A Taste of Christmas
Remnants of a light fall of snow brushed from his coat, Patrick looked around. So this was Midar City. As he made his way along the sidewalk, prerecorded Christmas carols oozed from shops, making him cringe. The sweet tones reminded him too much of Heaven; a place which had stripped him of his wings, powers, and angelic status. Not content with that the powers that be tossed him to the North Pole to live with Santa Claus. That male’s continuous happy mood made Patrick want to hurl at times. Well either that or go and bury himself in the snow to escape all the “joy.”
Coat collar pulled up against the cold he continued walking, dodging people as he went. Every damn December it was the same thing; visit a city and look for “her,” then go back empty handed. Two hundred years he’d been looking for the one female who could restore to him what was taken. Each one which passed without finding her made him a little more cynical. He didn’t want to go back to the North Pole this year because he knew there was no way he could take another eleven months of Claus and his fucking demented bunch of happy, happy, joy, joy elves. Even a disgraced angel could only take so much happiness before he wanted to rip his wings off – that was if he still had them.
Letting out a breath he recalled what had placed him in his current situation. Breaking one too many of heaven’s rules had led to him having something taken away. What it was he couldn’t recall, all he did know was that action caused him to snap and try to storm the inner sanctum where the creator resided, in an attempt to get back whatever it was he’d lost. Stopped by his superiors he was held while they spoke with the head honcho. They jointly decided after ripping everything away from him that time with St. Nick would most probably be of benefit. When he’d arrived at the North Pole, the only information he was given was that he needed to find a specific female, but he could only search for her one month a year; December. Just thirty one days to find a proverbial needle in a haystack.
“I really despise this time of the year,” he muttered, earning some strange looks from a couple out shopping who walked past him. Eyes rolled, he stuffed his hands into his coat pockets and turned the corner…
“Merry Christmas,” Clare called as she left the store. With the last of her shopping completed she headed down the sidewalk. Packages shifted to balance them better, she focused on the feet of the people milling around her in hopes she could avoid hitting anyone. A forlorn hope as she collided with something hard; sending her crashing to the ground and scattering her shopping all over the sidewalk.
“What the fuck?” she heard a male voice curse. Like she went out of her way to collide with strangers. Normally even tempered, there was something in the male’s tone which sparked a flame of annoyance to life.
“Are you going to be a gentleman and help me up?” she huffed.
“Care to tell me why I should? You was the ditzy female not looking where the hell you were going.”
He had to be joking? If he had been paying attention then he would have seen her, so the collision wasn’t all her fault. Though from her current angle she had to admit he was rather on the yummy side. “If you had been paying attention as well, you would have seen me coming. So you are as much to blame as I am.”
“I really hate Christmas,” Clare heard him mumble as he grabbed her hand, pulling her to her feet.
Not prepared for the force of the pull she found herself suddenly against his hard body. Head tilted up so she could look at his face, she fought back a gasp as she found a pair of slate grey eyes fixed on her. All coherent thought vanished as she melted against him.
“When you’ve finished staring at me I’d like to be on my way.”
Whatever spell she had fallen under broke at his words. For some strange reason though she didn’t want him to leave, at least not yet. Taking a step back she pointed to all her scattered purchases. “If you can help me retrieve my shopping I’ll treat you to a coffee.”
“Why would you do that?”
“Because I refuse to let something as silly as a collision ruin my holiday spirit. So what do you say?”
“I’ll take the coffee because I happen to like it, not because of this annoying season.”
“At least you are taking it. So what’s your name?” she asked as they started to gather her bags and packages up.
“Patrick,” came his reply. “What’s yours?”
“Clare,” she answered as he picked up the last package, placing it on her pile. “Okay follow me, there is a place around the corner which serves the best expresso known to man.”
Shopping juggled so this time she could see ahead, she moved off fully aware of the hunk of male following close behind her.
Following on behind Clare, Patrick found himself with a problem. When they’d collided a connection had formed. With no damn clue as to the reason why, he started rooting around in his memories for an answer, coming up with ziltch.
“This is the place,” he heard her say, pulling him from his thoughts. “Could you open the door for me?”
Urge resisted to suggest she use one of her free fingers to do it, he grabbed the handle, pulling the door open. Step taken to the side he eyed her warily. “You go first. That way there’s no chance of another collision.”
“Thanks, I think. Looks like there is a corner table free. Please go and grab it before anyone else does. Once I can put this lot down I’ll get the coffees.”
Open a door, grab a table. He should be out looking for “her,” not playing servant to a strange female. Yet he found it hard to refuse her request. Looking in the direction she’d nodded he spotted the table, his long stride getting him to it fast, ensuring no one else grabbed it. He looked back to see her heading in his direction, attempting not to brain anyone with her shopping as she did. Taking a few of her packages as she reached the table he placed them on one side before parking his ass on a chair.
“What would you like?”
Well there was a question he could answer in two different ways. Where the hell had that come from? Head given a slight shake, he gave what he hoped passed for a smile. “I’ll have a large cappuccino with a cinnamon roll on the side.”
“I think I only offered a coffee.”
“Given what happened earlier, I think I’m entitled to two treats.”
“Coffee. That’s all I can afford after my shopping splurge.”
“Fine.” Coat pocket rummaged in, he pulled out a few coins. “Here, this should cover the cost of the roll.”
“Thanks,” she nodded before putting the rest of her shopping down and taking the money.
It took her a few moments to pull her attention away from Patrick, her eyes fixed on his face as if trying to place him. Somehow managing to break free she headed towards the counter. While she waited for her order to be filled, her attention drifted back to the table. For a moment her thoughts blindsided her as fragments of images danced through her mind; a couple embracing, wings of white, and snow. They made no sense and she had no clue where her mind had pulled them from. Yet for some reason they felt familiar.
“Excuse me miss?”
Pulled back from her strange journey into wonderland, Clare gave the assistant an apologetic look before paying for her items. Tray picked up she made her way back to the table. “One large cappuccino and cinnamon roll.”
“Thanks. Have to admit it does smell good.” Patrick replied before taking a sip of his coffee. “Color me curious, but what had you so spacy over there?”
“Spacy? Nothing. Everything’s fine.”
“Sweetheart the look on your face showed you checked out for a while. You didn’t bash your head on the sidewalk when you fell, did you?”
The slim note of concern running through his question surprised her, considering the start they had gotten off to. “No I didn’t. It’s just been a long and slightly confusing day.”
“Trust me, I have those days all the damn time.”
Hands wrapped around her cup Clare looked at the dark liquid, her mind once more drifting off, which most probably explained her next question. “Are you single?”
“What did you just ask?”
She didn’t need a mirror to know her cheeks were turning red. Hell she could feel the damn heat radiating from them. “I’m sorry. I think my brain to mouth filter has gone on vacation. Please ignore me while I try to drown in my coffee.”
“Strange as it may seem I think red suits you, and that’s hard for me to say given the fact I hate that color.”
“Why? I mean considering it is one of the main colors of Christmas, you really can’t avoid it.”
“Exactly. It reminds me of a certain bloody annoying red suited male.”
“That’s the pain,” came a grumbled reply.
“If you dislike him that much then you really need to avoid malls, sidewalks, actually pretty much everywhere.”
“I’m not talking about those copycats,” Patrick snorted. “I’m referring to the original.”
“Ummm why are you speaking of him in a way that implies you actually know him?”
Mental slap to the head given he stared into his half empty cup. What the hell was going on with him? He’d never let himself get carried away like that before. Yet for some reason he found he couldn’t stop himself.
“Who says I don’t?”
“You do realize that’s not normal? Santa Claus is the spirit of Christmas. The joy and laughter if you will.”
“Oh he’s more than a spirit, he’s as solid as you and I. So be careful what you class as being not normal, because your definition and mine are going to vary wildly.”
He was right, yet something still nagged at her. They were strangers who had crashed into one another. Any sane person would have picked themselves up, offered a few suggestions about watching where they were walking, and continued on. Yet here she was drinking coffee with the male and asking personal questions. Maybe she had hit her head and not realized it. No, it was more than that. There was a need to know about him and his life, almost as if she was meeting someone who meant a great deal to her but hadn’t seen in ages. It was enough to unnerve her slightly. Chair pushed back she started pulling her shopping together. “Seeing as I’ve finished my coffee I’ll head off. It’s been interesting, and I’m sorry for my filter being off earlier. As much as you don’t like this time of year I do wish you a merry Christmas.”
Before he realized what he was doing, Patrick reached a hand out to take hold of hers. “I apologize. This time of year always pisses me off, a situation which I think is highly unlikely to change anytime soon.”
“Tell me then why this season is such a turn off for you?”
“Let me put it this way. Every year I search for someone who I’m pretty damn sure I will never find. Therefore my loathing for this season increases every time it arrives.”
“Who are you searching for?” she asked, retaking her seat.
Another question. Hell, her curiosity was almost as bad as his. He was tempted to tell her, to see what kind of a loon she thought him to be.
“So? You going to answer me or not?”
Patience almost at an end he lent forward slightly, his hands resting on the table. “You want to know? Well here goes; I was an angel. Before you ask, yes we exist and more of us walk among you than you know. For two hundred years I’ve been stuck living with St. Nick and his damn elves. Every December I’m sent to a city to find the one who can free me. As I’m sure you’ve gathered by both my presence here and my pissy attitude I’ve not succeeded yet. Happy now?”
For a few moments the only sounds heard were the voices of other customers and carols filtering in every time the door opened.
“You really are nuts, aren’t you?”
“You wanted to know, now you do. To be honest I couldn’t give a fuck if you believe me or not. Hope your curiosity is satisfied now.”
When the last word left his lips, Patrick felt a pain shoot across his shoulder blades. He’d become used to the phantom feel of his wings, it was a reminder of what he’d lost. This pain though was somehow different. It almost felt like his wings were back and straining to break free of their confines. There was something strange going on, and he began to realize the female sitting opposite him with a look on her face of disbelief sat at the center of it.
“Got nothing else to say or ask?” he grunted.
“I have, but I figure you wouldn’t want to hear it.”
“You can’t say anything I’ve not heard before, so get it off your chest while my mood is still even.”
Clare wasn’t a saint, she didn’t have endless patience. What of it she did have this male was rapidly exhausting. Deep breath taken in, she placed a smile on her face so as not to push the crazy any further. “Really, I have nothing to say.”
“Sweetheart, you and I know that’s a lie.”
“You actually know Santa Claus?” Yep, that left her mouth before her brain had time to process the stupid factor, which currently rested on nine out of ten. “Ignore that.”
“Nope I’m not going to ignore it, and yes I know the pain in my ass. He may be happy and all ‘ho ho ho’ to all of you, but from January to November he is a royal irritant. No wonder hot chocolate consumption at the North Pole hits an all-time high during those months. The elves need it to cope with his mood swings. There are no plus points for me; I have to deal with demented elves, a hyped up man in a red suit, and searching for a female I’m damn sure I’m never going to find. So you can take this time of year and with the best will in the world, shove it.”
“You know what? You may think you hate it, but I’m going to change that.”
“Are you deaf? Haven’t you listened to a single fucking word I’ve said?”
“I have, but I’m a female and can be stubborn. One way or another I’m going to get you into this season. You are my Christmas challenge. So let’s get out of here, we have a few places to hit.”
“I’m drinking my coffee then I’m off. I’m going nowhere with you.”
“Scared are you?”
“Don’t issue a challenge you can’t win.”
“Well I don’t see you accepting it, so that means I win by default.”
Clare fought back the urge to grin as she watched a tick start up in his jaw. “So?”
“You want to lose then go for it. Give it your best shot, which trust me won’t work.”
“We will see, won’t we?” Standing she gathered up her shopping. “I need to drop this stuff off first then I’m taking you to a place I love.”
This was going to be fun, and she was determined to get him a least a little more festive.
Every Friday to Sunday in December Midar City held a street fair. There were amusements, stalls, and entertainers, all with one goal in mind – to spread the Christmas spirit. It would be the perfect place to take Mr. Grumpy and get him into a more festive mood.
Apartment building reached, she looked at him over the top of her packages. “You wait here while I take these in. I expect to find you waiting when I come down. Unless of course you get scared, knowing you are going to lose the challenge.”
Eyebrow raised as he looked at her, Patrick snorted. “I’ll be here because I want to see you crash when you fail.”
After getting into the building, she quickly deposited her goods in her apartment and raided her Christmas savings tin for more cash, before heading back to where her grumpy friend waited. “Right, let’s get you festive.”
“You really do like pursing a lost cause, don’t you?”
Shaking her head she refused to let him get her down. Christmas was her time of year and no way was he going to ruin it for her. Grabbing his hand she pulled him down the sidewalk. “Let’s get moving.”
Ten minutes and two streets later found them both at the fair. “Now you can’t tell me this doesn’t affect you.”
Resisting the urge to cover his ears at the sound of Christmas carols, Patrick gave her a quizzical look. “You sure you really want me to answer that?”
“Oh come on! At least try to show a little enthusiasm.”
“Enthusiasm, sure,” he said, rolling his eyes as she dragged him deeper into his nightmare.
It took Clare a while to realize she hadn’t let go of his hand. The rational part of her reasoned it was to stop him from running, but the irrational part whispered it was because she liked the feel of his hand in hers. Whatever the reason she wasn’t going to give him the opportunity to slip away. He was going to enjoy the fair and get into Christmas if it killed her – which hopefully it wouldn’t.
Patrick hadn’t failed to notice how tightly she gripped his hand. It would take but a small amount of effort to break the hold, yet he found he didn’t want to. There was something about her touch which pierced to the very center of him. A disconcerting thought. As the thought faded another jolt of pain shot across his shoulders, causing him to hiss. Flexing them in an effort to ease the ache, there was a brief moment when again he felt his wings fighting to break free as if they were physically there. He really was losing the plot as they were long gone and not returning.
“Look! Christmas cookies! You have to try them, they have the best taste.”
Claire’s voice yanked him back to the here and now. He’d had enough and really wanted out. “Look, I -.” He never got a chance to finish his sentence as he found himself dragged over to a stall. The smell of cinnamon and mixed spice wrapped round him, and he actually found himself wanting to try them.
“Here you go,” he heard her say as she released her hold on him long enough to offer up a large tree shaped cookie. Eying it curiously he took a tentative bite, the taste exploding on his tongue. Before he realized it he had eaten the whole damn thing.
“Want another?” Clare asked.
“See, I told you that you would like Christmas.”
“One cookie isn’t going to change my mind or opinion.”
“Guess I’ll have to try something else,” she replied, giving him another this time shaped like a snowman.
The moment she started to walk away he reached for her hand. The move instinctive and it scared the shit out of him.
Time passed and night settled over the fair, the lights decorating the stalls and rides shining in the dark. More and more people had arrived, their happy chatter filling the air along with the continuing music.
“I wish it would snow.”
“I could have made it if I still held all my powers.”
“You still sticking with your ‘I was an angel’ story? I don’t believe in such things.”
“Yet you are willing to believe a male drops down chimneys once a damn year. Nice, real nice.”
“I mean no offence, but you are asking me to accept something which I can’t.”
“Can’t…or won’t? There’s a big difference, you know.”
“They are the same to me.”
“You believe that and you are lying to yourself.”
“Okay, convince me then.”
He heard the note of sarcasm running through her words, and it hurt. For the first time since being forced to stay with Claus he wished he still held his powers to grant what she wanted. Yes she had been a bloody pain in his ass with her determination to get him into a season he hated, but she hadn’t given up trying no matter how unhelpful he’d been. For that alone she deserved to have her small wish fulfilled.
Again the pain flared, but now it was joined by something else. Hold on her hand dropped he looked down at his. Something was going on with them, a familiar feeling flooded through his palms and fingers. Could it possibly be? Hands placed together in an attitude of prayer as he turned his back on her, he asked for snow to fall. Nothing happened. Why should it? His powers would never return to him, he needed to resign himself to that fact. Just as he turned around, he felt something cold hit the tip of his nose. Finger touching the spot he felt a tiny patch of wet. Head tilted back he looked towards the night sky to see what had caused it, and what he saw took his breath away. Beautiful flakes of snow started to descend, slow at first but quickly increasing.
Gaze shifted back down he caught sight of the childlike wonder in Claire’s eyes as she tried to catch the unique flakes. Dare he push his luck a little further? Hands now clasped together he whispered a request then carefully opened them, catching sight of a perfect snowflake resting there. One hand shifted so he could take hold of it, he handed it over. “A gift for you.”
“How did you do that?” she asked, staring at the delicate snowflake she now held.
Eyebrow raised he smiled. “A power I’d thought long gone let me create that and the snow falling.”
“If I believe you, which I’m still not sure I do, then I would have to believe what else you’ve told me.”
“That you would,” he grinned.
“I need a drink, and a strong one at that,” she muttered. “There’s a stall which sells them not far from here.”
As she headed off his long stride enabled him to keep up with her easily as she made her way towards the far end of the fair. While she ordered herself whatever she needed he watched her, a smile on his face. One which began to fade as a thought travelled to the front of his mind, bringing with it a realization. Could she be the one he had searched over two hundred years for? Was she the one who could set him free from his torment, restore to him everything which he had lost?
If she was then it would explain the return of some of his powers, the feeling he kept getting of the return of his wings, and the way her general presence lifted his mood. How the hell could he prove it one hundred percent though? And if he did how would he get her to not only accept it but leave with him? Seemed like one problem was intent on blossoming into many.
“Is there somewhere we can talk that isn’t so noisy and crowded?”
“Why do you want to get away from here?” she asked.
He could hear the suspicion in her voice and it took all of his control not to snarl at the unspoken insinuation he wanted her alone for a less than good reason.
“I’m not going to do anything to you if that’s what you are so damn worried about. I just need to talk to you and this place is too bloody distracting. We don’t have to go far, just need enough distance to mute the racket a little.”
“How about over there,” Clare suggested, pointing to a small area where benches were located around a rather shabby looking statue.
“Works for me, come on.”
The few remaining stalls weaved through they made it over to the benches. Snow covered them and he brushed it off so she could sit. Flakes of white still fell from the sky as he paced back and forth in front of her.
“So? What did you want to talk about?”
Hands placed behind his back as he stopped in front of her, Patrick let out a low breath. Sugar coating the situation wasn’t his style, which left only one option open to him: be blunt and direct.
“Remember I told you I was looking for a female to free me?”
“I’m pretty certain you are her.”
Before he could react she was up and running. She may be wearing heels but that sure as hell wasn’t stopping her from taking off like a sprinter. Caught wrong footed it took him a few moments to gather his wits before chasing after her.
Bit by bit he closed the gap between them until he could call to her. “If you stop running I think there is a way we can prove or disprove my theory.”
Speed not dropping meant she either hadn’t heard him, or had and was ignoring him. Tired, cranky, and heading into pissed off territory he put on a burst of speed and got in front of her. “For fucks sake will you stop and listen!”
“Why?” she demanded, coming to a halt. “So you can spin some more damn yarns and tales? Thanks but no thanks.”
“Aren’t you curious as to why you felt you needed to get me, a stranger, into the Christmas spirit?”
Truth be told she was curious, but she didn’t want him to know that. Arms crossed over her chest she glared at the hunk of male standing in front of her. “Go on then, prove it if you can.”
“Only one female can restore to me what was taken; my powers and my wings. My powers are starting to return. Now if you can restore my wings not only will it prove you are the one I’ve been searching for, but it will unlock a part of you which you never knew existed. So are you scared to see what happens?”
Clare bristled, she wasn’t scared – was she? “What do I have to do to end this charade?”
“Take my hands into yours and see me with wings.”
Starting to feel like an idiot she nevertheless did as he asked. Eyes locked with his she pictured soft white wings. Nothing happened. About to let go and walk off her eyes widened as she caught sight of a shape forming behind him. Little by little it solidified until two wings of perfect white came into view.
“You are her,” she heard him whisper.
In that single moment something shattered inside, almost as if a wall fell. Buried memories from a long distant past tumbled free attacking her as she tried to make sense of them. Slowly they began to settle into order. Letting go of his hands, she raised one of hers to rest it against his cheek. “Patrick,” she murmured. “Why?”
“Just another level of punishment they decided to put in place. I had to search for you and prove my worth before our memories were restored. I have missed you my love.”
“I didn’t realize what I was missing, now I see why I’ve always felt like I didn’t belong here. You are my home.”
“Understand if you leave here with me, all traces of your existence will be removed. It will be as if you had never walked within this realm. The choice is yours.”
With her memories restored the choice was easy. Hand moved, she stepped closer to her angel, wrapping her arms around his waist before tilting her head up to look at him. “My choice is simple and made. Where you go I go.”
Lips meeting in a passion filled kiss, she caught sight of the love he held for her in his eyes as it ended. “Let’s go and annoy a certain man in red,” he smiled.
Tightening her hold on him Clare rested her cheek against his chest as they faded from view, the swirling snow the only indication anyone had been there.
© Raven Anxo 2015.
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A Sip Too Many (Book One in the Vampires of Rose City Series)