Author Katie Mettner

Chapter One ~ Evergreen Christmas ~ Heather Karn






Chapter 1

The snowball whizzed over my head a second after I ducked out of its path. If I hadn’t turned my head when I had and noticed the missile, it would’ve crashed into my face. I didn’t need to explain to my mother why my nose was broken and I had black eyes, although she would likely be able to guess how it happened. Elf snowballs could be packed so tight they were like weapons.

“Sorry, Jolly!” a familiar male voice called over the no man’s land that separated the opposing forces. I ducked for another snowball before easing my head over the top of the snow fort wall so that I could see over it. That voice was too close, and it heightened my need to destroy the enemy, namely the voice’s owner. With adrenaline pumping in my blood, I risked my face to find him so that I could avoid further contact.

Movement near the corner of the closest house caught my eye, as did the bright blue hair that disappeared when the elf caught me staring. Glint. My ex-boyfriend. The man who’d destroyed my self-confidence and pride all in a matter of minutes.

We’d dated for months without anyone knowing. I’d thought it was to keep from being the center of the gossip in Christmas Village. Right after Holly had moved to New York City, we’d agreed to go public, and I was content and happy, even if Glint was a bit pushy about how I acted. Apparently I was too fussy, not serious enough, and I had a bad attitude. So I tried to be what he wanted. After all, he was handsome, loved to have fun, had a sense of adventure, and dyed his hair to stand out.

Since we were dating, it was only natural that he was my plus one to Holly’s wedding in December. Of all the elves I’d dated, he was the one I’d let myself fall for, and I was totally smitten, even if I wasn’t quite what he wanted at the time. I was working hard to be good enough for him, and I’d tried extra hard to look gorgeous for the wedding.

What Glint forgot to mention was his feelings for my best friend, Sparkle. While I was busy with Maid of Honor details, the two of them slipped away during Holly’s reception. When I’d gone looking for him, I found Sparkle sitting in his lap in the middle of a disgusting make-out session. Apparently they’d been discussing the best way to tell me they were now an item and had gotten a bit too carried away.

But no one knew about this betrayal. To save myself from total humiliation, I’d told everyone that I’d broken up with him because I wasn’t interested, and Glint didn’t correct me. Sparkle could barely look me in the eyes when we saw each other even now, a month later. The hardest part of the whole situation? Holly had been married on Christmas. For the first time in my life, I’d hated Christmas. And every time I thought about that night, I hated Christmas even more.

How could I, the Jolliest of elves, hate Christmas?

Hot tears burned my eyes as the snowball in my hand disintegrated under my intense hold. The fun-filled snowball fight was over for me now. I couldn’t enjoy myself if either Glint or Sparkle were on the other team. The pain was still too raw. Sure, it had only been a few months that we dated, but I’d really liked him, and he’d told me he was interested in continuing our relationship, and then to be betrayed by my bestie? Heartless.

Doing my best to avoid any flying projectiles, I called to the captain on my team that I had to leave and scooted away from the battle zone. There was no way that Glint didn’t see me leave, unless he wasn’t watching as closely as I suspected he was, but I didn’t care. Instead of going home, which was the first place I knew he’d look for me if he left the game, I headed toward Christmas Castle, the home of the one and only Santa Claus.

Since I was Santa’s personal assistant, I was allowed to go anywhere I wanted in the castle. Okay, to be real, all elves could go anywhere they wanted in the castle, except Santa’s office, and my office. Mine may have been an old closet that was repurposed into an office that barely fit a desk and a file cabinet, but it was still mine. It had become my haven away from everyone. All the stares, the whispers, and the shaking heads. Or maybe it was just me making all of this up in my head.

“You’re here late tonight,” Santa mused, startling a gasp from me. Whipping around, I caught him staring down the hall in my direction as he peered out of his office. “I heard footsteps and thought it might be Mrs. Claus coming to fetch me for dinner.”

“I’m sorry for disturbing you,” I murmured, fishing the office key out of the front pocket of my green skirt. Being me, I never bought a dress without pockets, even though they were hard to come by.

“You didn’t. It was time to quit for the day anyway.” His eyes narrowed on me. “Are you okay, Jolly?”

“Yes, Santa. I’m fine.”

“Lying puts you on the Naughty List, little one. You should know this by now since you’ve been on it enough. Come on over here.”

Without a valid reason to refuse him, I tucked the key away, unzipped my coat, and followed him into his office. Santa shut the door behind me and motioned toward one of the large, plush chairs that sat before his desk. I’d never understood the need for such large chairs when most of his visitors were elves, but then he’d had several of the local dragon shifters visit his office, and clarity struck. There was no way a dragon shifter, male or female, in human form would be able to fit on an elf-sized chair.

Usually the image of a dragon shifter attempting to sit on such a tiny chair made me grin like an idiot, but not tonight. Hopping up into the chair, I was shocked when Santa sat in the other. He always took a seat behind the desk when he called me into his office.

“Let’s talk, Jolly. I know something’s wrong, and I want to hear about it. You’ve been upset for weeks now, but this is the saddest I’ve ever seen you. I could make some guesses as to what the problem is, but I don’t want to. I want you to tell me.”

A gust of air left my lungs in a deep sigh that filled the large office. This was not the optimal position to tell anyone about my disastrous love life, but who else could I tell? Mama and Papa were still so happy for Holly finding her husband that they kept encouraging me to date so I could marry just like Holly. That was another kicker. Everyone, including Glint, wanted me to be as successful and grown up as Holly, the perfect one. Well, that just wasn’t me.

“I’m not sure where to start,” I murmured, playing with a loose string on the hem of my red sweater. The cheery colors usually kept a bright smile on my face, but I couldn’t remember the last time I’d truly smiled for joy. It’d been before Christmas, that I was certain.

“What’s your biggest concern?” Santa sat back, crossing his arms over his chest, which made his biceps bulge. For any other male, this stance would have been intimidating for me, but Santa’s kind eyes and gentle manner made him anything but intimidating.

Shame gripped me and I stared down at the floor, unable to meet eye contact. “Glint cheated on me with Sparkle during Holly’s wedding reception.”

“Oh,” Santa started, obviously not expecting that response. Unlike the song, Santa didn’t know everything people did, but he knew a lot. “I wondered why the two of them were on the Naughty List. That explains it. I’m so sorry, Jolly.”

The waterworks started, and once they did, my mouth wouldn’t quit blabbing. It was a miracle he even understood a word I said after that. “And now everyone asks me when I’m going to get married, just like Holly. Why can’t I be more responsible like my sister. She’s such a good role model, so mature, so talented. And what am I? An irresponsible pain in the butt who’s not even worth a proper break-up before he gets himself a new girl.” A hiccup stalled my tirade of words but didn’t stop it. “And I can’t even participate in a decent snowball fight or even turn around without seeing one of them. Santa, they ruined Christmas. All of them, and now I don’t know what to do.”

“Now, now, Jolly. It’s okay, little one.” He patted my shoulder and offered a clean white handkerchief, which I promptly used to blow my leaking nose. Next he handed me a pumpkin cookie which he took out of a tin sitting on the corner of his desk. “Eat this. You’ll feel better with some sugar in your system. How many cookies have you eaten today?”

“Two. This makes three,” I responded with my mouth full. Crumbs from the cookie fell to my skirt, and also being me, I picked out the larger crumbs and popped them into my mouth before wiping the rest from my lap.

“Only two? Oh, Jolly, that’s not like you at all. I wonder…” Santa tapped his chin, his curious tone causing me to stare up at him, waiting to hear what he was thinking. “You know, I’ve had this idea in my head since I visited the New York City Bakery last November, but I haven’t planned it out yet. Maybe you can help me with this project.”

“What do I have to do?” I asked, the cookie forgotten as curiosity stole my attention.

Santa stood and moved behind his desk where he shuffled papers around for several minutes. When he didn’t find what he was looking for, the investigation led to the rifling through of drawers, folders, and file cabinets. It figured that the last cabinet held the paperwork he’d been searching for.

“Here we are,” Santa announced, taking a seat back in the chair beside me. “I’ve been considering doing with other shops here in Christmas Village what I did with the bakery and expanding their production. With the fire that destroyed our local bakery, it became apparent that we need a backup for most of our departments. The first I’d like to expand on is the Ornament Shop. Tinsel does great work here, but she’s overworked and stressed out, even with CC joining as her assistant to help ease Tinsel’s load.

“Years ago, we developed land in Alaska and installed a second Christmas tree farm since the one here couldn’t sustain the needed number of trees while growing more. It would be perfect to open this new shop in Alaska, that way when people buy the trees and ornaments, we can ship them together. It would be faster and cheaper to do that, rather than ship the tree from Alaska and the ornaments from Christmas Village…whenever Tinsel has time to create them. We’d need a larger, skilled team, but I’m getting ahead of myself.”

He was ahead of himself and me. My brain had stopped the moment he’d mentioned a Christmas tree farm in Alaska. How did I not know about this? Sure, I was only eighteen, and a bit too focused on fun and games, but how had I missed the information that we had a Christmas tree farm, and in Alaska of all places?

“So, you’re saying you want me to start an ornament shop in Alaska?” I asked as Santa let the information sink into my brain. “I get that I’m talented, but I’m not that talented. I can wrap just about anything, but I’d probably break more ornaments than I decorated.”

Santa chuckled, shaking his head at me. “No, Jolly, I wouldn’t dream of that. You’re good, but you don’t have the patience for a project such as that. What I want you to do is go to Alaska, see how things run there and tell me if you think it’s even possible. And while you’re there, I want you to report back how the operation is going. I hear good things, and I want you to study it in case we can duplicate anything here. Warren has a good system going, or it’s too good to be true and things aren’t running as smooth as he says. Does this sound all right?”

It sounded more than all right. I could do this job, and the fact that Santa trusted me to do it amazed me. And I wouldn’t let him down. Even though I wasn’t as amazing as Holly, I could still do this. It would also allow me to leave Christmas Village for a while so that I wouldn’t have to see Glint or Sparkle. Maybe after some time away I wouldn’t feel quite so upset about this whole situation.

“I’ll do it. I promise I won’t let you down. When do I leave?”

He beamed at me. “Good. I know you’ll do well.” Santa stood and stretched. Walking around his desk, he ducked his head to stare at a calendar pinned to the wall. “I want CC and Horace to go with you. CC will be able to help you determine information about the Ornament Shop we’d build there, and Horace can assist with the Christmas Tree operation. I’ll speak with them and notify Alaska tomorrow. You’d leave the day after. Is that okay?”

“More than okay, Santa.” Sliding to my feet, I nodded to him. “Thank you for this opportunity. If you need me, I’ll be in my office making a packing list. I don’t want to forget anything.”

One thing I’d picked up from Santa was the use of lists. My office was covered in them, from red and green sticky notes, to a whiteboard attached to one wall, and several notes stuck to a tack board. I’d be lost without my lists these days. Oh, and a calendar.

Unlocking my office was more difficult than I’d expected as new energy infused my body. Maybe it was the sugar in the cookie energizing my sugar-deprived body, or maybe it was the news that I was leaving Christmas Village for a while. Whatever it was, sticking the key in the keyhole proved to be more difficult than anticipated. Slowing my breathing, I focused on calming down until my hand shook less and I could insert the key.

Staring around my office, I breathed in the cinnamon scent from the cinnamon sticks I had sitting in a jar on my desk and hung up my coat on its usual hook beside the door. I’d left my beanie in here earlier, so I was glad I’d be able to remember it before leaving for home tonight. In a matter of minutes, I was sitting behind my tiny desk, pen in hand and a blank notebook page before me. It was a clean slate. A new page in the book that was to become my destiny and future.

No one in Alaska knew of my awkward situation with Glint. Horace wouldn’t care about it. He’d been widowed forever and didn’t bother socializing with most of us unless we went to cut down a tree in his farm. And CC, well she had her head buried in work too, and couldn’t care less about local gossip. I’d lucked out with those two as traveling companions.

For the next hour I sat at my desk working on my list, which turned into two lists, and then I added a third. By the time I left my office, complete with beanie atop my head, I already had list ten playing through my head. The bitter air of the North Pole stung my cheeks when I stepped outside, and a bright smile lifted my cheeks. It was time to go break the news to my parents.




About The Author

Heather's desire to become an author hit in 8th grade when she wrote a short story as an assignment and she turned that story into her first novel. She graduated college with a degree in English and a minor in Creative Writing, but after college she got discouraged and writing fell by the wayside for other hobbies, though she still dreamed of publishing one day.

She began reading YA fiction again in 2015, and her heart burned to start writing the stories in her head. It was then that she began The Weregal Chronicles, a YA paranormal romance series featuring tiger shifters. The setting of “Perfect Scents”, Book 1 is in West Virginia, a place Heather holds dear to her heart. Though she only lived there for a year, she will always consider it home.

Currently, Heather and her dog, Gunney, live in Wisconsin. He's a Pomeranian who loves to keep her company while she writes, and if she gets too distracted by her writing, he likes to remind her that he's still present. He's recently learned to love to play fetch, so it's their favorite distraction when she needs a break...or he does.


Find Heather:

www.heatherkarn.com
www.facebook.com/heatherkarnauthor

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