Bought for Christmas(33)

By: Doris O Connor

In truth, Hunter, too, felt exhausted. All this purging one’s demons wore a man out.

He threw another log on the dying fire and pulled Emilia into his side, as they lay on the soft rug, looking up at the tree.

She propped herself up on one elbow better to see him, and his throat went dry at the wealth of emotion he saw in her gaze.

“Thank you for sharing that with me, Sir. It can’t have been easy.”

Hunter nodded and pulled her back down until her head rested on his chest, and his bear grunted his approval at having her this close to him.

“It wasn’t, but telling you has made me realize that there are plenty of things in my past worth remembering. I had forgotten I even had that box. I found it in Mum and Dad’s house after they’d passed on, and I couldn’t bring myself to chuck it out, so I brought it up here and shoved it into the spare room.”

Emilia snuggled in closer and kissed his chin.

“Did they not celebrate Christmas either after…”

Hunter sighed and shook his head.

“No, none of us did. Or if they did, I wasn’t part of it. To be honest I spend most of the Christmases that followed too drunk to even remember them. It seemed easier that way. Once they passed away within hours of each other, I just pretended Christmas didn’t exist.”

Emilia sat up, and he, too, followed, not ready to lose contact with her.

“Within hours of each other?” she asked. “Is that another shifter thing?”

“Yes, kitten. They were a mated couple. It syncs their life spans. Typically one doesn’t survive long without the other. It’s what makes the whole being mated thing such a big deal. It really is for life. There is no divorce when you’ve found your mate.”

Emilia went quiet and worried her bottom lip with her teeth again. He was beginning to realize it was a tell-tale sign of her emotions. She was chewing something over in her mind, and his insides twisted in on themselves.

“So how does one become one’s mate? Is it like in the books?” She blushed when he raised his eyebrows.

“And what sort of books would that be, kitten? Because I’m pretty sure there are no how-to manuals for shifters in existence. At least not for humans.”

Emilia avoided his gaze, and he grasped her chin to make her look at him.

“Eyes on me, girl, and answer my question.”

A pretty blush stained her cheeks, and had it not been for his enhanced hearing he’d have missed her mumbled reply.

“Shifter erotica, Sir.”

“I see. So, you tell me what usually happens, and I tell you if you’re right.”

Hunter had a hard time keeping a straight face. She looked too adorable all flustered like this.

“Err, no, Sir, I’d rather you tell me, because … well, that’s just fiction.”

Hunter smiled and ran his thumb over her soft lips.

“Truth can be stranger than fiction at times.”

“So, it seems, but will you please tell me how it works?” She didn’t quite manage to look at him when she said that, and the emotion choking him meant he had to clear his throat several times before he could project his voice with any of its usual authority.

He, too, stared into the fire, his senses too aware of her reactions as it was.

“I guess, humans would call it falling in love at first sight, but it goes much deeper than that. It’s the knowledge that that particular person is the only one for you. It’s everything. The way they talk, look, their scent. A person’s scent changes as they get older, did you know that?” He glanced across at her to see her shaking her head. “So, even though you might have known them for a while, say as a child…”

Emilia gasped and drew her knees up to her chest, and an ice cold fist squeezed his chest. It made breathing difficult, and he forced his bear to stand down. The animal was too agitated by the confusing signals Emilia sent out right now.

“When you see them again, all grown up, you realize they’re your mate? Is that what you’re saying?” Emilia whispered the question, and Hunter breathed out slowly, all too aware of the way her breathing sped up and her heart beat thundered.

“Yes, kitten, that’s exactly what I’m saying.”