’s hand.
“Where are you going?”
The man reached for Taylor, but this time he knew the action was coming and easily slipped away, out of reach, before the man had a chance to close that hard grip.
The tingling of the bells came louder, coupled with the rush of fabric, the quiet mumbles of children, and the thudding of hooves upon the frozen ground. One reindeer, massive with lean legs, lifted its head as Taylor ducked under a holly, the girl’s father hot on his heels.
The children sat sprawled upon reindeer backs. Snow-glitter shone in their eyes and sprinkles speckled their lips from whatever cookies they’d been tempted with. Taylor swallowed hard, feeling the tickle of green sprinkles against his own throat. The elves had struck early this year. Gotten to the tables, possibly before Taylor had even arrived.
He carefully replaced his knife and slid free his handgun from the back of his jeans. He’d have to approach carefully, get a read on how many elves stood hidden behind icy mirrors that—
Taylor reacted instinctively, throwing out his arm to stop the man, but he just plowed right through Taylor’s arm and sprinted for one of the deer and the pigtailed girl atop it. From out of nowhere, a peppermint wheel spun through the air and cracked into the man’s knee, sending him crashing to the ground where red candy streaks spilled across the snow, melting it like molten lava.
“Keep down!” shouted Taylor.
He tracked a second peppermint wheel back to its origins, took note of the shimmer of the reflective ice and squeezed the trigger. The .45 recoiled, the slide cracking back as the bullet shattered straight through the thin veneer hiding the elf. Another squeeze, another bullet chambering, and the elf went flying backward, the peppermint gun falling to the snow and the rest of the ammo spilling from his tiny, green-striped pouch.
A buzzing sound, low, electrical and dangerous, started toward his right, giving Taylor just enough time to roll through the snow before a whip-like c-r-aaack cut through the air. As he righted himself, he caught sight of the split bark of the holly tree, wooden shards marking where the whip had impacted.
The rainbow lights flickered dully under the bright morning sun, no dappled shade here to brighten those Christmas strands. The elf wielding them twirled around, the two strands of lights spinning in opposite directions and buzzing as happily as had they been wrapped gaily about a fake tree.
To Taylor’s side, he felt more than saw the reindeer being spurred into motion. Heard the other man’s grunt of pain and subsequent call for his daughter, but Taylor couldn’t spare a glance, for those strands of lights hit harder than a peppermint wheel, stung sharper than a snowflake star and reached farther than a serrated holly sword.
His shot went wide, closer toward the first reindeer in line, sparking a skittish, urgent reaction from the beast as it stomped in fear. The elf, all pink-faced and narrowed glares, danced forward, her diminutive body dainty, but her fingers fat and strong. The left strand snapped toward him. Taylor lurched to his right and shot again, knocking the elf’s hat right off her head, but not stopping her forward advance. The right strand zipped out, cracking so close to his head as he spun that he felt the electrical current, a zing of pain lancing through his cheek.
Another uniquely-shaped ninja star sailed past, soaring into the trees beyond. Taylor dropped to a knee as a light strand whipped over his head. At this height, his shots found purchase, two smacking into the elf’s torso, sending her jerking backward with squeals of agonized rage. As she fell into the snow, the light strands grazed over Taylor’s front shin, slicing clean through his jeans.
Beside him, the reindeer exploded into a forward rush. He rolled sideways, under that first holly to escape the stampede and then shot at their legs until his mag ran dry.
Real blood—not melted candy or glittering coconut—splattered across the snow, but the reindeer merely leapt into the sky, chasing the clouds, their burdens lax on their strong backs. Taylor chased the herd, swapping his magazine with a speed learned from many hours on the closest range. He’d just gotten into position, the last elves in his sights where they hung off the haunches of the trailing reindeer, their peppermint guns spitting wheels into the ground around him when a hand closed over the top of his gun.
“Don’t shoot at them! Mandy’s up there!”
But Taylor had already squeezed the trigger. The shot went low, missing the herd entirely as the deer lifted out of range. The man jerked away, cursing as he shook out the hand the slide had sliced open. Taylor took aim again, this time free of distraction, but ice mirrors had already begun crystallizing around the fading group. He stood there, staring, gun upraised, but useless when he couldn’t see where the children might be, until nothing remained in the air but the faintest glitter in the sunlight.
And even that disappeared a few moments later.
He didn’t turn to the man until then, speaking while he dropped the mag, cleared the chamber and replaced the gun into the back of his jeans. “Great job, asshole. Great job.”
The man stood there gaping at the sky, his gaze fixated where the reindeer had faded from view as if he thought he might see past all the magic in the world to find his daughter.
“They took her,” he whispered, angry disbelief coloring his voice. “They took her.” He looked to Taylor for all the answers, fingers spread wide, blood speckling his palm where the slide had nabbed skin. “What am I to do? How do I even…explain all this?”
“You don’t,” Taylor said simply. “There’s no explaining to people who haven’t experienced it. I’ve tried.”
“You…you can help. Right?”
Taylor shrugged and bent to pick up the peppermint gun from the first elf he’d killed. That elf had already begun to slowly sink in on himself, his body melting from a high sugar concentration, his clothes disintegrating within the sticky mess. After tucking the peppermint gun away in his jacket, Taylor sifted through the wheels that had spilled out into the snow, finding ones that hadn’t yet begun to melt and popping them back into the elf’s striped pouch.
As he worked, he said, “I do my best every year. Must have gotten a little complacent. Didn’t get there as early. Wasn’t watching the right things.” No, he’d gotten too damn focused on a fine ass standing in line. Stupid, really. Holiday season meant hunting season. He couldn’t afford this distraction. Any distraction.
“So what do we do? Where do we go?”
“I find where they’re taking them and follow.”