Secret Santa
Page 2

 Sierra Dean

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“Anything I can help with?” I was getting antsy without work to do for the council, and at this point I’d gladly take on a human case if it meant getting my hands dirty in the real world again. Sparring with Holden was great and all, but I needed the thrill of the hunt back in my life.
She pocketed her phone and placed one hand on each of my shoulders, staring in my eyes. “Secret, if I need you, I will ask. As of right now, just tell me if you see some nutcase running around with an ice pick, okay?”
“Sharon Stone: public-enemy number one. Understood.” I nodded, proud of myself for not flinching when she’d reached for me. My natural inclination was to go on the defensive when someone touched me unexpectedly.
“Can we get back to this present hunt? I’d like us to get out of here without me drawing my weapon.”
I grimaced. It wasn’t like I wanted to be shopping the week before Christmas either. It just so happened that this year I finally had people to buy for.
In previous years I would ship a box of Magnolia cupcakes and the finest dried herbs from Dean & DeLuca to my grandmere. She loved the red velvet cupcakes with their mile-high icing, and claimed the overpriced herbs worked best for her spell casting. I knew better than to argue with an aging witch.
My partner, Francis Keats, always disappeared for a month around Christmas, so I never had to get him anything. Mercedes had a more traditional religious take on the holiday and didn’t do gifts.
Now the game had changed. Not only did I need to get Grandmere’s usual gift, but I had a whole slew of people in my life I wanted to acknowledge. First there was Lucas Rain, my royal wolfie boyfriend. Then there was Desmond Alvarez, my other werewolf lover and current live-in boyfriend. I also wanted to get something for Desmond’s brother, Dominick, who had become a surrogate sibling to me over the past year.
Then I had the vampires to contend with. Brigit Stewart, my ward in the eyes of the vampire council, would be spending her first Christmas away from her family, thanks to her now being dead. And though Holden had never been on my gift list before, since I’d saved his life over the summer I thought I should get him a little something.
Last, but not least, was Nolan Tate. I’d come to his rescue too, and since summer he’d become a presence in my life.
Over the course of a year, I’d gone from no family save one, and few enough friends to count on one hand (with fingers left to spare), to now having an overburdened shopping list. But that list represented a beloved handful of people who had chosen to share my insane life with me.
“Secret.” Cedes sighed and tapped out a message on her BlackBerry. “Do I really need to tell you what to buy Lucas for Christmas?”
I gnawed on my lower lip and toyed with my purse strap. The only shopping I knew how to do was for shoes.
“An iPod?” I queried.
The detective slipped her phone into her back pocket and gave me a knowing wink. “Lingerie,” she said, as though it should be obvious.
“Why would Luc…oh.” When it comes to the finer points of typical feminine seduction techniques, I’m not always the swiftest, and sometimes I drop the ball completely. But today I caught on quick enough. “Wouldn’t an iPod be easier?”
“But is an iPod going to make him want to ravish you on the spot?”
“An iPod with Barry White on it might.”
She smacked my arm, and I had to restrain my natural impulse to break her wrist. I didn’t want to hurt Mercedes, but when someone hit me it was second nature to fight back.
“Is he not into lingerie?”
“He might be. I’m not really sure.”
We were moving in the direction of the Bloomingdale’s delicates department, but Mercedes stopped in her tracks and dragged me over to a rack of plush terrycloth robes.
“Secret.” Her gaze bored into me, and her expression was suddenly serious. I craned my neck to see if an unanticipated threat had appeared, which might explain her new tension.
“You have slept with Lucas, haven’t you?”
Oh. That’s what had her so up in arms. I pursed my lips together and squirmed uncomfortably under her scrutiny. “Um.”
“Oh my God.”
“It’s not that big of a deal.”
“Haven’t you guys been dating since forever?”
It had been nine months since Lucas had come into my life and changed everything. I hadn’t been living like a nun during that time, thanks to my very active sex life with Desmond, but I couldn’t explain that to Mercedes. There were some things it was easier for me to not tell Mercedes. The real details of my messy love life ranked right up there with my vampire DNA as hot-button topics I chose to avoid, forever if possible.
“It’s complicated.”
“Is he Catholic?”
I snorted. “Actually, I’m the old-fashioned one this time.” This wasn’t a lie. In the six months that Desmond and I had been living together, I’d asked Lucas to be patient with me. The three of us shared a unique and confusing metaphysical werewolf connection known as a soul-bond. Fate had bound us together; I was just being a bit of a prude about having sex with both of them.
My love life was forever a work in progress.
“Well, I think we answered your question.” She had started walking again, and now we were surrounded by an assortment of frilly, lacy, see-through underthings. A pair of crotchless underwear dangling at eye level made my stomach churn. I’d never bought lingerie, so the whole experience was new and uncomfortable. Usually, I found getting naked was more than enough provocation to make a man want to sleep with you.
“What do you mean we answered my question?” I held up a sheer black teddy with ruffles on the cups. I could see Mercedes through it.
“Your gift for Lucas…it should be you.”
I snorted and rolled my eyes.
Hanging the garment back up, I ran my fingers over racks of silk and satin until my wandering gaze spotted something and my breath caught in my throat.
On a mannequin adorned with a festive red Santa hat was a black leather corset demanding my full attention. I sidled up to the helpless mannequin and ran my hands provocatively over the curves of her waist, the smoothness of the leather purring under my fingertips.
Mercedes came to stand next to me, assessing the garment. “Biker chic?”
“I like to think of it as bounty-hunter formal.” I smirked over my shoulder at her.
“Merry Christmas to Lucas.”
I didn’t bother telling her Lucas was in Paris with his sister for Christmas and wasn’t the werewolf soul mate I had in mind for this gift. I grabbed my size off the rack and smiled broadly.
“Merry Christmas to me.”
Chapter Three
Outside Bloomingdale’s, Mercedes and I parted ways. According to an onslaught of texts from the precinct, there was a new body to be investigated, which put an end to her night off. With two air kisses to the cheeks she vanished into the crowd, leaving me grasping my Big Brown Bag. I didn’t need another snatch and grab like the one with my gloves.
The winter air was cold and laden with the promise of moisture, but it was a promise that was taking forever to come to fruition. I breathed in deeply, enjoying the heady aroma of retail panic mixed with the constant waft of Starbucks Christmas blend drifting in from all corners of the city.
All the makings of a perfect New York Christmas were in play. The windows at Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and Henri Bendel were decorated with such meticulous precision, tourists and locals alike stood outside to drink in the orchestrated merriment. The big tree was up at Rockefeller Plaza and was so burdened with lights it looked like a pixie convention had moved in for the season. Below it, skaters were making the rounds on the cramped rink, while overhead, visitors representing all the waving flags of the plaza took photos of the famous landmark.
Only one thing was missing.
It was December seventeenth, and it had yet to snow.
Usually by my birthday—the sixth of December—the streets were piled high with dirty stacks of the white stuff. It would fall in big, fat flakes so wide and fluffy they looked fake until they hit your cheeks and eyelashes, where they melted. Sidewalks would be peppered with dancing drifts that darted to and fro underfoot at the whim of the wind.
But this year there was nothing. The air was cold enough for it, stinging exposed skin and showing off puffs of breath as people hurried from store to store, but something kept the sky clear and the ground bare.
Back at my apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, I wrestled an armload of bags through the front entrance, dumping them in the tiny hallway outside my door. The small space was overpowered by the smell of cinnamon, and for a moment my heart jumped. Part of my soul-bond meant I could taste my partners, and Lucas’s taste was that of cinnamon. But I wasn’t tasting anything; it was only the smell.
My front door was unlocked, and when I opened it my jaw dropped.
My little apartment could have put a department-store window to shame. The small television next to my fireplace had been relocated to make room for an honest-to-God live Christmas tree. The tree was wrapped in broad red ribbon, and multicolored LED lights burned brightly from the boughs. Shiny round ornaments in bold hues were nestled next to kitschy reindeer and snowman decorations. Over the fireplace was a runner of holly, and two brand-new stockings hung from the mantle. My little stereo was playing “Deck the Halls” and my, oh my, were the halls decked.
The smell of cinnamon and sugar wafting out of the kitchen mingled with the scent of pine to create a festive perfume Glade would kill to have in a scented candle. Someone in the kitchen was humming along to the carol. I dragged my parcels inside and closed the door quietly, but there was no level of stealth good enough to escape a werewolf’s hearing.
Desmond came to stand in the kitchen doorway, smiling at me like a lunatic.
“What do you think?” he asked, wiping his hands on a snowman-themed dishtowel.
“The North Pole has exploded in my apartment.” I placed my hands on my hips, trying to look indignant, but it was pretty hard to fake being mad when there was so much happy crap plastered everywhere. I dropped the charade of annoyance and crossed the room to give him a kiss.