Happy Holidays, readers! I hope these last few weeks of December treat you well and bring to you whatever you wish for most!
I had great fun putting together this quickie short story to round out the year with the Black Pack. It’s my way of saying thank you for sticking around and supporting The Black Wolf Series.
Don’t worry, though: if you haven’t read the series, you can still enjoy this story! (You just won’t have any foreknowledge of the characters.)
Anyway, the very best to you and yours for the rest of the holiday season and cheers for a fabulous new year!
Blaze snuffled along the edge of the bedroom door. All the delicious kitchen smells were so far away. She trotted back to the bed, where Lathan and Grace were still sleeping, and stuck her cold, wet wolf nose against Grace’s arm. Grace reached out and patted her, but didn’t budge otherwise. Blaze huffed and nudged Grace again.
Grace opened one eye. “You know how to open doors. You don’t need me to do it for you.”
“The sun’s not even up yet.” Grace yawned and burrowed deeper into the sheets.
How could they sleep? It was Christmas!
Blaze knew Thorne would make more bacon than normal. Grace’s parents would bring those blue tins of buttery cookies. They usually let Blaze have a tin all to herself! Christmas meant an all-day feast!
Christmas also meant presents! Blaze wondered when Aveleiyn would arrive. The vampire always brought a prime cut of meat just for Blaze. Her stomach rumbled like thunder at the thought.
“Come on, wolfpup,” Lathan muttered, rising from the other side of the bed. “Go see if Santa’s been here.” He padded to the door and let Blaze out–only to shut the door behind her!
Blaze gave the closed door an offended snort as she listened to Lathan shuffle across the room and flop back into bed. Grace’s giggles followed. They’d be there a while.
Blaze lifted her nose and sniffed the air. Yes. Breakfast prep was underway–and that meat from Aveleiyn might already be waiting! She hurried through the hallways and down the stairs, nails clicking on the hardwood floors.
Blaze paused to check out the enormous Christmas tree in the great hall. Had Santa visited in the night? There did seem to be more presents there than the day before! She inspected them to see which ones Santa might have brought, but there were too many to be sure, and the sizzling sounds from the stove pulled her away.
In the kitchen, she found Fourt standing at the counter, looking lost as he eyed the pots and pans on the stovetop.
“Hey, Blaze! Merry Christmas!” he called, dropping to his knees and opening his arms to her.
Blaze trotted over and gave him a sloppy lick on the cheek. Then she lifted her head and drew in a deep breath.
Fourt laughed and scratched the hard-to-reach spot on Blaze’s neck. “Aveleiyn hasn’t been by yet if that’s what you’re after.”
“Morning,” Thorne said from the kitchen doorway. He patted Blaze’s head as he passed by to take over at the stove.
“Oh, thank Fate. I had no clue what to do here,” Fourt said.
“Less talking, more cooking,” Em muttered. Her hair was all over the place. She pulled her robe tight, went straight to the kitchen table, and collapsed into a chair. “Wake me up when breakfast is ready,” she announced, dropping her head onto her arms.
Blaze heard Thorne mumble something like “hangry” to Fourt as she shuffled over and tucked her head under the crook of Em’s arm.
“It’s too early for Christmas,” Em said, giving a half-hearted scritch to Blaze’s chin.
“Too early? Santa’s already been here and gone. And for Fate’s sake. Who can believe it snowed again?” Avery said from the bunkhouse door. Blaze trotted over to greet her, excited at the mention of Santa. “Hey, girl,” Avery said, kneeling down to let one of the twins pat Blaze’s head.
The twins didn’t pat very well yet. They mostly flopped their hands around, occasionally smacking things. Blaze didn’t mind, though. She dutifully put her head in the general patting zone and gave a small happy yip to greet the baby.
Usually, she could tell the twins apart by their scents. Today, though, something delicious was overwhelming her sense of smell and distracting her. She glanced back at the family. It would be a while before breakfast kicked off. She had time to explore.
She gave a bark to let them know she was going for a run and ducked out the giant dog door. She loved that dog door because it gave her the freedom to come and go. She had scouted every inch of the property and knew all the best spots for smells and snacks.
She started down the deck stairs, but the snow and ice made the path dangerous. She slipped and spun her legs in the air twice. The moment she thought she’d found her footing, she lost it completely. She sailed down the stairs and tumbled to a stop at the landing in the middle.
Blaze picked herself up and shook her coat out. Then she looked at the remaining stairs. Oh, no. The bottom ones were so icy! She glanced behind her. The way back up seemed even worse than the journey down.
She sniffed the air again. The smell was closer. It was definitely coming from outside.
She judged the distance to the snow drift at the bottom of the stairs. If it wasn’t hard enough to hold her, at least it would lessen the blow of the fall.
She backed up on the landing and leaped to the snow below. It gave way beneath her, and she sank down to her wolfy elbows, getting snow up her nose. She huffed and sneezed and blew snow out of her nostrils.
The smell was even stronger! She jumped up and began the task of high-stepping through the snow.
“Hurry up! We have to finish it before anyone comes out here!” Riley urged from the far side of the house.
Blaze checked the trail of the smell–it was stronger still and so tempting. But she wanted to greet everyone on Christmas morning. She sighed as she abandoned the scent and headed for the sound of Riley’s voice.
“Why didn’t we do this three weeks ago?” Reegan lamented.
Blaze picked up her pace–she hated to hear a packmate in distress.
“Because doing it on Christmas morning is way more fun,” Riley said.
Blaze rounded the edge of the house. There, she discovered Reegan, tangled in a heap of Christmas lights. Riley was rushing to wrap the strands around the last posts of the front porch.
“Hey Blaze,” Reegan called from inside her web of lights.
“Shhhhh,” Riley urged when Blaze wound up to bark with glee.
The whole porch was strung with lights. There so many Blaze could hardly make out the original porch structure. When it was lit, it would be the shiniest thing about the already-decorated house!
“And they twinkle like your firefly buddies,” Riley told her with a conspiratorial wink.
Blaze grumbled her approval and gave them both a nudge before she turned and continued her quest for the sweet smell.
As she started across the back yard, she heard a hearty “Ho ho ho!” from the left. She turned to see Ren trudging through the snow in bright red pajamas and knee-high black rain boots. He was dragging an enormous red bag behind him. It was so overloaded, it was sinking in the snow. “Colder than a bear’s Christmas balls, innit? Could I get a little help here, love?” he called to her.
Blaze gave a longing sniff to the scent she’d been tracking, but trotted Ren’s way. He dropped the bag and gave a loud, “Whew!” before he stretched his back. “Lucky you came along. I was getting nowhere with that, and I can’t take it the easy way. Too much good stuff that might not make it out if I zapped it the wrong way.” He held the tied end of the red bag out to her. “If you take this end and pull, I’ll lift and push from the back. What do you say?”
Blaze snorted and took the fabric between her teeth. “Gentle, there,” Ren warned. “Your teeth are sharp enough to cut this fabric like it’s butter.”
Blaze nodded her head and started to tug as gingerly as she could. Ren lifted the bag from the back end, and they made quick work of the task. Ren headed for the back stairs, but Blaze grunted and tugged him around to the front, away from the treacherous ice slick.
When they rounded the porch, they were greeted by the sight of Reegan and Riley’s work. The twins were standing back, admiring the job, which was now plugged in and flashing like a strobe light.
“And exactly how is anyone supposed to come or go?” Diesel asked, standing just inside the front door, holding the other twin. Blaze could tell because this baby was wearing a striped outfit. The first had been in polka dots. The baby began to stir and get red-faced.
Blaze backed up. That red-face thing always happened right before–
The baby opened up and let out a wail that rattled the front windows. Diesel gave one last bemused shake of his head and hurried back inside.
“Oh, it’s beautiful, kids!” Allie, Grace’s mom, called from the driveway.
Blaze dropped Ren’s bag and bolted over to Allie and Chris, Grace’s dad. They welcomed her cheerfully, and Chris slipped Blaze a sugar-crusted cookie from the tin he was carrying. “This tin is all yours,” he told her with a wink.
“Brilliant but impractical, mates,” Ren said as he looked over the scene.
Riley and Reegan had even run strands of lights across the floor of the porch.
“But…no. See, if you’re really, really careful, you can do it, you know,” Riley said.
“Yeah! And when you’re right in the middle, it’s so magical!” Reegan added.
“What about all these presents?” Ren asked, nodding to the bag at his feet and the stash Chris and Allie had in their car.
“Umm….” Riley and Reegan shared a look.
“Right…” Ren said.
A breeze blew a tempting tendril of scent under Blaze’s nose.
She should stay and help or at least offer some sort of moral support. They were her packmates and friends, after all. But…that smell…it was rabbit. Without a doubt!
The wind picked up and the smell changed. Blaze drew in a deep breath and mentally dissected the layers of fragrance.
Oh no! Something was wrong with the smell.
She whimpered and twisted her ears in the direction she thought the smell was coming from. She couldn’t hear anything unusual, but the scent of fear was thick in the air.
She whimpered again and gave one last apologetic glance to the family before she took off around the house and into the trees.
She put her nose to the ground and raced toward the smell. It had been so good, but then something changed. She stopped at a tree. It was a happy scent there. Lots of rabbits had been around that spot. She inspected the ground–they’d been having a snack. She trotted ahead to another tree and then another.
At the fourth tree, the smells dropped off, leaving only the one fragrance she’d picked up first. She sniffed in circles, getting confused about the path of the scent. What had happened?
She looked to the sky but didn’t see any predators overhead. She gazed at the ground again and dug her nose deep into the snow as she tracked the smell.
Then she found it. The source of the scent.
Her nose bumped a lump in the snow, and she backed up. She pawed the snow away to reveal a tiny, lone white bunny.
She nudged the bunny with her nose, but it didn’t move. She whimpered and nudged it again.
She’d never eaten rabbit, but her wolf instincts told her it would be delicious. Her mouth should be watering!
Instead, she whined louder when the bunny didn’t move.
She backed up and paced a circle around the white fluff ball before she got closer again. Then she spotted the shivers traveling over the bunny’s body.
Blaze gave a low groan. The bunny needed help!
Blaze yipped and howled for someone to come. Where was her pack? Why couldn’t they hear her? She looked up and spun around–how had she gotten so deep in the trees? She couldn’t see the house anymore, and the snow was picking up.
She barked and howled again, letting the sound reach to the heavens.
Then, to the left, she spotted some movement. Red–it was Ren! Ren had come to her aid!
No–it wasn’t Ren. The man who came closer didn’t look a thing like Ren, though he was wearing a red suit and big black boots. Blaze stood over the bunny, protecting the creature as the man approached.
“Well, hello there, Blaze,” the man said. He stroked his bushy white beard before he stepped closer and held out his white-gloved hand. “You’ve been a very good girl all year, haven’t you?” he asked, giving her a jolly smile.
Blaze whimpered and looked down at the bunny beneath her.
“Looks like you need a little help,” the man said. He dropped the big red bag he was carrying and knelt by Blaze to inspect the bunny. “Hmm. Mm-hmm. I think I know what to do,” he told her. He used his gloved hands to clear more snow away from around the bunny.
When Blaze saw what he was doing, she used her paws to help.
“Yes, that should do it,” the man said when they’d cleared a sizeable circle in the snow.
Then he pulled his big red bag closer and rifled through it. He produced a large brass lantern from its depths and snapped his fingers. The fat candle inside jumped to life, and he opened the lantern’s glass door. Blaze could feel the warmth of the candle as he placed it on the ground, very close to the bunny.
She looked up at the man, then down at the bunny, then she fell to her belly beside the creature and drew in a deep breath.
When she let the breath out, it steamed and heated the air, adding to the heat from the candle.
“Good idea,” the man said.
They both watched the bunny as Blaze continued to add her magic to the candle’s warmth.
For a long time, nothing happened. Then, finally, the bunny’s eyes flickered open, and its little legs started to move and stretch. When it looked up, it froze at the sight of the man and the wolf.
“It’s okay, tiny friend,” the man in the red suit soothed. “It looks like you got separated from your family and caught quite a chill. But we’ll put you right and get you home.”
Blaze thought the bunny might run, but when the man spoke, the bunny blinked and gazed up at him. Then it sat up and looked at Blaze. It crept closer to the warmth and shook out its tiny white coat. Its ears lifted and it began to look around curiously.
“I think we’ve done the trick,” the man told Blaze. He and Blaze watched as the bunny hopped in the warm circle of lantern light.
“Want to help me finish the job?” the man asked Blaze. Blaze gave him a nod.
The man held his white-gloved hand out to the bunny who gave it a sniff before hopping in. The little rabbit was hardly as big as the man’s palm! Blaze watched as the man tucked the creature to the velvety chest of his thick red coat and headed off deeper into the trees.
Blaze looked back in the direction of the house. The sky had darkened, and the snow was so thick she couldn’t see the family home. Breakfast was probably underway–what if the pack was opening presents without her?
But she wanted to make sure the bunny made it home for Christmas, so she trotted after the man.
He stopped near one particularly large tree trunk and knelt down. “Shh,” he warned Blaze. She slowed behind him and peeked around his side.
A group of rabbits was several feet away. They cowered in the snow at the appearance of the man and wolf. But when the man held his hand down to the ground, revealing the tiny bunny, the other rabbits sat up!
Blaze laid low, trying to look less frightening. The man patted the little bunny on the head. “Off you go then,” he said. To Blaze’s surprise, the little bunny hopped towards her instead of the other bunnies. Blaze held her breath and stayed absolutely still as the little bunny bumped her snout with its own tiny pink nose.
Delighted, Blaze summoned a swarm of her fireflies to light the trees with their magic. The creatures circled around the man, the wolf, and the bunny. Blaze huffed at them and nodded in the direction of the rest of the rabbits.
The fireflies followed her order and moved to join the creatures, ready to brighten their way home.
The white bunny bumped Blaze’s nose once more, then turned and hopped off to join its family.
“I think that’s rabbit for thank you,” the man said, turning to look down at Blaze. “What a good job you did,” he said, patting her head. They watched the bunnies hop away by the light of the dazzling golden glow.
“You know, there’s something in my bag just for you,” the man said as he and Blaze returned to the lantern.
Blaze sat back and watched as the man reached around in his bag. He came up with a huge, floppy stuffed rabbit. “How about this?” he asked, holding it out to Blaze. “A little something to help you remember your Christmas adventure.”
Blaze took the toy carefully between her teeth and snorted her thanks.
“You’re welcome, wolfpup. Merry Christmas,” the man said. He put his finger by his nose, gave a wink and a nod, and disappeared in a swirl of gold and a rush of air!
Blaze looked around and around, but he was gone. She was all alone in the clearing. No bag or lantern littered the ground. The only sign the man had been there was the bunny in Blaze’s mouth.
The voices of the pack came closer and closer. Blaze shot through the woods in their direction and spotted Grace first. She bolted over the snow to her favorite human. “Where did you go, you crazy wolf?” Grace laughed, hugging Blaze to her. “I thought you’d miss breakfast!”
“Where did that come from?” Lathan asked, tugging the leg of the bunny Blaze was still holding.
Blaze glanced back at the woods and gave a snort. There was no way she could explain it.
As the pack came to the conclusion none of them had gotten the bunny for her, Blaze trotted alongside them. Her stomach rumbled, more than ready for breakfast.
“Don’t worry, girl, we already made a plate for you,” Fourt said.
Later that night, after everyone had eaten their fill and opened their gifts, Blaze stretched out in front of the fireplace. She listened to the pack talking and laughing and gave a contented sigh.
She’d gotten toys and treats and even an itchy green sweater. She’d already enjoyed the steak Aveleiyn delivered. But her favorite part of Christmas was knowing the little bunny had made it safely back to its family, just like she had.
She rested her head on her new bunny toy and drifted to sleep, dreaming of Santa and fireflies in the snow.