“NO! STOP! Please!”
Donner’s head shot up, and he snapped his book shut. Was that Cupid? There was another shriek, and Donner took off, book in hand as he sped out of the vast library. He was running so fast he almost hit the wall at the end of the corridor, his boots slipping on the pristine white marble floor when he tried to make a sharp turn. Plum pudding! Was it really necessary to shine the blasted thing so thoroughly? Just because they were in Jack Frost’s palace didn’t mean the floor had to feel as if he were gliding on ice. He’d have a word with Rudy about this.
“Mercy! I beg of you!”
A chill swept through Donner. It was Cupid. His friend was in trouble. Donner’s heart beat furiously, and he was all but winded by the time he reached the room from which the shouting came. Donner barged in, gasping when he saw the huge brute bent over his sweet friend, who was curled onto his side on the chaise lounge. The brute’s size eclipsed Cupid’s smaller frame. The breadth of his shoulders was expansive, and long white hair fell over a weathered leather tunic, the sleeves of which struggled to retain bulging biceps. His charcoal gray skin revealed his nefarious nature.
“Release him, Dockalfar!” Panicked and uncertain of what to do against a creature possessing dark magic, Donner did the only thing he could think of. He hurled his book at the elf. It conked him on the head.
“Ouch! Son of a nutcracker!” The beastly elf straightened and rubbed the back of his head. He turned and narrowed his near-black eyes at Donner. “Did you pitch a book at my head?”
Donner swallowed hard as the dark elf frowned at him. For a slip of a moment, he had forgotten how big and imposing the elf was. There was also the tiny matter of the dark magic Calder possessed. Perhaps launching reading material at the fellow’s head had not been his brightest idea. Especially when the reading material in question was a hefty volume with sharp corners. Still, Donner straightened to his full height, which sadly came up rather short where the dark elf was concerned, but Donner wasn’t about to cower in front of this menace.
“Step away from my friend, you fiend!”
“Donner!” Cupid scolded. He hopped off the chaise lounge and folded his arms over his chest. “That’s an awfully mean thing to say.”
Donner gaped, looking from Cupid to the dark elf and back. “But… he was attacking you!”
Cupid’s expression softened as he approached Donner. “Oh, Donner. You thought I was in danger, so you came to my rescue?”
Donner nodded, his bottom lip jutting out pathetically. “That’s what friends do, isn’t it?” Granted, now that he realized the danger he could have put himself in, he felt rather weak at the knees.
“Of course.” Cupid threw his arms around Donner and hugged him tight. “Thank you, my dear friend.” He pulled back, smiling warmly. “But I wasn’t in any danger. Calder was simply being a mischievous brother. We were teasing each other, and he launched a terribly effective tickle assault. He’s very good at those.”
“Oh.” Donner was relieved. Then the reality of what he’d done set in. He had just pummeled a dark elf with a book. Oh dear. He looked up at Calder, who watched him in amusement. Well, at least the elf hadn’t turned him into a frog. Donner held back a gasp. What if he was biding his time? Dockalfar were tricksters and spiteful creatures. Perhaps Calder was waiting until Cupid turned his back. Then with a snap of his fingers he’d turn Donner into a toad or gnat to be crushed in his large hands. Donner took a wary step back when Calder approached.
“I suppose I should thank you for the fierce defense of my brother.”
Donner simply nodded. He gave a start when Calder reached out to him, then noticed the book in his hand.
He had no idea what the elf found so amusing. With a sniff, Donner swiped his book. He took Cupid’s arm and turned him away from Calder.
“You should be more careful. What if it had been Jack who’d overheard you and come to your rescue?”
Cupid’s eyes went wide.
Jack wouldn’t have hesitated in turning Calder into an oversized ice cube. What the Prince of Frost thought of Dockalfar was no secret, and it mattered very little that Calder was Cupid’s brother, or that Calder supposedly was unlike their treacherous brother Gunne, who’d brought such misery and heartache mere weeks ago.
“I know you disagree, Cupid, but this is a terrible idea. Having a Dockal—”
“Calder,” Cupid corrected politely. “His name is Calder.”
Donner summoned patience. How could Cupid not see? “Very well. Having Calder under the same roof as Jack Frost is a terrible idea.”
Cupid blinked up at him innocently. “Jack was the one who offered his home for my training.”
“Yes.” Donner lowered his voice. “So that he could keep a close eye on Calder.”
“Excuse me, but I can hear you,” Calder stated, his smooth voice a deep rumble. “Turning away from me doesn’t stop me from still being in the room.”
Donner spun on his heels and glowered at the ridiculously tall elf. Honestly. What elf needed to be so blasted tall? Or wide. Or… square jawed. “Then stop listening to a conversation that doesn’t concern you.”
Calder arched an eyebrow at him. “You’re speaking about me, so it concerns me. Greatly. This whole encounter concerns me greatly.”
Donner bristled. “Just what are you implying?”
“You’re a perplexing elf.”
“And you’re… you’re very… tall. And irritating.” Donner wanted to smack the amusement right off the infuriating elf’s face. His eyes were also very unsettling. As if staring into them for too long might cost Donner his immortal soul.
Calder nodded slowly. “I see.”
“No, I don’t think you do.” Donner marched up to Calder, then jabbed a finger against his chest. Plum pudding, that hurt! He discreetly pulled his hand behind his back to shake it off. Was the elf made of granite? “Mayor Kringle might have thought it a jolly good idea for you to train Cupid, but you shouldn’t be here. And I don’t mean here in Jack’s palace—though you clearly shouldn’t be here either—but in North Pole City. No good can come of it.”
Instead of getting angry, Calder leaned forward, his smile wicked. “It would seem, my little dear, that you could use some bad in your pristine and perfect life.”
Donner’s jaw dropped. He sputtered madly. “How dare—what did you call me?” He turned to Cupid. “Did you hear what he called me?”
Cupid bit down on his bottom lip and nodded. Was that amusement in his eyes? The traitor! Donner spun back to Calder, unaware the elf had moved closer. They were practically nose to nose. Donner retreated swiftly, tripping over his own feet and letting out a squeak as he fell. A strong arm caught him midway, and Donner stared up at Calder.
“Everything all right in here?” Rudy asked as he walked into the room, Jack at his side.
Donner gasped. Trust the Prince of Frost to catch him in a compromising position with a Dockalfar. Not that he would ever do anything remotely compromising with this beast. Of course Jack and Rudy didn’t know that. Oh, the gossip would be terrible!
“Take your hands off me, you cad!” Donner swung his book, letting out a yelp when the arm around him disappeared, and he hit the carpet with a thud.
“Donner!” Cupid ran over to help him up. “Are you all right?”
“No thanks to him,” Donner seethed.
Calder shrugged. “You asked me to release you.”
“Have you no manners at all?” Donner scrambled to his feet and quickly straightened his clothes before running a hand through his hair. He glared at the smug Dockalfar. “Perhaps treating others in such a manner is acceptable in whatever dark cave you crawled out of, but out here, where elves are civilized, we do not go about manhandling others and dropping them on their backsides.”
“Oh?” A wicked smile spread across Calder’s face. “I’m intrigued. What do you do with their backsides?”
Donner’s jaw went slack. “You… you….” He waved his book at Calder. “You, sir, are reprehensible!”
“Better reprehensible than a prude,” Calder replied pleasantly.
“All right, that’s enough,” Jack reproached them. “What’s going on in here?”
Cupid stepped in front of Calder, as if his tiny elf frame was any match for Jack Frost. His trust in his brother was admirable, if not sadly misplaced. The Dockalfar was deplorable.
“Nothing. Just a misunderstanding. Isn’t that right, Donner?”
Oh, for Kringle’s sake. “Yes,” Donner replied with a sniff. “Misunderstanding.” There was no sense causing trouble for poor Cupid. It was hardly his fault he was part dark elf or that his brother was intolerable, and…. Why was Calder smiling at Donner? The elf was mad. How Calder and Cupid were brothers was beyond comprehension. Cupid was the sweetest, kindest elf Donner had ever known. He was fair, with wispy blond hair and bright blue eyes. He was the only Rein Dear who was part winter faery. Unlike Calder and Gunne, who were born full Dockalfar like their father, Cupid was born part winter faery like their mother, though he still possessed Dockalfar magic. Thankfully, he seemed to have also inherited his mother’s gentle faery nature.
“Very well.” Jack gave Cupid a nod, but not before casting Calder a warning glance. “We have a rehearsal coming up. It will be held in the ballroom. The rest of the Rein Dears have been informed. Everyone has either been partnered up with their sweethearts, or their choice of sugarplum faery from my father’s court, or toy soldier of the highest regard chosen by Vale himself.” Jack turned to Donner. “Please let Rudy know as soon as possible who you’d like as a partner, Donner. We’ll have someone picked in time for rehearsal.”
Donner cleared his throat, aware of Calder watching him closely. Why, he had no idea. “Toy soldier, please.” Who wouldn’t wish to dance with a dashing toy soldier? Besides, he doubted he could keep up with a sugarplum faery’s gracefulness. Prancer and Comet could easily sweep their faery partners off their feet, but Donner much preferred being the one swept off his feet. Heavens knew, it had been so blasted long.
“Very well. I’ll pass that on to Vale. You’ll be notified of the exact time and place of the rehearsal within the next few days.”
Donner nodded. He was very much looking forward to it. Jack and Rudy’s upcoming wedding was the talk of the North Pole, and preparations were still underway. Being invited to be a part of Jack and Rudy’s court, not to mention taking part in the wedding dance numbers, was the greatest honor he could have been given.
Jack gave them all a bow before turning and leaving. Rudy smiled and waved, then joined his sweetheart.
Calder gently patted Cupid’s shoulder. His smile was warm, and it softened his features. “Why don’t we continue tomorrow?”
Cupid nodded. “Bright and early?”
“Bright and early.” Calder headed for the door, and Donner made sure to keep his distance. He didn’t trust the elf one bit.
“See you tomorrow, little dear.”
“Not likely,” Donner fumed. He didn’t know what it was about Calder that infuriated him so, but oh, he had the urge to throw his book at the elf. Again. “And stop calling me that!”
Calder simply chuckled, a deep rumble of a sound that only irked Donner further. The moment he was gone, Donner turned to Cupid. “How do you put up with him? He’s exhausting.”
“Actually, he’s very sweet.” Cupid laughed. No doubt at Donner’s scandalized expression.
“You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t swoon at his gigantic boots.” With a huff, Donner headed out the door with Cupid at his heels.
“Donner, about tomorrow….”
Plum pudding. Please don’t say it. Please don’t say it.
“I would really appreciate it if you would be here for my training. Blitzen has some repairs he needs to make to his biplane, and I could use the help.”
The last thing Donner wanted was to spend any more time around that brute, but how could he say no to his dear friend? Besides, if it was just the three of them, no one would see him spending so much time with a Dockalfar. After all, Donner had a reputation to maintain. North Pole City was overrun with gossips.
Cupid’s big blue eyes watched him closely as he waited for his reply.
“Yes, of course I’ll be here.” Donner held up his book. “There’s no shortage of books in Jack’s library. I can read while you two do whatever it is you’ve been doing.”
“Magic,” Cupid said excitedly.
“You mean dark magic.” Donner hadn’t meant to sound so harsh when he said it. His friend’s smile fell. Plum pudding. “But in your hands, I bet you do good things.”
Cupid’s bright smile returned, and he nodded as he followed Donner through the corridor. “Calder has been teaching me how to use our magic for good. Just because it’s dark magic doesn’t mean the wielder must use it to do bad things. For instance, Calder is teaching me how to manipulate light.” He waved a hand and the flames in the wall sconce to their right went out.
Donner stopped in his tracks, a lump forming in his throat. “Please don’t do that.”
“Oh. I’m sorry,” Cupid said sincerely, his expression troubled. “You don’t need to be afraid.”
Donner frowned at him. “Afraid? Who said I was afraid? Afraid of what?”
“Of the magic. Calder’s been teaching me all sorts, but especially how to control it.”
“Well, then, I expect him to know what he’s doing.” Just what he needed, to be spending time with a Dockalfar who wielded great darkness. Sounded like a jolly old time.