“Come home, Mom.” Jeremy, my only son, had been taught to ask for exactly what he wanted. I thought my life would be easier if I didn’t have a whiner on my hands. What I’d actually done was teach him to reach into my chest and rip out my heart.
“Sweetie, you know I can’t do that.” I kept my voice as steady as possible. I could usually keep the tears at bay until we finished the video chat. “I’m working.”
It was the easiest way to explain to a ten-year-old why I’d left him with his grandparents in Phoenix to be a Real Werewife of Alaska. He wouldn’t understand I signed up for the TV show for him. I couldn’t watch him struggle anymore without a father figure. He needed things only a strong man in his life could give him.
After a series of disastrous dates with various members of the Alaska Bloodhounds, I wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing. For either of us.
“Why can’t you do it here?” he asked. We’d been through this before, but Jeremy didn’t give up when he wanted something, and neither did I. “You used to have a job in Phoenix. Before Dad died.”
Tears sliced through my makeup. I hoped he didn’t notice. “This is a different kind of job. I can only do it in Alaska. Tell me about school today. How was football practice?”
“I quit the team,” he said, looking away from the camera. The dark cloud over my son’s head spread from Arizona to Alaska. “I’m sick of it. Coach wasn’t playing me anymore, anyway.”
“You love football.” If I were home, being a mother instead of chasing after a shapeshifter, I’d march his ass to practice every day and find out what the hell was going on with his coach. My parents spoiled Jeremy, and they wouldn’t push him to do anything he didn’t want to do. But that was the sacrifice I made to be here.
You’re here for him. Don’t forget that.
“How do you know? You’re not here.” He huffed, looking back at the screen with nothing but scorn. “When are you coming home?”
“Not until the end of football season.” Which felt like an eternity. Jeremy had been excited about me working with the newest team in the league, until he started missing his momma. “But I’ll see you before that. You’re coming to spend Christmas with me. We’ll have to let Santa Claus know that you’re a lot closer to him than you used to be.”
Jeremy’s scoff almost knocked me off my seat. “There’s no such thing as Santa, Mom.”
Oh, shit. “Since when? That’s news to me.” I needed my son to believe in magic so I could keep believing too.
“Since forever.” He folded his arms in front of his chest, and he wouldn’t entertain any counter arguments. “It’s a lie adults tell little kids to bribe them to be good.”
“I don’t know who you’ve been talking to, mister, but they’re giving you some bad information.” I wanted to go home. Jeremy needed at least one parent in his life while I searched for a replacement for my late husband. I should’ve known better than to think anyone could fill his shoes. “When you come visit me, I’ll prove to you that Santa Claus exists.”
I pressed the tablet to my chest when I hung up, like my heartbeat could transmit my hopes and dreams for Jeremy all the way to Arizona. Home. Nothing could prepare me for how hard it was to be away from him.
“That’s a cut.” Tessa, The Real Werewives producer, rubbed my back while I cried. “I know how tough this is, Delilah. I’m away from my kids, too. Jeremy might not understand why you have to do this now, but he will.”
“Will he?” I questioned everything. Tessa was probably pulling in a huge paycheck, but as a potential Werewife, I was paid little more than minimum wage. I could barely cover my bills with my earnings. “I just promised my kid a magical Christmas and I have no idea how I’m going to pull that off.”
I couldn’t lose him. It was bad enough he didn’t have his father. I couldn’t push him away from me and make him think I didn’t put him first.
Tessa pulled me into a hug. “You’ll do it. That’s what good moms do.”
Jeremy’s request echoed in my head and there was nothing I could do to make it stop. Thankfully, I had a coffee date that afternoon with my former Werewife roommate, Naomi. A perfect distraction. She was already there when I arrived, mug in hand. She must’ve had rocket fuel in that thing, judging from the way she looked up at me with her signature devilish grin. It faded as I sat down.
“Who did this to you?” She motioned to me, wincing like her coffee went sour. “I don’t care that he’s a shapeshifting football player. I’ll kick his ass. It can be the halftime entertainment at the next game.”
The halftime entertainment at the last game was when Naomi’s mate, Sebastian, proposed to her. In her words—he was the first one on the team to put a ring on it and make her a Real Werewife of Alaska. Shockwaves resonated through the Werewife compound. The rest of us were on our second or third Bloodhound, hoping to capture some of Naomi and Sebastian’s magic.
That was the thing—it was magic. And like my son, I wasn’t sure I believed anymore.
“I want to go home.” I gave a wobbly grin to the waitress who brought my cocoa. It was a whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles kind of day.
“What? No. You can’t do that. I read the whole contract and there’s no way out. Or I would’ve been on the first plane. And it’s a good thing I didn’t.” She held up her hand and let her ring sparkle in the fading sunlight. “Seriously, what happened? You’re always the one talking me off the ledge. And you have a plan. You’re doing this for Jeremy.”
“Jeremy wants me to come home.” I put the mug down. The temptation was too high to down it like a shot of tequila. “He’s ten. He wants his mom. I can’t explain to him I’m up here looking for someone to be a dad to him. He used to think it was cool I was ‘working’ with the football players but now he doesn’t care about football anymore.”
Naomi frowned over her mug. “Have you considered bringing him here?”
“I planned on having him come for Christmas all along. I thought it would be fun for him to meet the Bloodhounds and see some snow on Christmas. But he just dropped the bomb that he thinks Santa is a fraud. And that hurts worse than him begging me to come home.” My voice broke on the last word, but I wouldn’t cry again. “My little boy isn’t so little anymore, and I don’t know what I’m doing here.”
“Yikes. I’m sorry.” She scooted closer to me on the couch and put her arm around me. “So yeah, bringing Jeremy up here is technically against the contract, but you can talk production into anything. Sorry, Tessa, but it’s true. If they think something will be good for ratings—”
“This is my kid. Not an advertising ploy.”
Tessa rolled her eyes over the camera.
“I know, but viewers will feel for you already because you lost the love of your life. If they meet your son, they’ll be rooting for you like crazy. So that’s why production will go for it.” She leaned over and wiped a tear away from my cheek. I wasn’t even feeling them anymore. “And when the guys meet Jeremy, they’ll be fighting over you.”
Naomi didn’t believe in happily ever after until it happened to her. “They already see a middle-aged woman with a ton of baggage,” I said.
“I don’t know who you’re talking about, because I don’t know that woman.” Her face brightened and she grasped my thigh. “I have an idea. Not to get you your own personal Bloodhound, but I think we might be able to cook up a little Christmas Magic.”
“It’s October.” I sounded like I was sipping on lemon juice instead of a peppermint hot chocolate. “What’s your idea?”
“Sebastian’s best friend has the most magical toy shop on Faraway Island. You have to take a ferry there, which I bet a little boy would think is bad ass.” She sang the last two words. “But back to the toy store. Gunnar makes all the toys there, and they’re fantastic. Trains and cars and robots, and they work! I’ll totally go with you, and make some introductions.”
It sounded good, but I had my doubts. Jeremy sounded more grown up every time I talked to him, and I didn’t know if toys would be enough to sway him anymore. “I’m willing to try anything. I just have to figure out how to make it work.”
“Well, there’s a spare bed in your room since you conveniently don’t have a roommate anymore. You’re welcome.” Her face brightened again. “Gunnar’s pretty hot, too. Maybe….”
“He’s not a Bloodhound.” That would make it even worse if I fell for a great guy I was contractually obligated not to be with. “The producers would freak out if I fell for someone who wasn’t on the team.”
“Oh, whatever. That contract is the legal equivalent of swiss cheese.” Naomi rolled her eyes. “Besides legally trapping us here, it makes no guarantees that any love connections will happen. They want the thrill of the chase. Gunnar’s a buck, and if he’s anything like Sebastian, you’re in for a treat.” She waggled her eyebrows and got me to laugh.
“If we can pull this off, I might start to believe in Santa again,” I said.
“Never doubt a fat man in a red suit.” She couldn’t hide the grin that said nothing but trouble behind her mug. “Or a smokin’ hot buck who’s good with his hands. On paper, Gunnar and Santa seem to have nothing in common. But they both have amazing toys. And they’re going to team up to give Jeremy a Christmas he’ll never forget.”
Time was running out. Christmas season was almost here and the orders were coming in faster than I could fill them. I inspected the latest order, a train set custom painted with the name of the family that ordered it. It already made its inaugural journey on the tracks in my workroom to make sure all the moving parts worked.
I made one last count of the pieces—a full working train and a basic track set—before sealing the box. My pieces weren’t for just anyone. I made old-fashioned toys for people who were willing to take the time to appreciate them.
I was herd alpha, and I heard the rumblings. Gunnar’s hiding in his toy shop while his rival prances all over the island, terrorizing the herd. He’s too afraid to fight the wolf, Stefan. He cares about the humans more than he cares about the deer.
Bullshit. I was a buck first, and a human by necessity. Stefan’s wolf pack reminded us every chance he got we were the outsiders here. The humans welcomed our herd to Faraway Island. In our human form, we were craftspeople. My herd built every building on Main Street. We were as much a part of this island as the wolves who were hell-bent on its destruction.
My toys were my way of sending a little piece of the magic of this remote place out into the world. I wasn’t a worldly buck, but all the tourists who stopped into my shop said they’d never been any place like Faraway Island. That it felt like Christmas here all year long. The toys were my gift to them, a way for them to capture that feeling once they went back home.
The bell clanged against the front door of my toy store. Mission accomplished. Today’s order was done just in time for the delivery guy to pick it up.
“Hello, hello, hello!”
My buck prickled at the sound of Naomi’s voice. She shouldn’t be here, he grumbled. She’s trouble.
She’s my best friend’s mate, beast. Start liking her.
Your best friend who didn’t learn his lesson when he got his ass hauled off the island. And if you don’t do something about Stefan, he’ll make good on his promise to kill you.
Shut up, beast.
“Is my favorite toy-making buck here?” Naomi called when I didn’t answer right away.
I put my goggles down on my work bench, careful not to knock over any of the figurines for my next order. Those were donations. I sent care packages for holiday toy drives. Christmas was serious business, and I wanted everyone to have the best one possible.
My buck grunted. Don’t encourage her. I hated pissing off my buck, because he was always right. But my human side was completely smitten with Naomi, because she brought my best friend, Sebastian, back into my life.
Unfortunately, he was Stefan’s twin brother. It wouldn’t end well for any of us.
And if Sebastian could find his destined mate—a human—maybe there was one out there for me, too.
Your mate isn’t human, my animal reminded me. Your job is to be pack alpha.
And the alpha needs an heir, you braindead beast. My buck meant well, he really did. He encouraged me to put the herd first. But he thought happiness was an indulgence I couldn’t afford. I spent so much time taking care of everyone else, I didn’t take care of myself.
“Is that my favorite travel blogger?” I called out into the store.
Naomi looked behind her when I appeared, like she was trying to figure out who I was talking about. When there was no one there, she put her mittened hand to her lips and feigned surprise. “I guess it is.”
“To what do I owe the honor of this visit?” I grinned, ignoring my buck’s demand to get her the hell out of here. Almost. “Everything good with Sebastian?”
“Sebastian is amazing, even if he’s spending every minute at the practice facility after my mom came to visit. He’s got to work off the cookies he wasn’t supposed to eat.” She looked back over her shoulder, mischief dancing in her eyes when she turned back to me. She had no idea what she was messing with. “I have a very special guest with me today. Someone who couldn’t wait to come to the store when I told him about your awesome toys. I wanted to introduce him to you but I can’t tear him away from the train set in the front window.”
“Oh yeah?” It’s a trap, my buck warned. The human woman will start a war without even trying. “Whoever it is has excellent taste. The train set is my favorite display.”
My animal needed to take a chill pill. A pom-pom from a hat bobbed just above the train table. It belonged to a little boy, laughing when the train’s whistle echoed in the tunnel. I spent over a year making this set. Not a detail had been overlooked. The train had a full crew inside and cargo waiting to be delivered to my replica of Faraway Island.
Naomi grabbed my arm before we got too close. “He told his mom he doesn’t believe in Santa anymore. That’s why we’re here. We’ve got to make him believe again.”
The train came into sight again, and the boy kneeled to watch it pass. “How old is he?” I asked.
“Ten. He lost his dad last year, and his mom wants to make this Christmas special for him.” Naomi glanced at the boy. “We need your help.”
I could do that. Sounded like this kid had enough taken from him already. He needed to believe that the good stuff was stronger than the bad. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Naomi bounced. “You’re the best.”
I didn’t know about that. But I wished someone had done this for me. Kept me innocent a little longer. It was one of the reasons I opened the store, to give people of all ages a place to escape the shit in their everyday lives.
“You like the set?” I asked when I knelt beside the boy.
He looked up at me. “It’s awesome. Everything works like it’s real.”
“It took me a long time to make sure everything worked just right.” I picked up the truck at the intersection and turned on its motor, then handed the boy a remote control. “Got any experience driving a big rig?”
“No.” He worked the buttons on the control and drove the truck through town. “You made this?”
“I did. Measured, carved, painted, put all the motors in, and then tested it to make sure it worked. Did the same thing for everything in the store.” The look on this kid’s face was why I did this, even though my herd thought I was wasting my time. The boy might not believe in Santa anymore, but he could still get lost in his own world. Let his imagination run wild and stop listening to all the people who tried to tell him what he couldn’t do.
“That’s awesome.” He looked up to his mother. “Can this be my Christmas present?”
“Maybe Santa will bring it for you,” she said, then glanced at me.
The boy got his blue eyes from his mother. Blue like the bay that surrounded Faraway Island, and just as unpredictable. Emotion swirled in them—anticipation, fear, sadness, I couldn’t tell. A floppy knit hat did little to contain her dark, wavy hair. And those lips. Full and painted red, they spread into a smile when she met my gaze. Even if it didn’t reach those big, stormy eyes.
Don’t even think about it, my buck warned. Humans do nothing but bring you trouble.
Sometimes my buck needed to shut the fuck up and appreciate beauty when he had the chance.
My buck wasn’t the only problem. The train set wasn’t for sale, but I just promised Naomi I’d help make this kid believe in Santa just a little while longer. “What’s your name?”
He looked at his mom and she nodded. “Jeremy,” he said once he got the all clear from stranger danger.
“I’m Gunnar.” I reached over and shook his hand. The little guy had a surprisingly strong grip. “And is this your mom?”
“Yeah, she is.”
“I’m Delilah.” She took off her glove and offered me her hand. Her skin was soft but her grip was as firm as her son’s. She didn’t let go right away. Our gazes locked, and everything around her faded.
She’s not your mate. And you’ll break this kid’s heart if he doesn’t leave here with that train.
The train whistle brought me crashing back to my reality. “Maybe I can teach Jeremy how to make his own train, if he’s interested in learning the tricks of the trade?”
He’d have a reason to come back. With Delilah.
Jeremy’s head whipped back toward Delilah. “Mom, can I?”
“Sounds like fun to me.” She looked up at me again. It was pain in her eyes. Naomi said Jeremy lost his dad. But she didn’t say how. “As long as we’re not imposing on you. This must be a busy time of year.”
She’s letting you down easy. She doesn’t want some buck slobbering all over her.
“Perfect time to train a new elf,” I joked.
Jeremy’s jaw dropped. “Elf? You mean…you’re…”
I shrugged. “I guess you’ll have to come back and find out.”
“Soooo.” Naomi put her hand over mine and Delilah’s. I hadn’t realized our fingers were still knotted together. It was the most natural thing in the world to be touching her. Like we hadn’t just met, like she was an extension of me. But Naomi noticed. “How about Auntie Naomi shows Jeremy around the rest of the store and Mom and Gunnar work out the details of this secret elf training?”
“Elf training?” Jeremy desperately wanted to believe in something good.
“Gunnar probably needs to get back to work,” Delilah said.
Told you so.
“Auntie Naomi can take care of that, too. I’ve worked in my fair share of stores.” She shot me a cheesy grin. “I didn’t get fired from any of them. Not for bad customer service, anyway.”
I stood, leading Delilah to her feet. “Elf training is pretty serious business. We have a lot to talk about.”
“We do.” Delilah only came up to my shoulders. She was tiny, but I never confused size with strength. “Jeremy, keep Auntie Naomi out of trouble while we’re gone.”
“Is she really his aunt?” Gunnar asked as soon as the door clanged closed behind us. It was only October, but the Christmas feeling had seeped deep into the bones of Faraway Island. Frontier-style store fronts faced pine trees wrapped in white lights. Townspeople peppered the frequent benches on the sidewalks, and a few of them pointed and nodded at Gunnar and a stranger. They didn’t wave, they just stared. Interesting.
That Christmas feeling wasn’t for everyone.
“No. They met today. I’m not surprised she’s good at relating to kids.” I was still nervous, leaving my baby with an almost stranger on a tiny island so far from home to go off with a gorgeous shifter. His strawberry blonde hair fell past his shoulders, and he had a beard that looked like he hadn’t quite committed to. More like a few days' growth. I liked that. It was rugged and sexy, like he’d shifted recently and forgot all about his human side. His shoulders were broad, his grip strong, and his candy-colored eyes were so kind. But that wasn’t all. I didn’t want to let him go. It was the strangest sensation—like my body was prepping itself to miss him when I boarded the ferry to go back to Holiday Falls. “And she’s the closest thing to a babysitter that I’ve got in Alaska.”
“Are you a Real Werewife, too?” His voice was husky but comforting. Naomi told me he was a buck, and his presence calmed me. Too bad he didn’t play for the Alaska Bloodhounds.
“An aspiring Werewife.” More like a fraud—especially now that Jeremy was here. The dates and especially the mandatory hot tub time were getting old fast.
He fought his grin. “How’s that going?”
“Never a dull moment.” I’d learned in the confession room how to say as little as possible and still tell the truth. There was an art to it. If I told Gunnar everything was great on the show, he could assume I found a mate. I didn’t want to give off that impression. If I bitched about the show, he might wonder what the hell was wrong with me. I’d let him form his own opinion.
“I bet. I’ve known Sebastian my whole life, and grew up with guys like that. The show might be a lot of things, but it won’t be boring.” He stopped in front of a café. “Can I treat you to coffee? Or cocoa?”
This place really was Christmas all year round. “Sounds good. Speaking of Real Werewives, I have to warn you, I’ve got a camera crew in tow and my producer will ask you to sign a release form at any minute.”
“Oh.” His face fell, but he didn’t run, holding the café door open for me. “Don’t you ever get a day off?”
“Nope. I signed over twenty-four seven access to my life. The only reason they didn’t follow us into the store is because they can only film Jeremy certain hours. Naomi’s having a grand old time riding their ass about child labor laws.” Every time Jeremy froze in front of the cameras, I questioned my sanity. “It’s an adjustment, but after a while you don’t even notice they’re there.”
“Didn’t think I’d ever be famous,” he grumbled, shoving his hands in his pockets and looking up at the menu. “What’s your pleasure?”
A bolt of electricity shot through my body. I swallowed hard to push down what I really wanted to say. You, pushing me up against the wall…that rough stubble against my cheek, your body heat burning through my clothes. I unzipped my jacket so the camera crew wouldn’t walk in as I melted into a puddle of goo.
Stop jumping before you know the guy. It hasn’t worked so far. Now that I was on the show, I was trying to keep an open mind. But I feared I came across as the desperate one with the kid.
“The cider’s really good here,” Gunnar added when I didn’t answer his question.
“I’d love some.”
Tessa waved at me and pointed to an empty table. “Saving it for you,” she said.
I did my best to make good on my promise the cameras would disappear. “Did you say you played football with Sebastian?”
“Yeah.” He ran his hand through his hair. “We had a couple of pick-up teams in town when we were kids. The school didn’t bother putting one together since it was too hard to get other teams to the island. So we made up our own rules and played because we loved the game. What Sebastian has accomplished is amazing.”
“What position did you play?” I’d heard enough about Sebastian on the ferry ride. I wanted to get to know the man who’d been so kind to my son. The practical side of me wanted to make sure he wasn’t a creeper, but the romantic side had enough material to start slipping into the danger zone.
“Kicker.” He grinned and handed me my cider, then nodded to the camera crew as he slid into his chair. He looked giant at the little table. “Am I supposed to sign something?”
“Yes, please.” Tessa slid a packet at him, then turned to me. “We need to talk,” she mouthed.
“I forgot my manners. This is Gunnar, he used to play football with Sebastian.” That should at least buy me a pass for having cider with a guy who wasn’t a Bloodhound. “And he’s going to teach Jeremy how to carve wood and make toys.”
He signed the agreement and winked at me when he handed it back to Tessa. His caramel eyes crinkled at the edges. It wasn’t from age, it was from sun and smiling. All the good things in life. “I’m looking forward to showing him what I know.”
I wrapped my hands around the steaming mug, inhaling the scent. “I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen his face light up the way it did when he walked into your shop. You have no idea what that means to me.”
It was possible to make a buck blush. “That’s the whole reason I do it.” He dipped his head. “That was my first big project. The train set the whole thing into motion. But I had to give it somewhere to go.”
“I’d really like to buy it from you.” It probably cost more than my weekly Werewife check, but it was worth it to see that look on my son’s face.
“It’s not for sale,” Gunnar said quickly.
That didn’t make sense. “But you have it in your store.”
“Display only.” He met my gaze, and it was impossible to be mad at him. “I’m sorry. Jeremy can come for lessons as often as he wants, until he gets sick of it. I know how kids are. But the train set is part of the store. It’s part of the town, really. Did you see Naomi’s blog post on it?”
“Sure did. She had me read it on the way over. It’s better in person.” Even Naomi’s gift for hyperbole didn’t do it justice. “How long have you had the store?”
“Three years. Had to get good enough to charge money before I could set up shop.” He ran his finger along the edge of his mug. I had to stop thinking of every guy who took me out for a drink as husband material. It sent my mind into fast forward and had gotten me into some awkward situations so far, which I did not want to think about. “What do you do?”
“Right now, I’m a professional dater.” It was my turn to blush. “But before the show, I worked in an office. Nothing special.”
“I wouldn’t say that. I’m sure they didn’t choose just anyone to be on this show.” Gunnar quirked his head toward he camera crew. “So, what’s the craziest thing that’s happened since you started filming?”
I could tell him about all the potentially amazing dates that weren’t, or the couple times I moved too fast and was left with nothing but regrets. But with Jeremy here, it was time to turn the ship around.
“Naomi showed up one morning, filthy like she’d been in a fight. She got in an argument with Tessa and quit.” I grinned at our audience. “Didn’t exactly work, though.”
Gunnar’s expression darkened and he slid his mug closer to his body. I wondered what his broad shoulders would be like in a football uniform, and more importantly, bare.
“How did she get roughed up?” he asked.
I’d swear I heard a growl. It was my favorite part of being with a shifter, when their human side got tangled with their animal. “She didn’t. Sebastian got in a fight with his brother.”
“Stefan,” Gunnar confirmed. “He kicked Sebastian off the island. Threatened to kill him if he came back.”
But he did come back. And he was still alive.
“Sebastian brought the Bloodhounds here, and humiliated Stefan. Stefan let him live, basically because he was outnumbered, and Sebastian’s a big deal now. He wouldn’t go quietly. But he’s not welcome here, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that same courtesy was extended to Naomi.”
“Are we safe here?” I asked. Gunnar invited Jeremy to come back and take woodworking lessons, but like hell I’d let him come back if he were in any danger.
“You might want to leave Auntie Naomi at home next time you come.” This time, his grin wasn’t so friendly. “But I’ll make sure you and Jeremy are safe.”
“How’d it go?” Naomi waited until the camera crew disappeared to ask questions. “Jeremy and I played with dinosaurs while you were gone. It was pretty epic.”
“Their heads went back and they roared.” Jeremy demonstrated the sound loudly for everyone on the ferry.
“Did you have fun today?” I asked him.
“Yeah. When can we come back?” The light in his face would be the death of me. I’d do anything to keep it from going out. Even if it meant I got hurt.
“As soon as we can. Do you mind putting in your earbuds for a little while? I have some grown up stuff I have to talk about with Naomi.”
“That’s Auntie Naomi to you.” She tapped Jeremy’s arm as he put in his earphones. “What’s up?”
It was impossible to be mad at her. “You may have wanted to mention that you weren’t welcome on Faraway Island before my son fell in love with Gunnar’s shop.”
Naomi closed her eyes and shook her head. “It’s Sebastian’s island, too. Stefan doesn’t get to say who comes and goes.”
“If you want to tempt the angry wolf, go right ahead. But I won’t have my son involved in a pack war.” I fought to keep my voice in a whisper.
“Jeremy’s safe. Stefan is laser focused on making his brother miserable.” Naomi knotted her fingers together in her lap. “And he might have wanted Sebastian to kill Gunnar, but I think he’s over that now.”
So many thoughts came to me at once, they formed a logjam. “We can’t go back there,” I finally spat.
“Look at him.” Naomi motioned to Jeremy, who was drawing on his tablet. He loved to draw. The woodworking classes would be right up his alley. The sketch was rough, but clearly a train. Damn it. “Today was the kind of magic you were looking for. We haven’t unlocked the believing-in-the-fat-guy achievement yet, but you’re certainly never going to get there if you don’t bring him back to Faraway Island.”
“Maybe Gunnar can come to us.” At least there were safeguards at the compound. Like a built-in surveillance system.
She shook her head. “It’s won’t be the same. That place is magical. And we can’t let some asshole wolf take it away from the rest of us.”
“I think we made a mistake today, not letting the camera crew film Jeremy in the store. If we send them along with you when he takes the lessons, then Stefan can’t act up. It would all be caught on film.”
I wanted Jeremy to care about something as much as he did when he saw the toys in that store. He hadn’t been excited about anything since he lost his dad. I hadn’t realized the difference until he played with the train set. How long he’d gone without that happiness. “They come in handy for something.”
“Yeah, they do. I can’t wait to watch the footage of your date.” Naomi bounced in her seat. “Unless you want to tell me all the details.”
“It was nice.” Nice wasn’t the world for it. I was ridiculously, inexplicability attracted to Gunnar. That wasn’t true, either. There were plenty of explanations for the way I felt. He was gorgeous and kind and my kid liked him. But the way I felt when he touched me…like I was the only woman in the world. One other man had been able to make me feel that way. I married him.
Naomi stuck her finger down her throat. “The way he was looking at you wasn’t nice. How many times do I have to tell you? The last thing you want is nice. You want passion. Gunnar has that. Now tell me the truth about how your mini date went.”
“He seems pretty amazing. But I don’t think I can see him again.” I motioned to the camera crew in the distance. “He’s not a Bloodhound.”
Naomi crinkled her face. “Who cares?”
“I’m contractually obligated to stick to dating Bloodhounds.”
“Sounds like someone didn’t read the contract.” Naomi hadn’t read it until her third week in Alaska.
Tessa rolled her eyes. “We’d prefer the Werewives find a mate on the team.”
“Exactly. Prefer. You’re contractually obligated to the show, but they don’t guarantee that any of us will find a mate. You know how they are about ratings.” Naomi shifted her gaze to Tessa. She was starting to pick up Sebastian’s traits. That smirk was pure wolf. “It gives them all lady boners just thinking about people watching us. And viewers want a happily ever after.”
“Everyone wants a happily ever after.” I worried since I’d already found mine, I wouldn’t have another chance.
“Exactly.” She slapped her hand down so hard on the table that Jeremy looked up from his drawing. He’d been busy adding Faraway Island’s Main Street to the background. “Gunnar’s exactly what you’re looking for. Don’t be scared to get what you want.”
Reindeer Games is coming December 15! Want more Gunnar and Delilah?