It isn’t fate.
But it is love.
Owl shifter Olly has always trusted her inner animal. So when her owl makes it clear that handsome, rugged Jackson isn’t her mate, she knows that what she feels for him can’t be true love… right?
Last Christmas, Jackson gave Olly his heart. And her owl chewed it up and spat it back at him. He’s tried to stay away from her…but a year apart hasn’t changed anything. He may be a human in a town of shifters, and he may not be Olly’s true mate, but he knows that their love is real.
This Christmas, nothing is going to stop Jackson from winning the woman he loves. Not shifter tradition. Not Olly’s snobby owl. And definitely not his deadbeat dad, who’s swanned back into town spouting nonsense about Jackson finally “fledging his wings”.
Ever since the Hellhounds stole the sleigh and the dogs, Ollie has been more reclusive and suspicious. She’s also missing Jackson. The deputy left Pine Valley right after Christmas and Ollie’s rejection of him and hasn’t returned.
Jackson has been missing Ollie as well, but if they aren’t fated mates, he believes she should have the opportunity to move on from him and find her happiness.
Now Ollie’s owl isn’t talking but there was something strange the night her and Jackson tried for the mate bond they were both sure was there. Her owl also knows something Ollie doesn’t and isn’t sharing.
Jackson is returning to Pine Valley to sell the house he bought for him and Ollie. Unfortunately, he arrives when the entire shifter population is celebrating Yule at Puppy Express. His opportunity to talk to Ollie is also interrupted by an unpleasant surprise. It seems his father has tracked him down to talk to him, but arrives drunk and disorderly, collapsing the outdoor party tent.
This is a favorite scene.
Olly’s cheekbones were sharper than he remembered. She’d lost weight. And her eyes were sunken, even if they still stung like knives to look at.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
“Why wouldn’t I be?” Her eye twitched and he could practically hear her berating herself for talking without taking in the whole situation first. Because surely, if she’d had any time to think, she’d have realized why he thought she wasn’t okay. She looked as though she hadn’t slept in months.
She was off-footed. And it was his fault.
Jackson took a deep breath. He needed to control the situation, to find a way to give Olly back enough control that she didn’t cut and run, but the words that came out of his mouth just sent it further out of hand. “For a start, you could hide a sack of presents in the bags under your eyes.” Shit. He was growling at her, now? First he startled her and now he was telling her off. No wonder she didn’t want anything to do with him.
He took a step forward. Gritted his jaw. Do this right. “Olly, you look like hell.”
“Well, you look like—” Her lips pinched shut and her eyes flew around his face. They landed on his forehead and skated over his scar, and even though he knew there was no way she’d be able to see it behind his hair it still throbbed. “Why are you here?” she burst out. “Why couldn’t you just stay away?”
Her voice cracked and Jackson’s blood rose. He took another step towards her and she strained forwards, as though her feet were frozen in place but some part of her still wanted to—
No. That couldn’t be real. He’d scared her, and now he was imagining things.
Jackson tried to make himself look as non-threatening as possible.
“Something’s wrong here. I know it. Whatever’s going on with you, you can tell me.”
He was growling, still, and he hated himself for it, but Olly’s pupils went wide. He swallowed.
“I can’t,” she whispered. “I really, really can’t. I—”
There was a crash from behind him.
Jackson spun around, automatically putting himself between Olly and whatever had caused the noise. Yells of surprise filled the air.
The trestle tables were untouched. But outside…
Jackson swore as he strode forward.
The tent had collapsed. Cold air blasted through the front door and the festive party tent billowed and sagged like a swamped goose.
People were fighting to get free. Jackson breathed in the smell of singed plastic. Somewhere, Jasper Heartwell was shouting about small fires.
And in the middle of the giant mess was a gleaming, silver-winged pegasus. Its wings shimmered as though lit by something more than moonlight. It threw its head back, as though it was surprised to find itself in the center of such chaos, and its mane rippled like molten silver.
Jackson’s stomach sank.
He should have paid more attention to his mother’s warning. Mythic shifters weren’t exactly common. Jackson had seen one pegasus, once in his life. This would make twice.
The pegasus caught sight of him and whinnied excitedly. It tried to canter towards them, got its hooves caught in the canvas, and tripped on its shining face.
Jackson turned away, back towards the kitchen. “Olly, I—”
He was too late. The moment he reached the kitchen door there was an explosion of feathers and Olly was gone, flying out through the window into the night.
Jackson watched her go, taking the newly broken pieces of his heart with her.
The shouting behind him got louder. He ran both hands down his face.
This isn’t your problem, he reminded himself. She doesn’t want anything to do with you. You knew that already and now you know it for sure.
Another crash. His eye twitched. That? That is your problem.
Jackson straightened his shoulders and strode outside.
He stepped onto the crumpled roof of the tent and something squeaked under his foot. He bent down and hunted around until he found the tent’s entranceway. To his surprise, a long-haired sheep scuttled out, bleating.
He hadn’t known there were any sheep shifters in Pine Valley.
Abigail stumbled out next, elf-hat askew and eyes wide. “Ruby,” she said urgently. “She wanted to play with Cole—where did she—”
She tried to throw herself back into the crushed tent and Jackson held her back. “I’ll find her,” he said. Abigail put her hands over her face.
“I know she’s not hurt,” she said strangely. “I can feel it… here.” One of her hands drifted to rest just above her heart. “Like with Jasper. And—oh!”
She spun around just as a plume of flame erupted from the tent. A tiny, brilliant red snout followed it, and then a larger black one.
“Ruby!” Abigail put her hands over her mouth. “Cole! Come over here at once, and stop burning things!”
The two dragons—one the size of a large dog, the other the size of a cat—popped free and looked around, apparently delighted. The black dragon’s nostrils were trickling smoke. The little one looked at him and burped out another puff of flame.
“No,” Abigail said firmly. “Jasper—”
Her husband battled himself free at the far end of the chaos and called both dragonlets over to him. Abigail sagged against the doorframe in relief. “At least he didn’t panic and shift,” she muttered to herself. “Oh, Mrs. Lamb—let me help…”
Jackson left her helping people stumble free of the tent. He could have stayed, pulling people to their feet as they crawled out the escape-route door, but that would have been ignoring the bigger problem.
He picked his way over the heaving canvas, careful to avoid any moving lumps, until he reached the pegasus.
“You picked a hell of a time for a family reunion,” he growled at it.
The pegasus was still trying to find its feet. It clatter-fluttered towards him and he got a face full of silver feathers. The smell of whiskey was even stronger than the smell of burning plastic.
“How much have you been drinking?” Jackson gasped. “Come on—shift back, why don’t you?”
The pegasus whinnied and slumped its head over his shoulder. His knees almost buckled under the weight. One of its wings thwapped the ground. The other almost took off Jackson’s head.
Step by step, each more difficult than the last, he managed to lead it onto clear ground. The fallen tent buckled and slumped as the rest of the party pushed their way free, either through the flattened doors or ripping their way out with claws and teeth. A few shifted back into human form, shivered in the cold, and shifted back into their safely furred or feathered forms.
Jackson turned away.
“You sure know how to make an entrance,” he muttered to the swaying pegasus. It hiccupped and stared at him with huge, confused eyes.
“Jackson.” Jasper had the orange dragon in one arm and Abigail tucked under the other. He looked as close to unhappy as Jackson had ever seen him. “You want to tell us what the hell is going on here?”
Jackson took a deep breath. He gestured towards the pegasus.
“Jasper, Abigail… everyone.”
“Meet my father. Andrew Petrakis.”
Chant, Zoe. A Mate for Christmas: Collection 1 Kindle Locations (6336-6395). Kindle Edition.
What makes this book hysterical is that Ollie’s Owl thinks that Jackson’s father is her mate. When in actuality Jackson is going to go through his fledging as a Pegasus matures far later than most shifters.
There are some interesting developments with the Hellhounds that are hysterical and annoying for some.
I laughed, cried, laughed some more, and rolled my eyes at the Owl’s antics in avoidance. This is truly a fun addition to this series.
5 Contented Purrs for Zoe!
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Zoe Chant loves writing paranormal romance. Over a cup of tea (or something stronger) she whips up sexy tales of hunky heroes and adventurous heroines to tantalize and satisfy her readers. Sizzling hot romance, no cliffhangers!