Awakened from a deep slumber, Bucket, the youngest of five Elves, sat up in bed and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. Had he actually heard his name called, or had he dreamt it? He remained perfectly still, listening not just with pointed ears but with every fiber of his being.
Bucket called out tentatively, using Mindspeak. He didn’t want to wake Kris if he was still asleep.
Outside, the wind hooted softly as flurries swirled, in no rush to fall. It was the first snow of the season, and already Bucket knew it wasn't even going to stick, let alone accumulate. Flying around the world through inclement weather had given Bucket a certain intuition when it came to the elements. Kris was right. Winters had
grown warmer. True, it wasn’t quite winter yet, not for another month. Still, usually by November several feet of snow had already accumulated at the North Pole. These late starts were becoming much more frequent. It was like Old Man Winter had decided to sleep in.
“Maybe I’m just imagining things,” Bucket muttered aloud.
But no. He was certain he hadn’t imagined Kris calling for him. He’d know that voice anywhere. He’d been roused from much deeper sleeps before and with far less effort.
It’s all that surveillance I’ve been doing. Looking for Kris’s replacement’s got me so I’m unsure of my own mind now. I might not even find a replacement for him. If I don’t, what then?
Bucket knew it was no good to have doubt about what he’d been doing almost the entire year while Kris regained his energy and power during a healing sleep.
A sleep that’d lasted longer and longer with each passing year, a tiny voice added with a snideness that was frightening.
“Stop it!” Bucket whispered in the silent room. “That’s a negative thought I will not
allow.” Negative talk or thought—or anything that belittled the mind, debilitated the heart, and weakened the soul—had a way of manifesting in some physical form. It had no place in Elven minds and was to be strictly avoided.
Annoyed at the way his jumbled mind worked, Bucket sighed and attempted to focus, but the nagging sliver of worry that penetrated his mind, like a needle stabbing flesh while sewing, was far more difficult to banish than he cared to admit. Hopefully his concerns would soon leave and would have had little, if any, time to settle into his psyche for any lasting consequence.
Closing his eyes, Bucket took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He forced himself to clear his mind of everything except his listening abilities, cast out over the Arctic like a fishing net so he might hear beyond their tiny home.
In the bedroom next to Bucket’s were his identical twin brothers, Firr and Balsam. He could hear them snoring softly in their stacked bunk beds, even as their stomachs growled with hunger. Then again, it seemed those two were always
hungry and always eating. Bucket briefly wondered if the twins still dreamt of sugarplums, now that Christmas was almost upon them—the way they claimed they used to when they were children. They’d never tired of describing how the sugarplums danced in their heads before taking a flying leap into their mouths.
Bucket felt their energy shift as the twins smiled in their sleep. Like every living creature, they gave off energy, and the current changed up or down depending on whether they smiled or frowned. Yet another thing to be avoided. Frowns had no purpose. They only served to create wrinkles, and nobody
Bucket moved his hearing along, across the hall to where his sister slept. He heard Carole yawn and stretch, then roll over in her sleep, bones creaking. Bucket felt her discomfort. The cold dampness of the North Pole had caught up to Carole, and Bucket knew that lately, the thought of living somewhere warm and dry appealed to her. But for now she remained where she was, happy as always, no matter what she did, because of her family.
Bucket pushed his hearing on, farther down the hall. He listened to his mother’s shallow breathing. Tinsel’s physical vibration, which Bucket could sense, indicated she was on mental and emotional standby, awaiting the return of her husband, Kaine, and eldest son, Orn, after their disappearance nearly two hundred years ago.
Bucket’s father had always been a hell-raiser with a thirst for mead, mischief, and busty Elven women. Orn, Bucket’s eldest brother, had been cut from the same cloth. Together, Kaine and Orn were part of the Yule Lads, thirteen Elves who had visited humans for more than a century, annoying the adults and scaring little children with their antics.
But one day, they simply disappeared. They’d gone out one by one on the days they were supposed to and were never heard from again. Not a single article of clothing had been found. Not even a plume or whisker. Upon further probing, some unsuspecting humans had confessed that six thirteen-year-old male children had also gone missing during that time. Children who, it turned out, had killed, then disemboweled members of their families.
Elven leaders feared the Yule Lads might have met the same fate, despite the general consensus that it had been the Yule Lads themselves and not the children who had committed the crimes. After all, the missing had only been children. How could children be capable of such monstrosities? Who else but the Yule Lads could commit such atrocities? Hadn’t Kaine himself beat human children and flung burning tobacco from his pipe at them, in the hopes they might catch fire?
Bucket’s mother refused to believe the stories, as did all who knew Kaine, Orn, and the rest of the Lads. Yes, they each seemed to possess a sadistic streak of madness. Yes, they were mischievous, but none would have killed, let alone dismembered, humans or kidnap their children.
The case had never been solved, but it hadn’t been closed either, and after almost two centuries Tinsel still hoped her beloved and firstborn would come back one day. She believed with a stubbornness that made her very soul crackle and hum with a vibration like that of the earth itself, a vibration that was like the promise of a new day.
Bucket stopped listening and opened his eyes. As soon as he did, he heard it again.
He could barely resist the grin that spread across his face. That voice—his
voice—was like a soft caress, barely a whisper. And yet, it filled Bucket with a warmth that made him tingle with wantonness.
“Come to me, Bucket. I need you.”
The room grew brighter as a soft, happy glow emanated from Bucket. It seemed to envelop his body as he climbed out of bed and quickly dressed in layers of thick green fleece.
“I’ll be there soon, my love.”
Bucket slipped quietly from his room and down the hallway. He padded down creaky steps, through the family room, and out the front door. He could have used one of the underground tunnels to stay out of the inclement weather, but it would have taken him longer to get to Kris.
Rushing across the dusty white expanse as fast as his little legs could take him, Bucket eventually reached Kris’s home—Santa’s castle—where Kris and all the Santa Clauses before him had lived since the very first Father Christmas. Moments later, his heart pounding with excitement, Bucket opened the front door and stepped inside. He quietly shut the door behind him and stood still. The house was silent except for Kris, who was supposed to be sleeping, still healing from the ravages of his grueling annual trek around the globe.
Nine months to recover, Bucket thought bitterly. It used to take him only days. But what did that matter now? Kris was awake and calling for him! The very thought of climbing into bed with his lover and sworn soul mate made Bucket shiver with desire. Yes he should let the healing run its course. It would only be a few more days. But it had
been nine months.
Bucket squashed his guilt and, ramped up on hormones, raced up the sweeping staircase to the upper floor, to Kris’s bedroom. The door swung open of its own accord, and Bucket walked inside an enormous space as big as his entire house.
To the right was a walk-in hearth where the embers of a low fire glowed and twinkled merrily. To the left was an oversize, four-post sleigh bed carved from dark cherrywood.
Hanging from the posts, a sheer fabric cocooned the bed like drapes. The fabric shimmered with the last of the golden healing light. No one knew with certainty the material’s true source. In fact, no one knew who made the cloth. But if legends were to be believed, the Goddess Frigga herself wove the first nearly invisible cloth with restorative powers to protect and maintain Santa Claus while in stasis, as it had Odin. Combined with Elven magic, the fabric slowed the aging process. It also kept Kris’s muscles from atrophying while allowing Elves to cleanse him.
Once the light diminished, the material would eventually fizzle into thin air, and Kris would emerge, as refreshed and powerful as when he fell asleep.
Of course, there was
always the chance he might emerge on his own, sooner than expected…as he had now.
And there he was.
Black hair sprinkled with white framed a wise brown face in soft curls, longer and grayer than Bucket remembered him being when last Kris had finally relaxed enough to lie down and sleep. His beard, too, was wild and long, crop-dusted with streaks of milky white. Around coal-black eyes, new wrinkles had formed, despite the fabric’s regenerative powers.
And yet, despite Kris’s actual age of a hundred and seventy-seven—to those in earth realm he wouldn’t look a day past a robust forty-nine—the large muscled black man with skin the color of smooth dark milk chocolate gave an aura of quiet vitality that made Bucket quiver every time he laid eyes on him.
Lying on his side, on a pillow-top mattress that could be as soft or firm as he wanted, head propped on one enormous hand, Kris Kringle, the second longest reigning Santa Claus in the history of Santa Clauses, grinned wantonly, his cock already twitching to life.
“What took you so long?” Kris teased. His low, husky voice resonated within Bucket, making him feel as though his insides would melt, even after more than one hundred years of spiritual and physical bonding. But Kris had always
had that effect on Bucket. It had been so from the start.
“I…I came as quick as I could.” Bucket heard the quaver in his own voice.
“Come to Santa.”
Bucket sighed. He swallowed hard. Yes, the man’s voice was a deep, hungry bear growl. And yes, it worked on him like an aphrodisiac. But it was the way Kris looked at Bucket, the way he patted a spot on the bed beside him, that all but made him swoon.
KRIS WATCHED BUCKET strip, leaving a trail of garments as he approached. His eyes never wavered from Kris’s own, and minutes later Bucket stood at the side of the bed, breathing heavy, naked and hard and glowing with desire.
Bucket was indeed a rarity. Unlike the majority of Elves Kris had known during his reign as Santa, Bucket’s proportions were near perfect. His ass was bigger than it probably should have been, but Kris liked a big butt.
More cushion for the pushin’, Kris thought, relishing the sight of the round, delicious globes that made his cock throb.
Had Bucket been born anywhere but the North Pole, he’d have been ridiculed and insulted. But since he was born at the North Pole—a similar but different realm to that of Earth—he had never and would never know such heartache. Here, given his looks, build, inherent talents, and even compassion, Bucket had been sought after by many in his youth and as he came of age.
“I can’t believe that out of all the men you’ve been with, it was
me you fell in love with.”
Kris watched with an enormous swelling of pride, and amusement, as Bucket’s gaze roamed the length of his body, down to his toes and back.
“And out of all those men, it’s
you I would die for.”