Sanctuary Bar Christmas
Aimee Peltier paused as she watched the gathering around her. This was the one day a year when Sanctuary officially closed. Even though very few members of their extended family and staff were Christian, they still took time to honor the holiday. To remember their own beliefs and to think back on those they’d loved and lost.
As the bar’s name implied, this was the haven for were-animals, shapeshifters who were hunted by each other and by the humans. Her parents had set up the bar over a hundred years ago after Aimee’s older brothers had been killed in the senseless war that divided her people from each other.
It had been her mother’s solemn vow that no other mother would ever weep over the loss of a child if she could help it. But since then, her mother’s view of what was right and what was wrong had shifted a bit. And in order to keep the peace here at the bar, her mother had made decisions that Aimee didn’t always agree with.
But then mother-daughter disagreements were even older than the were-animals themselves.
The bar was dim, lit only by candles. Her brother Dev was at the counter, pouring drinks. He’d pulled his long, curly blond hair back into a pony tail while he joked with Colt and Angel, who were in human form, sitting on the stools in front of the bar, drinking beers.
Aimee’s mother, Nicolette, was off to the side in human form as she played with Zar’s bear cubs. There were several tigers, a jaguar, and bears lounging about or playfully fighting while others were in their human forms as they played cards, pool, or just hung out for the night.
"You feeling okay?"
She turned at the deep voice behind her to find Maxis standing there. Tall and gorgeous, he had dark blond hair and silvery-green eyes that shimmered in the dim light. Stunned, she had to blink twice just to make sure she wasn’t imagining his presence. Maxis had come to Sanctuary severely wounded. One of the rare dragon Katagaria, he didn’t mix with other groups easily. He preferred to stay isolated in the attic where he could sleep in dragon form and not be disturbed.
"What are you doing downstairs?"
Max folded his arms over his chest. "I felt your pain and was wondering what caused it."
His concern touched her deeply. It was true, watching the family around her made her ache for the one thing she wanted most.
Fang Kattalakis. A wolf who’d been half dead, he’d been brought here by his brother, and Aimee had nursed him back to health the same way she had Max. But unlike with Max, she’d fallen in love with Fang even though she knew there was no chance of there ever being anything between them.
If only she could convince her heart of that.
She offered Max a smile she knew was fake. "I’m okay."
"You’re not okay, Aimee. You haven’t been okay since the night Fang left."
She glanced about nervously. "Please keep your voice down…"
"Is this better?"
She could only hear his voice in her head. Nodding, she patted his arm. "I’ll be fine, Max. Thank you for your concern, but you know me."
"I do know you, Aimee. And I know that solitude is a dungeon of spikes that pierces every layer of armor you try to build for it." He held his hand up so that she could see the tattoo he’d placed there in remembrance of his family. "I lost what meant most to me. Don’t make the same mistake."
"But Fang and I aren’t mates. There are no marks…"
"Neither were there marks for us. And still my heart is broken. Don’t let the Fates rule your life. Sometimes we have to take responsibility for it ourselves."
He stepped back and swept his gaze around the others. "I don’t like being here with these people and animals. I’m going to retire, but remember, courage is doing what we know is dangerous. It’s risking our safety for a chance at something better. Don’t let your fears shape your reality because no matter how cautious you are, someone or something always sneaks in the back door to manifest that fear. Better to face it and defeat it than to let it attack you unawares."
Before she could comment, he vanished.
Aimee stood there as she considered his words. He was right, but knowing something and acting on it were two entirely different things.
"What did he want?"
She hesitated at her father’s question. Over seven feet in height, her father intimidated almost everyone who saw him. But not her. As his only daughter, Aimee knew he’d never harm her. "He was wishing me a Happy Holiday."
Her father smiled before he pulled her against him and kissed the top of her head. "You attract the strangest creatures."
"Is that such a bad thing?" She looked meaningfully at her brothers.
Her father laughed.
But his laughter didn’t ease her. "Papa? Can I ask you something?"
He narrowed his gaze on her. "I’m not sure I like that tone of voice, but you can try."
Before she spoke, she glanced to where her mother played with the cubs. "Had you not been fated for Maman, would you have still stayed with her?"
His gaze turned dark. "Why do you ask?"
His expression hardened and she could see that her response didn’t appease him. "Don’t lie to me, Aimee. I can smell it on your skin. You’re thinking of that wolf, aren’t you?"
She looked away, unable to answer him. Not that he didn’t already know.
Her father’s eyes snapped fire at her. "He is not our kind."
And in her mind that changed nothing. "I know that, Papa. I tell it to myself every day."
"If you leave us for him, I don’t know if Nicolette could handle it. Your mother can be harsh, but she does love you and she only wants what’s best for all of us."
He leaned down to whisper in her ear. "But this is your life,ma petite coeur . I will always be here for you."
Aimee closed her eyes as those words eased her heart. "Thank you, Papa. I love you."
"I love you, too. Now smile and join the party." He left her to speak to her brother Serre while Aimee felt suddenly out of place and she didn’t know why. This was her home. These were her people and family, and yet…
She’d never experienced anything like this before and it made her ache.
"You okay, sis?"
She nodded at her brother Kyle as he paused by her side. "I have a headache starting."
"You want me to get something for you?"
She smiled at his youthful face. He was the most precious of all her siblings. "It’s okay, baby. I think I’m going to lie down for a few minutes. Tell Maman that I’ll be back down shortly."
She squeezed his arm before she made her way from the bar through the door that connected this building to the house where they all lived. It was eerily silent with everyone in the bar. This was the only time when the house was truly quiet.
Aimee made her way up to her room.
Pushing open the door, she paused as she caught a familiar scent.
Her heart pounded as she slammed the door shut to look for him. But he wasn’t here. She wanted to cry… at least until she realized his scent was still strong by her dresser.
She looked underneath a pile of papers to find a small box. Lifting it up, she inhaled the scent that was uniquely Fang’s. How she missed him. Her eyes tearing, she unwrapped the gift and opened the box to find a small locket. It had a bear claw engraved around a diamond on the front. On the back was the paw of a wolf. But it was what was inside it that made her tears fall.
It was a piece of his fur. Aimee sobbed at the sight of it. Animals didn’t give out things like this. With this fur, an enemy could track him through time.
But he trusted her enough to let her have it. Nothing had ever touched her more.
Her hand trembling, she closed the locket and hung it around her neck. The long chain fell down between her br**sts, and she tucked it into her bra so that she could keep it as close as possible to her heart and keep it out of the sight of others.
As she reached for the box, she realized there was a note in the bottom. Unfolding it, she smiled at a typical Fang comment.
No "I love you." Nothing sappy or romantic. Just a short, clear truth.
"I miss you, too," she breathed, trying to stop the tears that fell. And it was then she looked up to see the remnant of a hand print on her mirror.
Aimee held her hand up to it, placing her palm against the imprint of his. "One day, Fang. One day…"
Fang blinked as he watched Aimee through the window. In wolf form, he was able to hide himself against the darkening sky. He wanted to hold her so badly, but he knew better than to try. His mere presence jeopardized her.
"One day, Aimee…"
His heart breaking, he backed away and padded across the roof until there was enough distance between them that he could change over to human form, flash into the clothes he’d been wearing, and climb down. He made his way to where he’d left his Suzuki GSX-R. He pulled his helmet on before he started the Jixer and headed home for the night.
It was so hard to be with his family when what he really wanted was Aimee. His brother Vane was a lucky wolf. His human mate, Bride, had accepted him, and the Fates had decreed them as partners for life.
If only a wolf could mate with a bear.
Sighing, Fang parked his bike and entered the house through the back door.
Bride had decked out the entire house for the Christmas holiday. There were bells, holly, and poinsettias everywhere. He heard laughter coming from the living room as he dropped his keys on the counter.
His brother Fury paused in the doorway. He cocked his head before he made a wolf sound in the back of his throat. "You better wash the bear off you before you get near Vane. You go in there smelling like that and he’ll skin your ass raw."
Fang started to tell him what he could do with his warning. The last thing he wanted was to remove Aimee’s scent from him, but it was Christmas.
Time for peace and family.
"I’ll be down in a few minutes."
Fury nodded as he watched Fang head for the back staircase. He felt so bad for his brother. If he could, he’d hand Aimee over to him, but it wasn’t meant to be. The bears would never tolerate their only daughter mating with a wolf. It just wasn’t done. And if the Fates didn’t decree it…
Man, it must suck.
He turned to see Maggie coming down the hallway to join him in the kitchen. "You need a hand?" she asked.
"Nah," he said, heading for the fridge. "I was just getting some water. I don’t like to drink that human stuff. It screws with me and I don’t think you want your dad to see me flash into wolf form while he’s here." Her father had no idea that he was surrounded by animals that were taking human form to placate Maggie and Bride’s families. "My luck, I’d be so drunk I’d piss on his leg."
Maggie’s mate, Wren, laughed as he joined them. "For that, I might pay you."
Maggie elbowed her mate in the stomach. "You promised me you’d behave."
"I’m behaving. But if Fury happens to piss on your dad…"
He held his hands up in surrender before he gave her a wink.
"You are all so evil."
Wren only smiled as he grabbed water from the fridge before they returned to the living room where Bride’s family was singing Christmas carols. Bride sat on the couch with her son in her lap while Vane sat on the floor, holding her hand as he cringed a bit from the disharmony of the a capella song.
Fury felt a deep need to howl, but the sharp look from Vane kept his jaw locked shut. He caught Fang’s gaze as his brother rejoined them. His dark hair was still wet from his quick shower.
Sniffing, Fang made a very wolf-like cringe as his nose was assailed by the human scents around them. It was hard whenever there were this many around. But they’d become masters at blending in.
Fury walked over and handed him a bottle of water. "Merry Christmas, brother."
Fang nodded before he unscrewed the top and took a drink. But even so, Fury saw the longing on his brother’s face and wondered what was worse. Knowing what he wanted and not being able to claim it or to be like him and have no idea if he’d ever find someone who could tolerate him…
Kyrian Hunter looked around at his friends and family who were gathered for Christmas dinner. His son, Nicky, and daughter, Marissa, were playing under the tree with his mother-in-law while his best friend, Julian, and his wife Grace were helping their kids open the last of their presents.
His wife’s family, the Devereaux clan, were all here, laughing and celebrating.
He had to be the luckiest bastard on the planet. It seemed like only yesterday he’d been alone in the world with no one to love. No one who cared about him.
And one night a lethal enemy had almost taken the very people who were now crowded into his home.
His sister-in-law, Tabitha, stood up and clanked her glass to get everyone’s attention. "Sorry to interrupt, but I wanted to take a second and say Merry Christmas to all of you."
A shout went up, but Tabitha motioned them to silence. "You know, my Romanian grandmother always said that enemies and lovers make strange bedfellows."
Kyrian met Valerius’s gaze over Tabitha’s head. The two of them had spent centuries hating one another. But for the sake of their wives who were twin sisters, they’d buried the ax-just not in Valerius’s head as Kyrian had wanted. He raised his glass in a silent toast to Valerius who returned the gesture before his gaze went to his brother, Zarek, who was holding hands with his wife, Astrid. Like Kyrian, Zarek had spent eternity hating Valerius, too.